What is Giftedness?

I’ve been reading a ton of books recently, about giftedness, and all it’s aspects:

  1. What is is
  2. Where it comes from
  3. Whether it’s recognised or not
  4. Gifted kids, adults
  5. Relationships
  6. Talent and achievement
  7. Mis-diagnosis
  8. Self-actualisation
  9. Problems and struggles

What’s clear, is that there are many answers to those questions, and unfortunately a fair amount of those ‘expert’ answers contradict each other. Even at the basic level of defining giftedness!

So here’s my angle..

The term giftedness, obviously relates to something special, out of the ordinary, unique etc.

My definition of giftedness, is simply “The manifestation of a recognisable trait, at an exceptional level, compared to the norm.”

That means, whatever traits can be seen and compared, a person can be gifted in. And therefore the person can be rightly classed as gifted.

It’s not limited to I.Q. at all. Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences, Dabrowski’s Over-Excitabilities (more accurately Super-Sensitivities), and any other subject taught at school, personality trait, cognitive function or skill or ability.

Think of the Bell Curve:


But apply that measurement to any of the criteria mentioned above.

Any person who is above the 130 mark, is gifted. That score, once normalised so that 100 is central, could be a measurement of any of those criteria.

Half of a Problem

What has fascinated me, as I’ve learned more and more about giftedness, is that society (including the educational system) very clearly recognises that individuals who fall in the lower 98th percentile – require special allowances, have special needs, and without them will struggle in normal society.

BUT – for whatever reason, society does not recognise that individuals – who also fall outside of the norm by the same degree – except on the higher end – also in all likelihood require special allowances, have special needs, and without them will struggle in normal society.

Because whether you’re in the higher or lower end of the 98th percentile – you are by definition not normal.

From what I’ve come to understand through my own experience – that problem exists because people see intelligence (as one kind of giftedness) as linear – i.e. the more you have, the smarter you are, and so in theory the better decisions you will make, and therefore the better off you are.

What people who think this tend to miss though, is that intelligence does not exist in isolation – and it correlates with other important elements of ‘functionality’.

Within the ‘norm’ of social functionality – sure.. a smarter mind generally means better decisions. But as you increase intelligence and step out of the boundaries of the ‘norm’ – as intelligence increases – social functionality can actually decrease. It’s an unavoidable truth, that for some, a high I.Q. means you see the world in a different way than ‘normal’ people do.

And that ‘different way’ equates to the rules, the norms – high I.Q. people do not see those normal rules as normal. They live in a different world, which can be confusing, challenging, scary and frustrating – if they do not know they can be gifted and also ‘dysfunctional’ in ‘normal’ areas – compared to the norm.

This is why unrecognised giftedness can be so painful and destructive. Gifted individuals who do not know they are gifted, will try to fit within the ‘norms’ like normal people ought to.

But a gifted individual trying to be normal is the basis of self-denial and self-attack – a complete lack of self-acceptance.

A gifted person has to understand they are fundamentally different, and therefore need to clearly see that their world is not the same as the normal person’s world. Once they recognise and integrate this – they can accept their differences, and feel natural fitting into their real world – one which is abnormal according to societal norms, but normal according to gifted norms.

It is the difference between feeling broken and isolated – or feeling whole but belonging to a different ‘group’ of people than the ‘normal’ people.

Are You a Gifted Adult?

  • I have always had an insatiable curiosity
  • I set very high standards for myself and can be my own worst critic
  • I have a powerful need to know and am a seeker of ultimate truths
  • I have been criticised for being “too much” of just about everything
  • I have always felt deeply wounded by injustice and human suffering
  • I can see many sides to nearly every issue and love a good debate
  • I have a lot of energy and often feel driven by my own creativity
  • I am often seen as the “idea person” in a group
  • I love puzzles, mazes, paradoxes, complex ideas, and words
  • I often feel responsible for problems that don’t actually belong to me
  • many times I have felt “different” and sometimes I feel like a minority of one
  • I am a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist
  • I have been criticised for not “sticking with one thing”
  • Honesty, integrity, and authenticity are very important to me
  • I have a history of questioning rules and challenging authority
  • I seem to be bothered by bright lights, aromas, and noises that others ignore
  • I have a well-developed sense of humour that is somewhat offbeat
  • I have maintained my childlike sense of playfulness and wonder

Do you recognise yourself or someone you know?

The vast majority of gifted adults are never identified in childhood and don’t know they are gifted. Even if they know, until now no-one has ever explained to them how to manage their intensities and deal with the “real world”. If you see yourself in more than half of these traits you are probably one of the millions of gifted adults whose identity and life no longer need to be confused and filled with self-doubt.

Welcome home.

Taken from ‘The Gifted Adult‘ by Marie-Elaine Jacobsen, Psy.D.