Gifted and talented people may hide to fit in better
To avoid being seen as too weird or different, and to fit in better with others, gifted people often learn to stifle or cover up their unusual cognitive and other abilities, which can lead to an enduring pattern of hiding.
One of the interesting elements of the Disney movie “Frozen” is Queen Elsa having abilities that are “too dangerous” to others – and she becomes a “closeted sorceress” as one review described her.
The official Facebook page for the movie summarizes:
“From the outside, Elsa looks poised, regal and reserved, but in reality, she lives in fear as she wrestles with a mighty secret — she was born with the power to create ice and snow.
“It’s a beautiful ability, but also extremely dangerous. Haunted by the moment her magic nearly killed her younger sister Anna, Elsa has isolated herself, spending every waking minute trying to suppress her growing powers.”
[Photo and text from facebook.com/DisneyFrozen]
Another review refers to the emotional costs for Elsa:
“Her parents determine that Elsa must hide and suppress her powers so that she can live her life without the burden they force her to bear.
“Suppressing her strong powers proves difficult for Elsa, however, and she falls into a life of isolation and fear.”
[From Frozen – Movie Review for Parents by Carey Bryson.]
Elsa retreats to a mountain castle she created with her mental powers – beautiful, but made of ice: a potential metaphor of depression and other dark moods.
Being creative is one way to deal with depression.
Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel warns: “Not creating is depressing because creators are not making meaning when they are not creating.” – From article: Creating To Maintain Meaning.
[Maisel is author of the book: Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative – see quotes in post: Brainpower and The Smart Gap.]
In real life, many gifted and high ability people incur reactions from others that may cause them to “shut down” or retreat or hide out.
Lady Gaga has said she “felt like freak” in high school
She creates music for her fans who want a “freak to hang out with.”
She also said it took her a long time to be okay with how she is, and get beyond needing to fit in or be “like everyone else.”
She was identified as a gifted adolescent, and at age 17 achieved early admission to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
From article: Challenged By Being So Smart – which includes a video and more information about the “Social & Emotional Empowerment Program for CASIGY Families and Classrooms.”
(CASIGY™ = Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense and/or Gifted You’s).
Visit the site for the home-study program:
Therapist Sharon M. Barnes works with creative, sensitive, intense, intelligent people.
Her site explains her program:
We designed the CASIGY™ (Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense and/or Gifted You-s) Social-Emotional ACES Home Video Program™ to help you become ACES, that is, skilled experts in the Social-Emotional arena.
You’ll learn to ride the intense waves of emotion in your life, instead of being pulled under by them.
Learn more at her site about
Gifted girls and women may often suppress their advanced abilities.
“I think people found me unnervingly truthful without any filter in my mouth, and this was deemed very bad, especially for a woman.”
Actor Samantha Morton [imdb]
When she began directing in the forties, Ida Lupino sometimes claimed not to know the best way to line up a shot or specify a line reading, explaining:
“Men hate bossy women. Sometimes I pretend to know less than I do.”
[From my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.]
She was working in a more restrictive and even misogynistic era (the photo is Lupino directing a scene in her movie “Mother of a Champion” in 1951), but some research on contemporary gifted girls and women indicates they still often suppress their advanced abilities.
But covering up, not acknowledging, or discounting our talents and abilities is not just something done by girls and women.
“Unfortunately most of us have little sense of our talents and strengths, much less the ability to build our lives around them,” Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton declare in their book Now, Discover Your Strengths.
“Instead, guided by our parents, by our teachers, by our managers, and by psychology’s fascination with pathology, we become experts in our weaknesses and spend our lives trying to repair these flaws, while our strengths lie dormant and neglected.”
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Discounting or disparaging being exceptional
We may even discount or disparage our exceptional perceptions, sensory processing and other aspects of giftedness as “flaws” – especially in the face of negative social reactions and ignorance on the part of medical professionals.
Sally M. Reis, Ph.D. “found that gifted girls do not want to be considered different from their friends and same-age peers. Indeed, a tendency exists for many females, regardless of age, to try to minimize their differences.
“For many gifted girls, however, the problem becomes more difficult as they become women and their talents and gifts set them apart from their peers and friends.”
But there is also a more insidious problem: “In addition to hiding abilities, some gifted and talented women begin to doubt that they really have abilities.”
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In a magazine interview, Emma Watson commented about her character Hermione in the “Harry Potter” films as a role model for girls.
“There are too many stupid girls in the media. Hermione’s not scared to be clever.
“I think sometimes really smart girls dumb themselves down a bit, and that’s bad.”
From article: Growing up exceptional: Emma Watson on being smart.
In some talent domains or fields, being different and exceptional is much more supported – such as entertainment.
The photo at right is Anna Paquin, who won an Oscar at age 11 for The Piano.
[From my post Anna Paquin and others on realizing multiple talents.]
Hiding is not limited to U.S. culture.
An article in the Gifted / talented news feed says “It is estimated that five per cent of the population below 14 years, or about 445,000 Malaysian children from all socio-economic strata and ethnicities, are likely to be gifted and talented.
“Raising a gifted child is not easy. ‘They do everything at the wrong time,’ says one parent. A gifted child told me that he likes doing things that others cannot do. But he does not like it when others tease him, call him names and won’t play chess with him any more.
“He is excited about astrophysics, but he is lonely in learning about it because other children are not as enthusiastic. Hence, he finds it hard to sustain social interactions. Afraid of being ridiculed, teased, resented or ostracised, he goes to great lengths to hide his giftedness.”
From Nurturing the gifted and talented, by SHARIFAH HAPSAH SHAHABUDIN, New Straits Times Mar 16 2009.
Back to the idea of gifted adults and hiding giftedness.
In her article Giftedness in the Workplace: Can the Bright Mind Thrive in Organizations?, Mary-Elaine Jacobsen (author of The Gifted Adult) points out:
“Exceptional intellectual and creative abilities can lead to highly successful careers, sometimes in multiple fields…
“From time to time relatively unfettered bright minds alter the direction of their domain as a whole. Stories of eminent figures fascinate and inspire us.
“At the same time glorified images of illustriousness can imply that early in life those who are truly gifted know exactly what they are to do with their lives and pursue their rightful lifework unimpeded — all the way to the full realization of their potential and the rewards of eminence.”
She cautions, “However, the transition from full-time learner to full-time worker can be a bumpy road indeed, and can easily engender deep disappointment instead of the anticipated coming-of-age gratification.”
[Photo: Barack Obama graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard Law School.]
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In her article Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child, Stephanie S. Tolan notes, “The experience of the gifted adult is the experience of an unusual consciousness, an extraordinary mind whose perceptions and judgments may be different enough to require an extraordinary courage.
“Large numbers of gifted adults, aware not only of their mental capacities but of the degree to which those capacities set them apart, understand this… Thinking independently may seem foolhardy or antisocial.”
High potential, but feeling frustrated, tied down
She adds, “But for the adult whose life circumstances do not readily provide an arena for the positive use of these abilities the result may be a feeling of frustration, lack of fulfillment, a nagging sense of being tied down, imprisoned, thwarted (Roeper, 1991; Smith, 1992).
“The middle management employee who has the ability to see and devise solutions to various company problems may be seriously frustrated in his job because a boss who lacks that ability does not allow the expression, much less the implementation of those solutions.”
She adds, “The suburban housewife, who has raised several children and worked as a volunteer for innumerable civic associations, may find herself restless, bored and frustrated when the children have left home. Social activities do not fill the void, nor does the sort of routine job she may be tempted to pursue to get herself out of the house.”
Another issue Tolan brings up in her article Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult is self-identification:
“Many gifted adults seem to know very little about their minds and how they differ from more ‘ordinary’ minds. The result of this lack of self-knowledge is often low, sometimes cripplingly low self esteem.”
Tolan and others point out that it may require great courage, fortitude, and assertiveness to craft a life that allows and encourages the expression of exceptional abilities. But it is worth it.
As Barbara Sher puts it so poetically, “Every single one of us can do things that no one else can do – can love things that no one else can love. We are like violins. We can be used for doorstops, or we can make music. You know what to do.”
For examples of high achieving people, see my article: Multitalented Creative People.
The image is for the book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD.
“Kaufman makes a convincing case for incorporating valuable but less easily measured attributes into our view of intelligence…Most powerfully, Kaufman illustrates the importance of uncovering what gives each person his or her own brand of intelligence, taking into account individual goals, psychologies and brain chemistry.”—Scientific American Mind.
Marianne Williamson wrote about the fears around not hiding out:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate, our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
“It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
“We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
“Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.
“There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
“We are all meant to shine, as children do.
“We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us.
“It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
“As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
– From her book A Return To Love.
The “light” of talented, high ability people – exceptional capabilities – may be at times frightening for others, as well as for people who are themselves exceptional, but hiding does not help make the world better.
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