Giftedness Acceptance

Q. Imagine that an adult person is struggling in life (because they are gifted, but don’t know that) – what kinds of struggles would this person be experiencing, that are caused by “invisible” giftedness – i.e caused by being gifted, but at the same time not knowing that giftedness is even a thing?

A. When a gifted adult is unaware of their giftedness, they may experience a variety of struggles that can be perplexing and challenging. These struggles often stem from their unique cognitive and emotional traits not being recognized or understood, even by themselves. Here are some common struggles that can be attributed to “invisible” giftedness:

  1. Feeling Out of Sync: Gifted adults may feel that they are out of step with their peers. They might have interests, concerns, and a level of intensity that differs significantly from those around them, leading to a sense of isolation or alienation.
  2. Perfectionism and High Self-Expectations: Without understanding their giftedness, these individuals may set exceedingly high standards for themselves, leading to perfectionism. This can result in significant anxiety, fear of failure, and a persistent sense that they are not meeting their own expectations.
  3. Multipotentiality: Gifted adults often have multiple talents and interests, making it challenging to choose a career path or focus on a single area. This can lead to feelings of frustration and a sense of being scattered or unfocused.
  4. Underachievement: Without recognizing their giftedness, some adults may not leverage their full potential. They might find themselves in environments that do not challenge them, leading to underachievement and a lack of fulfillment.
  5. Social and Emotional Issues: Gifted adults can experience intense emotions and deep empathy, which can be overwhelming without proper understanding and support. They may struggle with forming relationships where they feel truly understood and accepted.
  6. Existential Angst: Gifted individuals often engage in deep existential thinking from a young age, which can continue into adulthood. They may grapple with questions about the meaning of life, justice, and morality, which can contribute to feelings of existential depression.
  7. Imposter Syndrome: Even when they achieve, some gifted adults may feel like they are faking it or do not truly deserve their successes. This can stem from a lack of understanding of their own abilities and the effortlessness with which they sometimes achieve goals.

Recognizing these struggles is the first step toward understanding the role that unrecognized giftedness may play in an individual’s life. Once these challenges are linked to giftedness, it can be a relief for the individual, as they finally have a context for their experiences. This understanding is crucial for developing coping strategies and creating a more fulfilling life that aligns with their unique capabilities and needs.

Q. Those are great examples. What areas of life would struggles typically show up in, and how might they present themselves in those areas?

A. The struggles stemming from unrecognized giftedness in adults can manifest in various areas of their lives, often affecting their emotional well-being, professional life, relationships, and personal growth. Here’s how these struggles might present themselves in different areas:

  1. Professional Life and Career:
    • Underachievement: Gifted adults may feel unchallenged in their careers, leading to a lack of engagement or motivation. This underachievement can result in job hopping, dissatisfaction, or not reaching their full potential.
    • Misalignment with Values: They might find themselves in careers that don’t align with their deep values or don’t fully utilize their abilities, causing frustration and a sense of wasted potential.
    • Difficulty with Authority: Gifted adults may question inefficient systems or ineffective leadership, leading to conflicts in the workplace.
  2. Educational Experiences:
    • Boredom and Lack of Engagement: In educational settings, they may have experienced boredom or frustration due to a lack of challenge or pace that matches their learning speed.
    • Mismatched Learning Styles: Gifted individuals often have unique learning styles that may not align with traditional educational methods, leading to frustration or disengagement.
  3. Relationships and Social Life:
    • Feeling Misunderstood: Difficulty finding peers who share their intensity, interests, or level of intellectual curiosity can lead to feelings of isolation or alienation.
    • Intense Emotions: Gifted adults may experience emotions more intensely, which can be challenging in relationships if not understood or shared by others.
    • High Expectations: They might have high expectations for themselves and others, potentially leading to disappointments or strained relationships.
  4. Emotional and Psychological Well-being:
    • Existential Depression: Deep, existential thinking can lead to feelings of depression or anxiety, particularly if they feel unable to share these thoughts or find answers.
    • Overexcitabilities: Heightened levels of mental, emotional, and even physical sensitivity can result in overstimulation and stress.
    • Imposter Syndrome: Achieving success but feeling unworthy of it or fearing being exposed as a fraud can affect their self-esteem and confidence.
  5. Personal Development and Self-Identity:
    • Struggling with Self-Identity: Gifted adults might struggle with understanding who they are, especially if they have spent their lives trying to conform to societal norms or expectations.
    • Perfectionism: The drive for perfection in various aspects of life can lead to procrastination, anxiety, and a persistent sense of failure.

Understanding how these struggles manifest can help gifted adults seek appropriate support and interventions. By addressing these challenges, they can begin to harness their giftedness positively, leading to more fulfilling and balanced lives.

Q. How important is it, that the gifted adult first understand what the root problem is – for example, if the adult doesn’t realise they are gifted, they may consult a ‘normal’ therapist – and if that therapist isn’t gifted-aware – the therapist may diagnose incorrectly, and then prescribe the kind of help that would be useful if the assumptions were correct, but in this case, the help could cause more trouble.

A. It’s crucial for a gifted adult to understand the root problem, including the recognition of their giftedness, to receive appropriate support and guidance. If a gifted adult consults a therapist who is not aware of the nuances of giftedness, there’s a risk of misdiagnosis or misunderstanding the individual’s unique challenges and needs. Here’s why understanding the root problem is vital:

  1. Accurate Diagnosis: Without recognizing the role of giftedness, therapists might attribute a gifted adult’s struggles to other psychological issues. For instance, the intensity and overexcitabilities of gifted individuals could be mistaken for mood disorders, anxiety, or ADHD. An accurate understanding ensures that any interventions or therapies are appropriate and effective.
  2. Tailored Intervention Strategies: Gifted adults have unique cognitive and emotional characteristics that standard therapeutic approaches may not address. Therapy that is informed by an understanding of giftedness can be tailored to address their specific issues, such as existential concerns, perfectionism, and multipotentiality.
  3. Preventing Worsening of Issues: Inappropriate or irrelevant therapy can exacerbate the gifted adult’s sense of being misunderstood or mislabeled, potentially leading to increased frustration, anxiety, or depression. It can also lead to a mistrust of therapeutic interventions in general.
  4. Self-Understanding and Acceptance: Recognizing and understanding one’s giftedness can be a profound experience for a gifted adult, leading to greater self-acceptance and an ability to make life choices that align with their intrinsic needs and values.
  5. Effective Coping Strategies: When therapy acknowledges a person’s giftedness, coping strategies can be more effectively tailored. For example, a gifted individual might benefit from strategies that address overstimulation or intensity, rather than more general approaches.

For these reasons, it’s essential for gifted adults to seek out professionals who are knowledgeable about giftedness or to educate their existing therapists about the unique challenges they face. This ensures that the support they receive is genuinely beneficial and aligned with their true needs. If a gifted adult is unaware of their own giftedness, discovering this aspect of their identity can be a critical turning point in their therapeutic journey and overall well-being.

Q. Going back to the various areas of life in which the unacknowledged-gifted person will struggle – can you provide the same categories, but this time suggest what the root problem would be mistakenly seen as, when giftedness is not included because it is not known about.

A. Certainly, when the giftedness of an individual is not acknowledged or understood, the root problems in various life areas may be mistakenly attributed to other issues. Here’s how these misunderstandings might manifest across different aspects of their lives:

  1. Professional Life and Career:
    • Root Problem Misinterpreted: The person’s lack of engagement or job satisfaction might be seen as a lack of commitment, laziness, or indecisiveness, rather than a need for more stimulating, challenging, or meaningful work.
  2. Educational Experiences:
    • Root Problem Misinterpreted: Boredom and lack of engagement in education might be mistaken for a learning disability, lack of effort, or disinterest in academic success, ignoring the need for accelerated or deeper learning opportunities.
  3. Relationships and Social Life:
    • Root Problem Misinterpreted: The feeling of being misunderstood or the struggle to form deep connections might be interpreted as social ineptitude, introversion, or arrogance, rather than a mismatch in intellectual or emotional intensity.
  4. Emotional and Psychological Well-being:
    • Root Problem Misinterpreted: Intense emotions or existential angst might be misdiagnosed as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or depression, without recognizing the connection to the intellectual and emotional depth characteristic of giftedness.
  5. Personal Development and Self-Identity:
    • Root Problem Misinterpreted: Issues with self-identity or self-acceptance might be seen as general self-esteem issues or identity crises without acknowledging the impact of unrecognized gifted traits and the lack of fit with societal norms.

By not considering giftedness as a contributing factor, the interventions or support provided may not address the underlying causes of these issues, leading to continued struggles and potentially exacerbating the situation. It’s essential for professionals working with such individuals to consider the possibility of giftedness as part of their assessment and intervention planning to ensure that the support they provide is truly effective and addresses the core issues at hand.

Q. I think this last response is perhaps the most valuable – as it presents an acceptance that there is a problem, and that their are struggles – which are unkowingly due to un-diagnosed giftedness – but presents the mistaken ways that people ‘make sense of’ what the struggle is caused by. Can we take each category individually, and flesh out in more specific detail – the typical struggles that present themselves (caused by undiagnosed giftedness), and what those struggles are typically put down to, when the true cause (undiagnosed giftedness) is hidden. Let’s start with professional Life and Career.

A. Absolutely, let’s delve into the specifics of how unrecognized giftedness can manifest in professional life and career, and how these manifestations are often misinterpreted.

Struggles in Professional Life and Career due to Undiagnosed Giftedness

  1. Boredom and Lack of Engagement: Gifted adults may quickly master their job responsibilities, leading to boredom and a lack of engagement. They crave stimulating, challenging work that engages their intellect and creativity.
  2. Job Hopping: They may change jobs frequently, seeking environments that better match their need for complexity and growth, which can be misinterpreted as a lack of commitment or stability.
  3. Unrealized Potential: Gifted adults might not fully apply themselves or showcase their abilities, either because they’re unaware of their potential or they’re in environments that don’t recognize or nurture it.
  4. Conflict with Authority: They may question inefficient or illogical systems and authority, leading to conflicts in the workplace, especially if their approach or ideas are perceived as too radical or unorthodox.
  5. Perfectionism and Procrastination: High standards and a drive for perfection can lead to procrastination or a fear of failure, impacting their productivity and satisfaction.

Common Misinterpretations

  1. Lack of Commitment or Laziness: When gifted adults lose interest in their jobs or change positions frequently, it might be misinterpreted as a lack of commitment, when in fact, they are seeking more challenging and fulfilling opportunities.
  2. Lack of People Skills or Team Spirit: Their questioning of systems or authority might be seen as a lack of teamwork or people skills, rather than an expression of their deep-seated need for efficiency and effectiveness.
  3. Inconsistency or Unreliability: The fluctuation in their engagement and performance, often tied to their level of interest and stimulation, may be mistaken for inconsistency or unreliability.
  4. Arrogance or Overconfidence: Their strong convictions and the intensity with which they may present ideas or solutions can be misinterpreted as arrogance, rather than a reflection of their passion and depth of thought.
  5. Underperformance: If a gifted adult is not working to their full potential due to a lack of challenge, it might be viewed as underperformance or failure to live up to their capabilities, without recognizing the need for a more suitable, stimulating environment.

Understanding these dynamics is crucial for both the gifted individual and their employers. For the gifted adult, recognizing the root cause of their career dissatisfaction can be a catalyst for seeking roles that align better with their abilities and aspirations. For employers, understanding the unique traits of gifted employees can help in creating environments that leverage their strengths, leading to increased satisfaction and productivity.

Q. Next, let’s look at edicational experiences

A. Exploring how undiagnosed giftedness affects educational experiences sheds light on why gifted individuals often face unique challenges in academic settings. These challenges, when not correctly attributed to giftedness, can lead to misunderstandings and missed opportunities for appropriate support.

Struggles in Educational Experiences due to Undiagnosed Giftedness

  1. Underachievement: Gifted students may underachieve, not engaging with the material because it’s not challenging or stimulating enough, leading to a lack of motivation.
  2. Boredom and Disengagement: They often find standard curriculum slow-paced and unchallenging, resulting in boredom and disengagement in the classroom.
  3. Social Isolation: Gifted individuals might struggle to connect with peers who don’t share their intensity or interests, leading to feelings of isolation.
  4. Mismatch with Teaching Styles: Traditional teaching methods may not align with the learning style of a gifted student, who could prefer more depth, complexity, and autonomy in learning.
  5. Emotional Sensitivity and Stress: The heightened emotional sensitivity of gifted individuals can result in increased stress and anxiety in educational settings, especially if their emotional needs are not addressed.

Common Misinterpretations

  1. Learning Disabilities or Attention Issues: The signs of boredom and disengagement can be misinterpreted as ADHD or learning disabilities, especially when gifted students exhibit behaviors like daydreaming or inattentiveness due to lack of challenge.
  2. Lack of Effort or Motivation: When gifted students underachieve, it might be misconstrued as laziness or a lack of effort, rather than a response to unmet intellectual needs.
  3. Behavioral or Social Problems: The social struggles of gifted individuals might be viewed as behavioral issues or poor social skills, rather than as a consequence of their asynchrony with peers or the environment.
  4. Emotional or Psychological Issues: The intense emotional experiences of gifted individuals can be misdiagnosed as emotional or psychological disorders, overlooking the link between their emotional intensity and giftedness.
  5. Incompatibility with School Environment: Conflicts arising from a mismatch between a gifted student’s learning needs and the school’s offerings might be seen as the student’s inability to adapt, rather than a signal that the educational environment doesn’t align with their needs.

Recognizing and addressing these issues is crucial for educators, parents, and the gifted individuals themselves. Proper identification and support can transform the educational experience for gifted students, fostering engagement, achievement, and well-being. Schools and educators equipped with an understanding of giftedness can create differentiated learning experiences that cater to the diverse needs of gifted students, helping them to thrive academically and personally.

Q. Next, let’s look at relationships and social life – especially the relationship with parents and partners, and peer groups.

A. The impact of undiagnosed giftedness on relationships and social life can be profound, affecting connections with parents, partners, and peer groups. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for fostering healthier relationships and social interactions.

Struggles in Relationships and Social Life due to Undiagnosed Giftedness

  1. Intense Emotions and Sensitivities: Gifted adults often experience emotions more intensely, which can lead to misunderstandings or conflicts with partners, family, and friends who may not share or understand this intensity.
  2. Feeling Misunderstood or Isolated: The intellectual and emotional depth of gifted individuals can make them feel misunderstood or isolated, as they may struggle to find others who share their interests or understand their perspectives.
  3. Divergent Interests and Values: Gifted adults may have eclectic or intense interests that are not shared by their peers or partners, leading to a sense of disconnection.
  4. Communication Challenges: Their advanced vocabulary or complex way of expressing thoughts can sometimes create barriers in communication with others who might not resonate with or understand their level of expression.
  5. Asynchronous Development: Especially in younger gifted individuals, the mismatch between their intellectual maturity and their emotional or social development can complicate interactions with peers and adults.

Common Misinterpretations

  1. Perceived Arrogance or Aloofness: The deep, analytical nature of gifted individuals can be mistaken for arrogance or aloofness, especially if they engage in debates or discuss topics with a level of depth that others find overwhelming.
  2. Lack of Empathy: Their intense focus on interests or ideas can be misinterpreted as a lack of empathy or concern for others, even though they may experience deep empathy and sensitivity.
  3. Social Ineptitude: Challenges in finding common ground with peers can be misconstrued as social ineptitude or awkwardness, rather than a reflection of their unique perspective and depth of thought.
  4. Over-Emotionality or Drama: The intense emotional life of gifted individuals can be misunderstood as over-emotionality or drama, rather than a natural aspect of their giftedness.
  5. Unrealistic Expectations: Gifted individuals may have high expectations for relationships and may be seen as demanding or hard to please, when they are simply seeking depth and authenticity in their connections.

For gifted adults, understanding the impact of their giftedness on their relationships can be enlightening and relieving. It can help them navigate their social world more effectively and foster more meaningful connections. For their partners, family members, and friends, this understanding can lead to more empathy and support, facilitating stronger and more fulfilling relationships. It’s crucial for gifted individuals to find supportive communities and relationships where their traits are appreciated and where they can connect on a deep and authentic level.

Q. Next, let’s look at emotional and psychological well being

A. Undiagnosed giftedness significantly influences the emotional and psychological well-being of individuals, presenting unique challenges that can often be misunderstood or overlooked.

Struggles in Emotional and Psychological Well-Being due to Undiagnosed Giftedness

  1. Overexcitabilities: Gifted adults often experience intense forms of physical and emotional overexcitabilities, leading to heightened emotional responses that can be overwhelming or difficult to manage.
  2. Existential Depression: They may grapple with existential questions and concerns from a young age, leading to feelings of existential depression or a persistent sense of searching for meaning and purpose.
  3. Perfectionism: A common trait among gifted individuals is a tendency toward perfectionism, which can contribute to anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy when they fail to meet their own high standards.
  4. Isolation: Feeling different from others can lead to social isolation, either because gifted individuals withdraw or because they are excluded by peers who do not share or understand their intensity and interests.
  5. Impostor Syndrome: Despite their abilities, gifted adults may struggle with impostor syndrome, feeling that they are not as competent as others perceive them to be, which can undermine their self-esteem and confidence.

Common Misinterpretations

  1. Mood Disorders: The intense emotions and sensitivities of gifted individuals can be mistaken for mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder or depression, leading to misdiagnosis or inappropriate treatment.
  2. Anxiety Disorders: The perfectionism and high self-expectations common among gifted individuals can be misinterpreted as anxiety disorders, without recognizing the root cause in their gifted traits.
  3. Antisocial Behavior: The tendency for gifted adults to seek solitude or engage in deep, introspective thought can be misinterpreted as antisocial behavior or a lack of interest in socializing.
  4. Eccentricity or Oddness: The unique perspectives and behaviors of gifted individuals can be viewed as eccentricity or oddness, rather than expressions of their complex inner lives and intellectual curiosity.
  5. Emotional Instability: The deep emotional experiences and overexcitabilities can be misperceived as emotional instability, rather than as a component of their giftedness.

For emotional and psychological well-being, it’s crucial for gifted adults to understand how their giftedness impacts their inner experiences. Recognition and acceptance of their unique traits can lead to healthier coping strategies and a more compassionate self-view. Therapy or counseling with professionals who understand giftedness can be particularly beneficial, as it offers a space to explore these complexities and develop strategies for managing the associated challenges. Additionally, connecting with communities or groups that understand and share these experiences can provide valuable support and a sense of belonging.

Q. And finally, let’s look at personal development and self-identity – please expand on this one in more detail than the previous ones ūüôā

A. Personal development and self-identity are profoundly influenced by undiagnosed giftedness. The journey of understanding one’s giftedness is intertwined with the broader exploration of self, impacting various facets of personal growth and identity formation.

Struggles in Personal Development and Self-Identity due to Undiagnosed Giftedness

  1. Self-Acceptance: Gifted adults often struggle with accepting themselves fully, especially if their attributes or sensitivities have been criticized or undervalued. This struggle can impede their ability to embrace their unique talents and qualities.
  2. Asynchronous Development: Gifted individuals can experience uneven development in intellectual, emotional, and social domains, leading to feelings of being out of sync with peers. This asynchrony can challenge the formation of a coherent self-identity.
  3. Value Conflicts: Gifted adults may have deep-seated values and beliefs that differ from the mainstream, causing internal conflict and difficulty in aligning their external lives with their inner values.
  4. Identity Exploration: The multipotentiality common among gifted individuals can lead to ongoing exploration and sometimes confusion about their true passions and paths, complicating the development of a stable sense of identity.
  5. Alienation: Feeling fundamentally different from others can lead to a sense of alienation, impacting the individual’s self-concept and feelings of belonging.

Expanded Insight into Personal Development and Self-Identity

Identity Formation Challenges: Gifted adults often navigate a complex process of identity formation, balancing their intellectual capabilities with emotional depth and societal expectations. They may question who they are at their core and how their giftedness shapes their identity, leading to a nuanced and sometimes turbulent journey of self-discovery.

Multiplicity of Interests: The vast range of interests that many gifted adults possess can be both a gift and a curse. While it allows them to explore various domains of knowledge and skill, it can also lead to feelings of fragmentation or lack of cohesion in their self-identity. They may wonder if they are destined to be a jack-of-all-trades but master of none, or struggle to integrate their diverse passions into a singular sense of self.

Internal vs. External Perceptions: Gifted individuals often grapple with a disconnect between how they see themselves and how they are perceived by others. They may feel misunderstood or pigeonholed based on their abilities or achievements, leading to a conflict between their internal identity and external labels or expectations.

Existential and Philosophical Engagements: The propensity for deep existential thought can significantly impact the self-identity of gifted adults. They might engage in ongoing philosophical inquiries about their place in the world, the nature of existence, and the meaning of life, which can be both enriching and isolating.

Navigating Norms and Expectations: Gifted adults may feel pressure to conform to societal norms or to downplay their abilities to fit in, which can be at odds with their authentic selves. The tension between wanting to belong and the desire to remain true to oneself can be a central theme in their personal development. To support their personal development and self-identity, gifted adults benefit from environments and relationships that acknowledge and celebrate their unique traits. Engaging in communities where they can share experiences and explore their identities with others who understand can be incredibly affirming. Counseling or coaching that specializes in giftedness can also provide valuable guidance, helping individuals to integrate their various aspects into a cohesive and empowered sense of self. Ultimately, recognizing and embracing their giftedness can lead to a more fulfilling and authentic life, where personal development is aligned with their true nature.

Q. Please include common misinterpretations – in detail with specific examples

A. In the context of personal development and self-identity, gifted adults often face misinterpretations that can skew their understanding of themselves and how they are perceived by others. These misunderstandings can have significant implications for their self-esteem, relationships, and life choices.

Common Misinterpretations in Personal Development and Self-Identity

  1. Being Labeled as Arrogant or Aloof: Gifted adults who are confident in their abilities or who simply share their knowledge and insights can be misinterpreted as arrogant or aloof. For example, a gifted adult who offers a detailed explanation in a group setting might be seen as showing off, rather than genuinely trying to contribute to the discussion.
  2. Perceived as Underachievers: When gifted adults have a multitude of interests but do not conform to traditional measures of success (e.g., climbing the corporate ladder), they might be viewed as underachievers or lacking direction. An individual excelling in diverse fields yet not committing to one may be wrongly seen as lacking focus or commitment.
  3. Misunderstood Social Needs: Their need for deep, meaningful relationships can be misconstrued as being overly intense or demanding. For instance, a gifted adult seeking profound conversations might be misunderstood as being unsatisfied with normal social interactions, leading others to view them as pretentious or unsociable.
  4. Confused with Mental Health Issues: The intense introspection and existential questioning common among gifted individuals can be mistaken for signs of mental health issues. For example, a person deeply contemplating existential themes might be mislabeled as depressed rather than recognized as engaging in a form of intellectual exploration.
  5. Mistaken for Being Unempathetic: Gifted adults, particularly those with a highly analytical mind, might be seen as unempathetic or detached, especially when they approach emotional situations with logic. However, their way of processing emotions can be deeply empathetic, albeit expressed differently.

Specific Examples

  • Career: A gifted individual who switches careers frequently to explore different interests might be judged as lacking perseverance or being indecisive, rather than being recognized for their multipotentiality and desire for growth.
  • Education: A gifted adult who delves into self-education and rejects formal educational paths might be seen as non-conformist or resistant to authority, rather than being appreciated for their autodidactic approach and love of learning.
  • Relationships: If a gifted person prefers fewer but more intense friendships, they may be labeled as picky or elitist, overlooking their need for connections that stimulate their intellect and resonate with their values.
  • Emotional Expression: Their intense emotional experiences might be misconstrued as overreacting or being dramatic, rather than as a natural aspect of their sensitivity and depth of feeling.

Understanding these misinterpretations is crucial for gifted adults as they navigate their path to self-awareness and acceptance. By recognizing these potential misunderstandings, they can better advocate for themselves and seek environments and communities that support their authentic way of being, fostering a healthier and more integrated sense of identity.

Q. Thank you! If we were going to turn this whole thread into a book – write an chapter and chapter section outline for the book, remembering it is written for the gifted adult who is struggling, because they have not yet acknowledged, understood and accepted their giftedness

A. Certainly! Here’s a chapter and section outline for a book aimed at helping gifted adults who are struggling due to unrecognized giftedness. The book would guide them through understanding, acknowledging, and embracing their giftedness to improve their overall well-being and life satisfaction.

Book Title: Embracing Your Hidden Gift: A Journey to Understanding and Acceptance for Gifted Adults

Chapter 1: Discovering Giftedness in Adulthood

  • Section 1.1: Signs of Giftedness in Adults
  • Section 1.2: The Spectrum of Giftedness
  • Section 1.3: Myths and Misconceptions about Gifted Adults
  • Section 1.4: The Importance of Recognizing Giftedness

Chapter 2: The Emotional Landscape of Gifted Adults

  • Section 2.1: Intensity and Sensitivity
  • Section 2.2: Navigating Complex Emotions
  • Section 2.3: The Double-Edged Sword of Empathy
  • Section 2.4: Overcoming Emotional Challenges

Chapter 3: Professional Life and Career

  • Section 3.1: Career Fulfillment and Challenges
  • Section 3.2: Multipotentiality and Career Choices
  • Section 3.3: Workplace Relationships and Dynamics
  • Section 3.4: Strategies for Professional Success

Chapter 4: Educational Experiences

  • Section 4.1: Lifelong Learning and Curiosity
  • Section 4.2: Formal Education vs. Self-Directed Learning
  • Section 4.3: Overcoming Academic Frustrations
  • Section 4.4: Leveraging Educational Experiences

Chapter 5: Relationships and Social Life

  • Section 5.1: Building Meaningful Connections
  • Section 5.2: Challenges in Romantic Relationships
  • Section 5.3: Friendship Dynamics
  • Section 5.4: Family Interactions and Understanding

Chapter 6: Emotional and Psychological Well-Being

  • Section 6.1: Understanding Your Emotional Depth
  • Section 6.2: Mental Health Considerations
  • Section 6.3: Coping with Stress and Anxiety
  • Section 6.4: Seeking Support and Therapy

Chapter 7: Personal Development and Self-Identity

  • Section 7.1: The Quest for Self-Understanding
  • Section 7.2: Nurturing Your Interests and Talents
  • Section 7.3: Values, Beliefs, and Giftedness
  • Section 7.4: Crafting a Cohesive Self-Identity

Chapter 8: Overcoming Misinterpretations and Misdiagnoses

  • Section 8.1: Common Misinterpretations in Various Life Aspects
  • Section 8.2: Navigating Misdiagnoses
  • Section 8.3: Advocating for Yourself
  • Section 8.4: Finding Gifted-Aware Support

Chapter 9: Embracing and Expressing Your Giftedness

  • Section 9.1: Accepting Your Gifted Nature
  • Section 9.2: Integrating Giftedness into Your Life
  • Section 9.3: The Role of Creativity and Innovation
  • Section 9.4: Contributing Your Unique Gifts to the World

Chapter 10: Building a Supportive Community

  • Section 10.1: Connecting with Other Gifted Adults
  • Section 10.2: Online and Offline Gifted Communities
  • Section 10.3: Creating Your Support Network
  • Section 10.4: The Power of Mentorship and Role Models

Chapter 11: Planning for the Future

  • Section 11.1: Setting Personal and Professional Goals
  • Section 11.2: Lifelong Learning and Growth
  • Section 11.3: Envisioning Your Future Self
  • Section 11.4: Legacy and Impact

Chapter 12: Resources and Further Reading

  • Section 12.1: Books and Articles
  • Section 12.2: Online Resources and Communities
  • Section 12.3: Workshops and Conferences
  • Section 12.4: Professional Services and Support for Gifted Adults

This outline aims to provide a comprehensive guide to help gifted adults navigate the complexities of their experiences, offering insights, strategies, and resources to foster a deeper understanding and acceptance of their giftedness, leading to a more fulfilling and authentic life.

The Outsiders

This post is a direct copy, with apologies, from

Mainly because I don’t want it to be lost. Here is the original article:

The Outsiders © 1987 by Grady M. Towers

His name was William James Sidis, and his IQ was estimated at between 250 and 300 [8, p. 283]. At eighteen months he could read The New York Times, at two he taught himself Latin, at three he learned Greek. By the time he was an adult he could speak more than forty languages and dialects. He gained entrance to Harvard at eleven, and gave a lecture on four-dimensional bodies to the Harvard Mathematical Club his first year. He graduated cum laude at sixteen, and became the youngest professor in history. He deduced the possibility of black holes more than twenty years before Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar published An Introduction to the Study of Stellar Structure. His life held possibilities for achievement that few people can imagine. Of all the prodigies for which there are records, his was probably the most powerful intellect of all.

And yet it all came to nothing. He soon gave up his position as a professor, and for the rest of his life wandered from one menial job to another. His experiences as a child prodigy had proven so painful that he decided for the rest of his life to shun public exposure at all costs. Henceforth, he denied his gifts, refused to think about mathematics, and above all refused to perform as he had been made to do as a child. Instead, he devoted his intellect almost exclusively to the collection of streetcar transfers, and to the study of the history of his native Boston. He worked hard at becoming a normal human being, but never entirely succeeded. He found the concept of beauty, for example, to be completely incomprehensible, and the idea of sex repelled him. At fifteen he took a vow of celibacy, which he apparently kept for the remainder of his life, dying a virgin at the age of 46. He wore a vest summer and winter, and never learned to bathe regularly. A comment that Aldous Huxley once made about Sir Isaac Newton might equally have been said of Sidis.

For the price Newton had to pay for being a supreme intellect was that he was incapable of friendship, love, fatherhood, and many other desirable things. As a man he was a failure; as a monster he was superb [5, p. 2222].

Photo of Lewis M.Terman, coordinator of the first longitudinal study of the gifted.

There was a time when all precocious children were thought to burn out the same way that Sidis did. The man most responsible for changing this belief was Lewis M. Terman. Between 1900 and 1920 he was able to carry out a study of about a hundred gifted children, and his observations convinced him that many of the traditional beliefs about the gifted were little more than superstitions. To confirm these observations, he obtained a grant from the Commonwealth Fund in 1922, and used it to sift a population of more than a quarter of a million children, selecting out all those with IQs above 140 for further study. That group has been monitored continuously ever since. Many of the previously held beliefs about the gifted did indeed turn out to be false. The gifted are not weak or sickly, and although the incidence of myopia is greater among them, they are generally thought to be better looking than their contemporaries: They are not nerds.

Nevertheless, in his rush to dispel the erroneous beliefs about the gifted, Terman sometimes made claims not supported by his own data. In fact, in some cases, the data suggests that exactly the opposite conclusion should have been drawn. Terman’s own data shows that there is a definite connection between measured intelligence and mental and social maladjustment. The consequences of misinterpreting these data are so grave that it will pay to re-examine them in some detail.

Terman’s longitudinal research on the gifted included a constant assessment of mental health and social adjustment. Subjects were classified into three categories: satisfactory adjustment, some maladjustment, and serious maladjustment. Terman defined these categories in the following way.

1. Satisfactory. Subjects classified in this category were essentially normal; i.e., their “desires, emotions, and interests were compatible with the social standards and pressures” of their group. Everyone, of course, has adjustment problems of one kind or another. Satisfactory adjustment as here defined does not mean perfect contentment and complete absence of problems, but rather the ability to cope adequately with difficulties in the personal make-up or in the subject’s environment. Worry and anxiety when warranted by the circumstances, or a tendency to be somewhat high strung or nervous–provided such a tendency did not constitute a definite personality problem–were allowed in this category.

2. Some maladjustment. Classified here were subjects with excessive feelings of inadequacy or inferiority, nervous fatigue, mild anxiety neurosis, and the like. The emotional conflicts, nervous tendencies and social maladjustments of these individuals, while they presented definite problems, were not beyond the ability of the individual to handle, and there was no marked interference with social or personal life or with achievement. Subjects whose behavior was noticeably odd or freakish, but without evidence of serious neurotic tendencies, were also classified in this category.

3. Serious maladjustment.
a.) Classified as 3a were subjects who had shown marked symptoms of anxiety, mental depression, personality maladjustment, or psychopathic personality. This classification also includes subjects who had suffered a “nervous breakdown” provided the condition was not severe enough to constitute a psychosis. Subjects with a previous history of serious maladjustment or nervous breakdown (without psychosis) were included here even though their adjustment at the time of rating may have been entirely satisfactory.
b.) Classified as 3b were those subjects who had at any time suffered a complete mental breakdown requiring hospitalization, whatever their condition at the time of rating. In the majority of cases the subjects were restored to reasonably good mental health after a brief period of hospital care [6, pp. 99-101].

In 1940, when the group was about 29 years of age, a large scale examination was carried out. Included in that examination was a high level test of verbal intelligence, designated at that time the Concept Mastery, but later re-named the Concept Mastery test form A. Terman found the following relationship between adjustment and verbal intelligence. (These are raw scores, not IQs.)


CMT-A [6, p. 115]



Satisfactory adjustment40795.230.934492.428.7
Some maladjustment91108.031.25998.625.4
Serious maladjustment18119.523.617108.627.1

The data show three things. First, that there is a definite trend for the maladjusted to make higher scores on the Concept Mastery test. Second, that women show symptoms of maladjustment at lower scores than men. And third, that 21 percent of the men and 18 percent of the women showed at least some form of maladjustment.

During 1950-52, when the group was approximately 41 years old, another examination was made using a new test, the Concept Mastery test form T. Test scores were again compared to assessments of adjustment. (CMT-T scores are not interchangeable with CMT-A scores. They have different means and standard deviations.)

CMT-T [7, p. 50]



Satisfactory adjustment391136.426.2303130.827.7
Some maladjustment120145.626.1117138.126.4
Serious maladjustment40152.823.833140.029.6

Similar conclusions can be drawn from these data as well. Again, there is a definite trend shown for the maladjusted to make higher scores than the satisfactorily adjusted. Again, women show symptoms of maladjustment at lower scores than men. But the most alarming thing of all is that the percentage of maladjustment shown for both sexes rose in the 12 years since the previous examination. The percentage of men showing maladjustment having risen from 21 percent to 29 percent, and the figure for women having risen from 18 percent to 33 percent! Nearly double what it was before!

How did Terman interpret these data? Terman states:

Although severe mental maladjustment is in general somewhat more common among subjects who score high on the Concept Mastery test, many of the most successful men of the entire group also scored high on this test [7, p. 50].

In other words, Terman deliberately tried to give the impression that the relationship between verbal intelligence and mental and social maladjustment was weak and unreliable. He did this by misdirection. He gave a truthful answer to an irrelevant question. Terman failed to realize that a small difference in means between two or more distributions can have a dramatic effect on the percentage of each group found at the tails of the distribution. The relevant questions should have been “what is the percentage of maladjustment found at different levels of ability, and does this show a trend?” Terman’s data can be used to find answers to these questions.

The method used to solve this problem is a relatively simple one but tedious in detail. (See appendix.) The results, however, are easy to understand. Using CMT-T scores for men as an illustration, and pooling the data for some maladjustment and serious maladjustment, the following percentages can be obtained.





< 97.8
97.8 – 117.1
117.1 – 136.4
136.4 – 155.7
155.7 – 175
> 175


By comparison, the Triple Nine Society averages 155.16 on the CMT-T, and the average score for Prometheus Society members is 169.95 [1, 2]. The implications are staggering, especially when it is realized that these percentages do not include women, who show more maladjustment at lower CMT-T scores than men do. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why super high IQ societies suffer so much from schisms and a tendency towards disintegration. In any event, one thing is certain. The currently accepted belief that verbal intelligence is unrelated to maladjustment is clearly a myth.

Nevertheless, while Terman’s data do provide a prima facie case for a connection between verbal intelligence and maladjustment, they fail to explain the causal mechanism involved. To obtain such insight requires close observation by a gifted observer. Fortunately, those insights are available to us in Leta S. Hollingworth’s book, Children above 180 IQ. Hollingworth not only observed her subjects as children, she also continued to maintain some contact with them after they had reached maturity. So although her book is ostensibly about children, it is in fact laced throughout by her observations on exceptionally gifted adults as well.

Before examining Hollingworth’s findings, however, it is necessary to explain how childhood IQs are related to adult mental ability. As a child ages, his IQ tends to regress to the mean of the population of which he is a member. This is partly due to the imperfect reliability of the test, and partly due to the uneven rate of maturation. The earlier the IQ is obtained, and the higher the score, the more the IQ can be expected to regress by the time the child becomes an adult. So although Hollingworth’s children were all selected to have IQs above 180, their adult status was not nearly so high. In fact, as adults, there’s good reason to believe that their abilities averaged only slightly above that of the average Triple Nine member. Evidence for this conjecture comes from the Terman research data. Terman observed the following relationship between childhood IQs on the Stanford-Binet and adult status on the Concept Mastery test form T.



> 17048155.8



The average childhood IQ score for those with childhood IQs above 170 was 177.7 for men, and 177.6 for women. That’s quite close to the 180 cutoff used by Leta Hollingworth in selecting her subjects. Note that Terman’s subjects who scored above 170 IQ as children averaged 155.8 on the CMT-T at age 41, a score quite close to the 155.16 made by the average Triple Nine member. Such a close match makes it reasonable to generalize Hollingworth’s findings to members of both the Triple Nine Society and the Prometheus Society.

Hollingworth identified a number of adjustment problems caused by school acceleration. As this is rarely practiced in today’s educational system, these are no longer problems and will not be discussed. There still remain, however, four adjustment problems that continue to perplex the gifted throughout their lives, two applying to all levels of giftedness, and two applying almost exclusively to the exceptionally gifted–i.e. those with childhood IQs above 170, or adult Concept Mastery test (T) scores above 155.

One of the problems faced by all gifted persons is learning to focus their efforts for prolonged periods of time. Since so much comes easily to them, they may never acquire the self-discipline necessary to use their gifts to the fullest. Hollingworth describes how the habit begins.

Where the gifted child drifts in the school unrecognized, working chronically below his capacity (even though young for his grade), he receives daily practice in habits of idleness and daydreaming. His abilities never receive the stimulus of genuine challenge, and the situation tends to form in him the expectation of an effortless existence [3, p. 258].

But if the “average” gifted child tends to acquire bad adjustment habits in the ordinary schoolroom, the exceptionally gifted have even more problems. Hollingworth continues:

Children with IQs up to 150 get along in the ordinary course of school life quite well, achieving excellent marks without serious effort. But children above this mental status become almost intolerably bored with school work if kept in lockstep with unselected pupils of their own age. Children who rise above 170 IQ are liable to regard school with indifference or with positive dislike, for they find nothing in the work to absorb their interest. This condition of affairs, coupled with the supervision of unseeing and unsympathetic teachers, has sometimes led even to truancy on the part of gifted children [3, p. 258].

A second adjustment problem faced by all gifted persons is due to their uncommon versatility. Hollingworth says:

Another problem of development with reference to occupation grows out of the versatility of these children. So far from being one-sided in ability and interest, they are typically capable of so many different kinds of success that they may have difficulty in confining themselves to a reasonable number of enterprises. Some of them are lost to usefulness through spreading their available time and energy over such a wide array of projects that nothing can be finished or done perfectly. After all, time and space are limited for the gifted as for others, and the life-span is probably not much longer for them than for others. A choice must be made among the numerous possibilities, since modern life calls for specialization [3, p. 259].

A third problem faced by the gifted is learning to suffer fools gladly. Hollingworth notes:

A lesson which many gifted persons never learn as long as they live is that human beings in general are inherently very different from themselves in thought, in action, in general intention, and in interests. Many a reformer has died at the hands of a mob which he was trying to improve in the belief that other human beings can and should enjoy what he enjoys. This is one of the most painful and difficult lessons that each gifted child must learn, if personal development is to proceed successfully. It is more necessary that this be learned than that any school subject be mastered. Failure to learn how to tolerate in a reasonable fashion the foolishness of others leads to bitterness, disillusionment, and misanthropy [3, p. 259].

The single greatest adjustment problem faced by the gifted, however, is their tendency to become isolated from the rest of humanity. This problem is especially acute among the exceptionally gifted. Hollingworth says:

This tendency to become isolated is one of the most important factors to be considered in guiding the development of personality in highly intelligent children, but it does not become a serious problem except at the very extreme degrees of intelligence. The majority of children between 130 and 150 find fairly easy adjustment, because neighborhoods and schools are selective, so that like-minded children tend to be located in the same schools and districts. Furthermore, the gifted child, being large and strong for his age, is acceptable to playmates a year or two older. Great difficulty arises only when a young child is above 160 IQ. At the extremely high levels of 180 or 190 IQ, the problem of friendships is difficult indeed, and the younger the person the more difficult it is. The trouble decreases with age because as persons become adult, they naturally seek and find on their own initiative groups who are like-minded, such as learned societies [3, p. 264].

Hollingworth points out that the exceptionally gifted do not deliberately choose isolation, but are forced into it against their wills.

These superior children are not unfriendly or ungregarious by nature. Typically they strive to play with others but their efforts are defeated by the difficulties of the case… Other children do not share their interests, their vocabulary, or their desire to organize activities. They try to reform their contemporaries but finally give up the struggle and play alone, since older children regard them as “babies,” and adults seldom play during hours when children are awake. As a result, forms of solitary play develop, and these, becoming fixed as habits, may explain the fact that many highly intellectual adults are shy, ungregarious, and unmindful of human relationships, or even misanthropic and uncomfortable in ordinary social intercourse [3, p. 262].

But if the exceptionally gifted is isolated from his contemporaries, the gulf between him and the adult authorities in his life is even deeper.

The very gifted child or adolescent, perceiving the illogical conduct of those in charge of his affairs, may turn rebellious against all authority and fall into a condition of negative suggestibility–a most unfortunate trend of personality, since the person is then unable to take a cooperative attitude toward authority. A person who is highly suggestible in a negative direction is as much in bondage to others around him as is the person who is positively suggestible. The social value of the person is seriously impaired in either case. The gifted are not likely to fall victims to positive suggestion but many of them develop negativism to a conspicuous degree [3, p 260].

Anyone reading the super high IQ journals is aware of the truth of this statement. Negative individuals abound in every high IQ society.

Hollingworth distilled her observations into two ideas that are among the most important ever discovered for the understanding of gifted behavior. The first is the concept of an optimum adjustment range. She says:

All things considered, the psychologist who has observed the development of gifted children over a long period of time from early childhood to maturity, evolves the idea that there is a certain restricted portion of the total range of intelligence which is most favorable to the development of successful and well-rounded personality in the world as it now exists. This limited range appears to be somewhere between 125 and 155 IQ. Children and adolescents in this area are enough more intelligent than the average to win the confidence of large numbers of their fellows, which brings about leadership, and to manage their own lives with superior efficiency. Moreover, there are enough of them to afford mutual esteem and understanding. But those of 170 IQ and beyond are too intelligent to be understood by the general run of persons with whom they make contact. They are too infrequent to find congenial companions. They have to contend with loneliness and personal isolation from their contemporaries throughout the period of their immaturity. To what extent these patterns become fixed, we cannot yet tell [3, p. 264].

Hollingworth’s second seminal idea is that of a “communication range.” She does not state this explicitly, but it can be inferred from some of her comments on leadership.

Observation shows that there is a direct ratio between the intelligence of the leader and that of the led. To be a leader of his contemporaries a child must be more intelligent but not too much more intelligent than those to be led… But generally speaking, a leadership pattern will not form–or it will break up–when a discrepancy of more than about 30 points of IQ comes to exist between leader and led [3, p. 287].

The implication is that there is a limit beyond which genuine communication between different levels of intelligence becomes impossible. To say that a child or an adult is intellectually isolated from his contemporaries is to say that everyone in his environment has an IQ at least 30 points different from his own. Knowing only a person’s IQ, then, is not enough to tell how well he’s likely to cope with his environment. Some knowledge of the intellectual level of his environment is also necessary.

If the optimum range of intelligence lies between 125 and 155 IQ, as Hollingworth suggests, then it follows that 155 can be thought of as a threshold separating an optimum adjustment zone below it from a suboptimum range above it. Other psychologists have also noticed how this score tends to divide people into two naturally occurring categories. Among these is one of the doyens of psychometrics, David Wechsler. He comments:

The topics of genius and degeneration are only special cases of the more general problem involved in the evaluation of human capacities, namely the quantitative versus qualitative. There are those who insist that all differences are qualitative, and those who with equal conviction maintain that they are exclusively quantitative. The true answer is that they are both. General intelligence, for example, is undoubtedly quantitative in the sense that it consists of varying amounts of the same basic stuff (e.g., mental energy) which can be expressed by continuous numerical measures like intelligence Quotients or Mental-Age scores, and these are as real as any physical measurements are. But it is equally certain that our description of the difference between a genius and an average person by a statement to the effect that he has an IQ greater by this or that amount, does not describe the difference between them as completely or in the same way as when we say that a mile is much longer than an inch. The genius (as regards intellectual ability) not only has an IQ of say 50 points more than the average person, but in virtue of this difference acquires seemingly new aspects (potentialities) or characteristics. These seemingly new aspects or characteristics, in their totality, are what go to make up the “qualitative” difference between them [9, p. 134].

Wechsler is saying quite plainly that those with IQs above 150 are different in kind from those below that level. He is saying that they are a different kind of mind, a different kind of human being.

This subjective impression of a difference in kind also appears to be fairly common among members of the super high IQ societies themselves. When Prometheus and Triple Nine members were asked if they perceived a categorical difference between those above this level and others, most said that they did, although they also said that they were reluctant to call the difference genius. When asked what it should be called, they produced a number of suggestions, sometimes esoteric, sometimes witty, and often remarkably vulgar. But one term was suggested independently again and again. Many thought that the most appropriate term for people like themselves was Outsider.

The feeling of estrangement, or at least detachment, from society at large is not merely subjective illusion. Society is not geared to deal effectively with the exceptionally gifted adult because almost nothing objective is known about him. It is a commonplace observation that no psychometric instrument can be validly used to evaluate a person unless others like him were included in the test’s norming sample. Yet those with IQs above 150 are so rare that few if any were ever included in the norming sample of any of the most commonly used tests, tests like the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory, the Kuder Vocational Preference Record, the MMPI and so on. As a consequence, objective self-knowledge for the exceptionally gifted is nearly impossible to obtain. What he most needs to know is not how he differs from ordinary people–he is acutely aware of that–but how he is both like and unlike those of his own kind. The most commonly used tests can’t provide that knowledge, so he is forced to find out in more roundabout ways. It is his attempts to find answers to these questions that may explain the emergence of the super high IQ societies. Where else can he find peers against which to measure himself?

There appear to be three sorts of childhoods and three sorts of adult social adaptations made by the gifted. The first of these may be called the committed strategy. These individuals were born into upper middle class families, with gifted and well educated parents, and often with gifted siblings. They sometimes even had famous relatives. They attended prestigious colleges, became doctors, lawyers, professors, or joined some other prestigious occupation, and have friends with similar histories. They are the optimally adjusted. They are also the ones most likely to disbelieve that the exceptionally gifted can have serious adjustment problems.

The second kind of social adaptation may be called the marginal strategy. These individuals were typically born into a lower socio-economic class, without gifted parents, gifted siblings, or gifted friends. Often they did not go to college at all, but instead went right to work immediately after high school, or even before. And although they may superficially appear to have made a good adjustment to their work and friends, neither work nor friends can completely engage their attention. They hunger for more intellectual challenge and more real companionship than their social environment can supply. So they resort to leading a double life. They compartmentalize their life into a public sphere and a private sphere. In public they go through the motions of fulfilling their social roles, whatever they are, but in private they pursue goals of their own. They are often omnivorous readers, and sometimes unusually expert amateurs in specialized subjects. The double life strategy might even be called the genius ploy, as many geniuses in history have worked at menial tasks in order to free themselves for more important work. Socrates, you will remember was a stone mason, Spinoza was a lens grinder, and even Jesus was a carpenter. The exceptionally gifted adult who works as a parking lot attendant while creating new mathematics has adopted an honored way of life and deserves respect for his courage, not criticism for failing to live up to his abilities. Those conformists who adopt the committed strategy may be pillars of their community and make the world go around, but historically, those with truly original minds have more often adopted the double life tactic. They are ones among the gifted who are most likely to make the world go forward.

And finally there are¬†the dropouts. These sometimes bizarre individuals were often born into families in which one or more of the parents were not only exceptionally gifted, but exceptionally maladjusted themselves. This is the worst possible social environment that a gifted child can be thrust into. His parents, often driven by egocentric ambitions of their own, may use him to gratify their own needs for accomplishment. He is, to all intents and purposes, not a living human being to them, but a performing animal, or even an experiment. That is what happened to Sidis, and may be the explanation for all those gifted who “burn out” as he did. (Readers familiar with the Terman study will recognize the committed strategy and the marginal strategy as roughly similar to the adjustment patterns of Terman’s A and C groups.)

If the exceptionally gifted adult with an IQ of 150, or 160, or 170 has problems in adapting to his world, what must it have been like for William James Sidis, whose IQ was 250 or more?

Aldous Huxley once wrote:

Perhaps men of genius are the only true men. In all the history of the race there have been only a few thousand real men. And the rest of us–what are we? Teachable animals. Without the help of the real man, we should have found out almost nothing at all. Almost all the ideas with which we are familiar could never have occurred to minds like ours. Plant the seeds there and they will grow; but our minds could never spontaneously have generated them [4, p. 2242].

And so we see that the explanation for the Sidis tragedy is simple. Sidis was a feral child; a true man born into a world filled with animals–a world filled with us.

o o o o
Some of those reading this paper may find the portrait painted here to be completely incredible. Their own experiences were nothing at all like those described, nor were those of most of their gifted friends. But the point of this article is not that there’s some special hazard in having an exceptional IQ: There’s not. The point is that the danger lies in having an exceptional IQ in an environment completely lacking in intellectual peers. It’s the isolation that does the damage, not the IQ itself.

It is the belief of this author that the super high IQ societies were created primarily by those who have adopted the marginal strategy, and by rights ought to be aimed at fulfilling the needs of this subdivision of the exceptionally gifted. It’s obvious from reading the journals that those who have followed the committed strategy rarely participate in society affairs, rarely write for the various journals, and indeed have little need to belong to such a group. They have far more productive outlets for their talents. It’s the exceptionally gifted adult who feels stifled that stands most in need of a high IQ society. The tragedy is that none of the super high IQ societies created thus far have been able to meet those needs, and the reason for this is simple. None of these groups is willing to acknowledge or come to terms with the fact that much of their membership belong to the psychological walking wounded. This alone is enough to explain the constant schisms that develop, the frequent vendettas, and the mediocre level of their publications. But those are not immutable facts; they can be changed. And the first step in doing so is to see ourselves as we are.

–Grady M. Towers

(From The Prometheus Society’s Journal,¬†Gift of Fire¬†Issue No. 22, April 1987. The article was re-issued in Issue 72, March 95. Robert Dick, the [former] Prometheus Society Membership Officer, recommends “The Outsiders” as a good view of the high-IQ condition.


Sorry about the footnotes; my source, the Prometheus Society, had numbers but no notes. I’ll try to track them down and restore them.

I reprint this article here by request. As many as one-tenth of the emails I get at the World Dream Bank are from the severely gifted–well above their incidence in its general readership (itself quite gifted), and vastly above their incidence in the population. They write me looking for advice on how to cope with the isolation that Grady Towers describes so frankly. I’ve done what I could by describing some of¬†my own experiences as a child prodigy, but Towers makes a rigorous statistical case for what I knew empirically: the bright tend to be lonely.

And those who¬†aren’t¬†isolated are often co-opted, their genius channeled into acceptable paths. I agree with Towers:¬†moderate¬†maladjustment,¬†bearable¬†loneliness, what he calls “the marginal strategy”, may be as good as it gets. And often not good enough. While working a job as a security guard because it gave him time to write, Towers himself was murdered. And not randomly, but for what he had written. This blunt article is his chief legacy. Was it worth his life?

How many lives has it saved?

It’s not so easy to judge life-strategies, even your own. Did Blake or Dickinson or Van Gogh think they were successes? Mozart? Leonardo? Jesus, dead at 33?

Not to get dramatic on you, or anything.

–Chris Wayan


LISTS AND LINKS:¬†brains¬†– three more articles on genius:¬†Prodigies’ Oddities,¬†The Bell Curve, &¬†Fire in the Crucible¬†–¬†inheritance¬†&¬†genetics¬†–¬†loneliness¬†–¬†outcasts¬†–¬†voluntary¬†loners¬†–¬†work,¬†creativity¬†&¬†career¬†–¬†artists¬†–¬†inventions & inventors¬†–¬†living with ESP¬†–¬†bias & prejudice¬†in general

World Dream Bank homepage¬†–¬†Art gallery¬†–¬†New stuff¬†–¬†Introductory sampler,¬†best dreams,¬†best art¬†–¬†On dreamwork¬†–¬†Books
Indexes:¬†Subject¬†–¬†Author¬†–¬†Date¬†–¬†Names¬†–¬†Places¬†–¬†Art media/styles
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Traits of Giftedness

Note: These are traits of giftedness i.e. how it might show up, and not the kinds/areas of giftedness!

For a more in-depth coverage of the kinds of and areas of giftedness, see (intellectual, emotional, creative, sensual, physical, and existential)

Keen power of abstraction

Interest in problem-solving and applying concepts

Deep fascination with ‘how things work’

Constantly questions ideas/beliefs/concepts with ‘why’

Voracious and early reader

Large vocabulary

Intellectual curiosity

Power of critical thinking, skepticism, self-criticism

Persistent, goal-directed behavior

Independence in work and study

Diversity of interests and abilities

Creativeness and inventiveness

Keen sense of humor

Ability for fantasy & imagination

Openness to stimuli, wide interests



Independence in attitude and social behavior

Self-acceptance and unconcern for social norms


Aesthetic and moral commitment to self-selected work

Unusual emotional depth and intensity

Sensitivity or empathy to the feelings of others

High expectations of self and others, often leading to feelings of frustration

Heightened self-awareness, accompanied by feelings of being different

Easily wounded, need for emotional support

Need for consistency between abstract values and personal actions

Advanced levels of moral judgment

Idealism and sense of justice


Boundless enthusiasm

Intensely focused on passions – resists changing activities when engrossed in own interests

Highly energetic – needs little sleep or down time

Constantly questions

Insatiable curiosity

Impulsive, eager and spirited

Perseverance – strong determination in areas of importance

High levels of frustration – particularly when having difficulty meeting standards of performance (either imposed by self or others)

Volatile temper, especially related to perceptions of failure

Non-stop talking/chattering

Source:  Clark, B. (2008). Growing up gifted (7th ed.)   Upper Saddle River, NJ:  Pearson Prentice Hall.


Kazimerz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist whose work has been applied to the field of gifted children and adults, created a theory on ‘overexcitabilities’. An idea which has illuminated the concepts of intensity and sensitivity as they relate to giftedness.

In a nutshell – everyone responds to environmental stimuli – but the giften often seem to respond at much higher levels of intensity – as well as also being more sensitive to the stimuli themselves. Importantly – this happens in the brain. They experience the same stimuli as other people, but their brains process those stimuli at a more detailed and subtle level, and more intensely, than neurotypical people. This creates a heightened response in gifted individuals.

This heightened response, leads these gifted individuals to be so reactive, that their feelings, experiences, or visible reactions far exceed what one would typically expect.

Dabrowski categorised these or over-excitabilities, or over-sensitivities – into five main themes:

1. Intellectual Overexcitability

Insatiable curiosity, asking probing questions, concentration, problem solving, theoretical thinking – all of these are hallmarks of intellectual overexcitability.

These indidivuals have incredibly active minds that seek to gain knowledge, search for understanding and truth, and endeavour to solve problems. As youngsters, they devour books; as adults, they are still avid readers. Or some, still voracious readers.

Intensely curious as children, they ask so many questions that adults find their ears are tired. They are introspective and enjoy mental puzzles and challenges that involve focus, concentration, and problem solving, and they may be content to sit and contemplate by themselves for long periods of time.

Intellectually overexcitable people often focus on moral and ethical concerns and issues of fairness. They are independent thinkers and keen observers who may become impatient if others do not share their excitement and enthusiasm about an idea.

2. Imaginational Overexcitability

About three-fourths of gifted children during their pre-school years have one or more imaginative playmates who have imaginary pets and who live on imaginary planets in imaginary universes.

Adults with imaginational overexcitability are often dramatic in their interactions with others, as exemplified in persons like the improvisational comedian Robin Williams.

Adults can also be daydreamers. They can be gifted story tellers, fiction writers, and lyricists. Their mind-wandering may be quite creative and divergent and their mental reverie quite detailed and ornate, although they appear to be ‘spaced out’.

3. Emotional Overexcitability

This area, with its extreme and complex emotions and intense feelings, is often the first to be noticed in children by their parents, as being ‘highly sensitive’.

Emotionally overexcitable people show a heightened concern for and reaction to their immediate environment. They form strong emotional attachments to people, animals, places and things, and are often accused of overreacting.

The intensity of their feelings is seen in their compassion, empathy and sensitivity. These are the people who may begin to cry when they see a homeless person on the street, a small creature being killed, or when looking at powerful vista in nature, such as a sunset, a mountain range or the ocean etc.

They may show frequent temper tantrums as a child, and displays of rage, possibly related to losing a game, feeling left out, needing to be the best, or not getting their way.

Their strong emotions – profound sadness over the plight of others, as well as elation over some expected good fortune (or cognitive breakthrough when combined with intellectual overexcitability) – can be extreme, and also puzzling, to neurotypical people, or people who do not recognise these overexcitabilities as part and parcel of giftedness.

Adults who display emotional overexcitability tend to become involved in social or environmental causes, idealistically trying to help others or the natural environment.

They may become quite cynical or angry when they discover that their idealism and sensitivity is not shared by others.

4. Psychomotor Overexcitability

People with psychomotor overexcitability appear to have a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system and an ‘augmented capacity for being active and energetic’.

They love movement for it’s own sake and they show a surplus of energy that is often manifested in rapid speech, fervent enthusiasm, intense physical activity, and a need for action.

When feeling emotionally tense, these persons may talk compulsively, act impulsively, display nervous habits, show intense drive (tending towards ‘workaholism’ or constant busyness), compulsively organise, become quite competitive, or even act out and behave antagonistically.

Though they derive great joy from their boundless physical and verbal enthusiasm and activity, others may find them overwhelming. They seem never to be still, and they may talk constantly, and so are often to be seen being told to sit down and be quiet.

People with psychomotor overexcitability are most at risk of being diagnosed as ADD/ADHD. Although children or adults with psychomotor overexcitability may be riveted to a task mentally, their bodies are likely to fidget and twitch in their excitement, in ways that can resemble hyperactivity. As adults, these individuals can be exhausting to be around.

Many of them learn to manage their psychomotor overexcitability through vigorous exercise or through doodling or knitting – activities that are generally acceptable – or they may jiggle their foot or legs, particularly when they are engaged with rapt attention.

5. Sensual Overexcitability

For the sensually overexcitable person, the sensory aspects of everyday life – seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing – are much more heightened that for others.

They may object to tags in the back of shirts, cannot wear socks with rough seams, or their seams have to be perfectly straight. The flicker and buzz of flourescent lights bother them greatly and may give them headaches. Odours, such as perfume, feel overwhelming to them. They react strongly to the texture or taste of certain foods. They become exhausted from the continuous presence of background noise.

Adults may find that the noise of meetings or the work setting bothers them significantly, or that they have an aversion to perfume, deodourants and strong scents.

Not surprisingly, many gifted children and adults with this particular overexcitability attempt to avoid or minimise environments of overstimulation and overwhelm.

On the other hand, they may get great pleasure from their unusual sensitivity to experiences with music, massage/touch/bodywork, language, art, and foods. They may even focus on pleasurable experiences so intently that the world around them ceases to exist for a time – which can also be a way of escaping the overwhelming environment.

Mostly taken from ‘Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Giften Chidren and Adults’, Webb, 2012