By Belinda Seiger, PhD, LCSW
Although this particular story is about one individual 24 year old gifted young woman that I refer to as “weed girl,” the narrative represents the many stories that I hear on a regular basis as a psychotherapist and career counselor dealing primarily with gifted young adults.
Weed girl’s story is one of discovery that begins when she comes to therapy for “depression” and discovers that in addition to being depressed, that she is actually a gifted or high potential young woman who has gone through life thinking something is wrong with her because parents and teachers told her from an early age that she was “too sensitive,” “too intense,” and “asking too many questions.”
Her mom worked a lot when weed girl was growing up and didn’t seem to have the time to deal with many of weed girl’s early curiosities.
Her mom divorced her alcoholic dad when she was young and remarried a man that weed girl never developed a close relationship with.
Her stepfather reinforced the message that she was somehow “too sensitive” and “weird.”
Exploration revealed that in fact, weed girl was no “normal” child; she began speaking at 7 months old, walking at 10 months and reading at 3 years old.
Her parents were initially taken aback by her unusual developmental trajectory; it was not until middle school that they began to feel that she was “too much to deal with because of her rage to explore, fierce desire to create and natural tendency to immerse herself in the world of books and storytelling.
The adults in her life found this somewhat entertaining for awhile but then became annoyed when, as she was growing up, she became more interested in spending time with them rather than her peers.
Weed Girl’s teachers graded her poorly since she preferred to focus on the reading books of her choice, instead of doing her school work most of the time.
In high school she started hanging out with “the wrong crowd,” aka the kids who partied.
Smoking weed, drinking and trying some other drugs, weed girl preferred the pot smoking which she explains “took the edge off of her brain.”
This was the beginning of Weed Girl’s new lifestyle which landed her in jail and rehab several times each.
Sadly, by the time I met her, Weed Girl was pretty convinced that she was just a big screw-up and had forgotten about any of her strengths.
Gifted people coping with a “busy mind”
As with many gifted people who hear the dual messages of “Wow, you’re so smart or creative or talented,” along with the “You’re too much too handle” message, Weed Girl never learned how to cope with her own busy mind.
Instead of developing the essential coping skills for managing what I call a “rage to achieve,” many gifted adults grow up doing exactly what Weed Girl learned to do, that is they learn how to “numb and dumb” their passion and sensitivity by smoking pot not just once a day, but all day every day.
Weed Girl also began to hang out with a less than ambitious crowd and as she puts it, “dumb my self down.”
She and her other friends (whom she says are smart too) could just zone out and no one judged them for what they were or were not accomplishing.
Sadly, this is the trajectory of many young gifted adults who do not learn how to manage their giftedness and their ambivalence about their potential.
Like many, Weed Girl always returned to weed which allowed her to think but not too deeply, while simultaneously erasing the “urge to act.”
This is in congruence with the ambivalence about her own sense of power in the world as a person of agency.
When in therapy, we first touched upon her disappointment in herself; Weed Girl cried when she realized how she has been running away from her own gifts and passion by hiding in a haze of smoke.
Of course dealing with the real issues of depression and anxiety are a priority along with helping Weed Girl to develop skills in managing her giftedness and related emotions while simultaneously enhancing her motivation to live a less weed centered life.
On a daily basis I have the privilege of getting to bear witness to dramas in the lives of people who don’t realize that their passion for learning and creativity is actually part of being a gifted person rather than something to anesthetize with addiction.
Not knowing how to manage their own insatiable “rage to achieve or curiosity can be painful, frustrating and debilitating.
Assisting parents of gifted kids and young adults to identify these challenges early on and help their children to manage the overwhelming emotions that go with having a different mind can help kids cope with themselves as they grow into gifted adults.
Gifted adults who over use substances can find a mental health professional to explore the role of the substance abuse in their attempts to manage what feels unmanageable about their intellectual, social and emotional lives.
Gifted people can benefit from therapists and counselors who understand and are sensitive to what it feels like or means to experience a “rage to achieve” or insatiable curiosity rather than a “one size fits all” approach to substance abuse often available to anyone struggling with addiction.
Coping with being a gifted adult is not always easy, it entails real skills that many gifted adults and the people who love them never learn or realize that they must develop.
I believe that the social and emotional aspects of being a gifted individual and family are a priority that is vital to well being of all gifted people and those that love them in order for them to reach their potential and live fulfilling lives.
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Belinda Seiger, PhD, LCSW is a psychotherapist specializing in working with gifted/talented/creative people, and is the author of numerous articles on parenting, giftedness and harm reduction in substance abuse treatment.
She is Founder / CEO of Anxiety and OCD Treatment Center of Princeton – “Evidence based strategies for anxiety & OCD, mood & motivation. Expertise in kids/families with OCD, gifted, 2e, ADHD/ADD, LD. LBGTQA ally.”
Bio above and the following material added by site author Douglas Eby:
Photo at top from article “Marijuana Side Effects – When to Stop Smoking Weed.”]
Next photo: Actor Katie Holmes and others in movie “Disturbing Behavior” (1998).
My related articles include:
Addiction and Creative People – “I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.” – Frida Kahlo
During her life artist Frida Kahlo “underwent a total of 35 surgeries, including bone grafts, and became addicted to pain killers and alcohol.”
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