Suppressing ourselves to fit in
Being exceptional, unusually skillful, smart, creative or otherwise more capable than the norm, may include a judgment both by others and ourselves as being an ‘outsider.’
Gifted and talented people can experience a self-defeating aversion to expressing talents that might separate them from other people.
Girls and women may be especially sensitive about fitting in, and deny their capabilities, find it hard to recognize and embrace their abilities, feel they are “frauds” or “impostors” and have a low sense of entitlement to be exceptional.
Of course, all of those can be issues for boys and men as well.
In her book “The Sound of a Silver Horn: Reclaiming the Heroism in Contemporary Women’s Lives“, Professor Kathleen Noble points out that primary religious and secular myths, including stories from Beowulf to the Brothers Grimm to Disney, idealize women “for their modesty, beauty, chastity, piety, obedience and selfless performance of domestic duties” and perpetuate stereotypes that make it “extremely difficult for women to be seen as strong, resourceful, courageous, and real, the ingredients of true heroic stature.”
Dr. Noble cites the power of a specific example:
“‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?’ This is the question that opens the tale of Snow White, one of Western culture’s most enduring heroines; it is the question that forms the core of most quest stories written for women and girls, and it is the question that serves most forcefully to blind us to our strengths.”
From my article: Entitled to Be Exceptional.
The image is Charlize Theron as the queen in “Snow White and the Huntsman” in which the mirror — unlike the traditional depiction of a face in the glass — becomes liquid metal, spills down onto the floor, and rises up as a spectral shape.
It struck me as a very effective image of the spiritual potency of the mirror.
Nancy Drew: sure of herself
In 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.
Emma Roberts, 16, thinks her complex, intelligent character Nancy Drew is “so cool because… when she first came out in the books there weren’t a lot of young teen girls that independent and that sure of themselves.. at least not in movies and books. There still aren’t many.”
Other examples that celebrate difference are “Hairspray” and the Harry Potter series of books and movies.
Daniel Radcliffe: eccentric for his age
David Thewlis (who plays Professor Lupin) has commented about “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe [right]: “His confidence has really grown. He’s great company. And he’s quite eccentric for his age, really batty. Great taste in music, he got me into some great bands I’ve never listened to before.”
[From the page Eccentricity.]
But being different may be easier for males than females.
In her article Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult, Stephanie Tolan notes, “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.
“Most have never been formally identified as gifted, and even those who have may disbelieve the identification or have difficulty incorporating it into their sense of themselves.
“Though women are particularly hard-pressed in our culture to recognize and fully utilize unusual intelligence, uncertainty about gifts can affect both males and females, especially those who are not recognized as intellectual achievers.”
She adds that even men and women who are recognized achievers often experience the “impostor-syndrome” – “These people go along routinely doing what few others can do, all the while dreading the moment when the world will find them out and discover that they are the fakes they believe themselves to be.”
Also see post: The impostor phenomenon – Feeling like a fraud
and program by Dr. Valerie Young: Overcome the Impostor Syndrome.
Fortunately, gifted and talented people can learn to honestly acknowledge their exceptional abilities, and make use of them to benefit everyone.