Gifted adults are different from an early age

Being different as a child

“I was shy. I was a mixture of insecurities and very bossy.”

J.K. Rowling added that she was “Very bossy to my sister but quite quiet with strangers. Very bookish. Terrible at school.

From post: J.K. Rowling: an ordinary and extraordinary childhood.

One of the personal qualities that seems to be shared by most gifted children is being different and divergent – in terms of thinking, interests, values and behavior.

Many gifted adults feel “wrong” or anxious about “not fitting in” even though being different can be a strength, a positive attribute.

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Emma Roberts as Nancy DrewIn the movie “Nancy Drew,” the heroine (played with style and grace by Emma Roberts) uses and celebrates her intuitive and intellectual abilities as a teen sleuth, and accepts the fact she is exceptional, and does not fit in with her high school peers mainly concerned with cliques, clothes and boys.

[From my post Entitled to Be Exceptional]

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“When I met her [actor Scarlett Johansson], OK, she’s 15, but she could easily pass for 30. She’s a very attractive girl, but she’s sort of a weirdo. I like that about her.”  – Terry Zwigoff  – her director for “Ghost World” (2000)

[From the page Eccentricity]

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[Photo from the Caltech chapter of the Society of Women Engineers
– also used in my post What Variety of Creative Person Are You?]

A childhood unexplained

In her article “Counseling Gifted Adults – A Case Study”, counselor Paula Prober writes about Susan, who “had known that she was different since she was seven. Her thoughts and feelings had never fit into the box that was comfortable and reassuring for most children.

“Her appetite for learning was insatiable. Reading was more nourishing than food. Thinking, analyzing, and synthesizing were better than Barbie.

“And she worried about everything: poverty, world peace, and the loss of the rain forests. It kept her awake at night. The adults around her said that she was too young to be concerned with such things. That didn’t help. To her classmates, she just seemed weird–certainly not birthday party material.

“All of these reactions confused and saddened Susan but no one was explaining to her that she was different because she was gifted: She had a mind running deeper and faster than most. No one told her that seven year olds don’t feel responsible for saving the world.”

Like many gifted adults, she “rediscovered” herself as gifted later in life, but also felt a strong need for emotional help, as Prober writes:

Discovering giftedness as an adult

“Forty-five years later, at age 52, Susan came to therapy. Raising her teenaged son, John, had forced her to confront herself. John had been identified as gifted in preschool. Susan started reading about gifted children and was quite surprised to find that she was reading about herself.

“When Susan first came to see me, I noticed her intensity immediately. Her penetrating hazel eyes were both anxious and skeptical behind her wire-rimmed glasses. At the same time, her affect was energetic and engaging…

“At that first session, Susan told me her reasons for therapy. She needed to understand how, if she was gifted, it affected her work and relationships and to find ways to ‘handle this better’ –to deal with the anxiety and deep loneliness she felt, to find friends who truly understood her, to communicate more effectively, and to keep her marriage from dissolving.”

“This was unusual. Most gifted clients come to counseling with the typical requests for help with depression, anxiety, relationships, and family dynamics. They do not suspect that they are gifted and even resist the idea, at first.

Gifted Grownups“They are often aware that they don’t ‘fit in,’ but they do not know why.”

Excerpted from article Counseling Gifted Adults – A Case Study, by Paula Prober, SENG / Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted.

Paula Prober, M.S., M.Ed., is a licensed counselor in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. Her site is

She is author of Ten Tips for Women Who Want to Change the World Without Losing Their Friends, Shirts, or Minds.

The image is from book Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential, by Marylou Kelly Streznewski.

(Also see my interview with her.)

Many gifted adults experience existential depression, anxiety and depression.

For help, see my Anxiety Relief Solutions site.

Also see my site Depression and Creativity


Originally posted 2009-01-31 18:42:06.


  1. says

    I grew up with so many problems trying to fit in with people, I’m not trying to put anyone down by saying this, but I remember dumbing myself down just so I could feel a little connected with others. I can’t even say the “g” word, it feels tainted to say .. I’m g…
    lol i’m just weird I guess. I liked being around other people who were similar, in regular classrooms, it can be attacked or perceived as a threat because you do things a little differently, but in gifted classrooms you can just be yourself, nobody can make fun of you because they have “it” too…

  2. Jim Doyle says

    I am absolutely STUNNED!!! I am so desperate to talk to another gifted;my whole
    life has just been blown away. Now, the jigsaw makes sense . . .I thought ‘I’ was
    the faulty machine,now I see I was NOT FAULTY!

  3. says

    The mixed messages we get through the years in our childhood and as adults create intense reactions. I have learned to manage my reactions. I minimize my interactions in the work setting, because opening my mouth without trying initiates the responses of “oh too smart”, She can do it, no problem, or everyone becomes quiet. As I recognize and honor my unique characteristics related to be gifted, I am strengthened in my interactions with others and in expressing my gifts. Being a gifted adult (especially one that has been undeclared means understanding, overcoming, developing, and expressing our gifts leading to greater connections. Thank you!

  4. says

    Thank YOU for your comment. I identify with the hiding, the dumbing down, and the self-negating we do because we aren’t as successful as we think we should be. I’m older than you are and it’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve been able to do what you’re doing – embrace my identity. Good going!

    All the best,

    Cat Robson
    Assoc. Editor

  5. Woman says

    I’m 46 and just tonight, for the first time, while researching why I’m so bored wtih and depressed about an illustrious career, I realized that it’s time to admit I’m gifted. Hello world. I’m gifted. I always was, and I expect I always will be. I have heard it from others who are. I have been teased and insulted by my family – who are not – and the cruelties of a thousand less “fortunate” children. Weirdo, dork, nerd, bookworm, freak. I’ve hidden my brain from all but a carefully selected few, who always give me such accolades but I cannot hear them thanks to the din of the fools I’ve suffered along the path. I dumb down to communicate with friends and lovers. I have had world-famous people openly tell me “You’re far more intelligent than I am.” To which my singed heart responds silently, “I know. So then why am I not as wealthy or famous as you?” Today, I embrace it for the very first time – the grades, the Mensa acceptance I declined, the gift for languages, the ability to read faster, learn faster, accomplish more, see the interlocking systems of things. I accept it. I AM gifted. I am not going back under my bushel basket. Tonight, I am claiming it aloud. Thank you for reading.

  6. says

    Thank you. I want to meet and to write or ghostwrite with this Linda Silverberg, since I’m a writer by profession.

    I’m one of the many women who were discovered as “gifted” during childhood. I did well, socially included – most of the time through completing my undergraduate work. I’m a mother of a 13 year gifted son. All of my ex-husbands and some of my other romantic partners are adult gifted men. Some hate that term, especially as a label, others like it. I think I feel a bit like maybe I’m underachieving as an adult – I did not have that problem in childhood, etc…My Dad was a professor and my mother was a teacher who turned into a Head Mistress of a school. My father always said my mom had leadership ability and seemed insecure about being loved.

    When I was 9, my best friends often told me I was “weird, but in a good way” except for the blonde girl who now teaches Phsysics in Toronto, Canada. She never thought I was that strange. Last month I got Luna Lovegood rather than Hermiane for my Happy Potter character – which surprised me, and not surprisingly my latest lover-man recently told me he sometimes dislikes my pronounced analytical thinking…He’s the jock – a smart but nutty jock, the computer programmer never called me over-analytical but he is very touchy about the word “gifted”. The smart women I know who are lawyers don’t have exactly the same problem because their job and paycheck validates that they are smart girls all grown up now, but they have other earmarks of what its like for women.

  7. says

    I was raised to believe I was a troublesome brat who had to be kept away from people because I would say things that didn’t want saying. I was labeled a weirdo all through middle school and high school, and have been something of a loner all my life.

    What I’ve come to see over time, and with help, is that I’m insightful and intelligent and have a way with words. If I disrupt people or disturb them, it’s because I see things they don’t and comment on things people deny or don’t see. I have an atypical job (musician) and live a lifestyle that does not correspond to marriage, family, a full-time job, and a suburban home. As such, I’m not subject to groupthink or into defending pillars of mainstream America simply because I participate in them. I look at all that from the viewpoint of an outsider.

    Usually people are eager to hear my analysis and comments about anyone other than themselves, and I’ve been complimented on my ability to accurately describe people and states of mind. I also have ways to make people laugh with amusing commentary (it’s my bidness, after all).

    But when I turn my focus on them, I become weird, stupid, without perspective, lacking compassion, overanalytical, hypercritical, even hallucinating. It’s interesting to see.

    I also realize that I can absorb written material many times faster than others, and I always get the punchline of a joke first. I’ve been told that I notice things no one else notices, that I “ask too many questions” and that people have difficulty following me as I “overanalyze” everything.

    I’m also musically gifted and have a knack for picking up languages and accents. Just being able to play music for a living sets you apart from others.

    None of this helps integrate me into typical social encounters, but I’ve learned to regulate it–and be silent. That’s not a “gift”–that’s the wisdom that comes with age.

    • TheStranger says

      “But when I turn my focus on them, I become weird, stupid, without perspective, lacking compassion, overanalytical, hypercritical, even hallucinating. It’s interesting to see.”

      Thank you. I thought I was finally going crazy.

  8. says

    My profoundly gifted daughter is obsessed with Nancy Drew…your article provides me insight as to why.:)

    A lot of people ask me what the value of being labelled ‘gifted’. I think this article demonstrates the point: for people who have spent a lifetime standing on the outside, there is some comfort in understanding why. Also, once people know they’re gifted, they’re less likely to believe that there’s something intrinsically wrong with them. I wonder how many gifted people don’t know they’re gifted and just think they’re weird?


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