Guilty about being exceptional

Being highly talented and exceptional can engender a complex mix of feelings about your self and how you relate to your advanced abilities, and to the world.

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen writes about clients “coming to grips with his or her giftedness, and what that means when re-discovery unlocks feelings of guilt, remorse, regret, anger, and fears about expectations.”

Rachel Weisz with her OscarAs an example of a “newly-identified gifted adult” she quotes a former client:

“All these years I thought being so sensitive, picky, emotional, and driven was something to be ashamed of.

“I can’t tell you how many times I looked to the sky and pleaded to be ‘normal.’ This changes everything. I’m not weird after all.

“Maybe now I can make up for lost time in the selfhood realm; supporting myself and my goals from the inside out for a change. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“All I know is I’m back. My vitality has returned along with hope. I can be me in my own way, differences and all. What a relief to no longer be absent in my own life!”

From her article Arousing the Sleeping Giant: Giftedness in Adult Psychotherapy.

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PsyD is author of The Gifted Adult.

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Rachel Weisz as Snow White - From Facebook / Moon Costumes

Rachel Weisz won an Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role for The Constant Gardener (2005).

A Guardian article years earlier interviewed her, noting she had acted in two fairly big studio movies: “Stealing Beauty” and “Chain Reaction.”

The writer Suzie Mackenzie noted, “With it all came money: ‘My own flat, my own car, a comfortable life.’ And she felt it was all undeserved. Maybe this is natural. Not only was she young, she was brought up ‘on the work ethic’ by her parents, Jewish refugees who came to Britain before the war ‘with nothing’ and made their way in the world.

“Maybe it was natural, too, that she felt guilt. ‘Guilt, yes, I am very good at that.’ The thing about guilt, she explains, is that you don’t have to have done anything wrong. ‘I can feel guilty about anything.’

“But her guilt was specifically bound up with her success.

‘Any success – getting a good degree, getting an agent, getting on TV. As if somehow by doing well, I was depriving someone else of something – it could be anyone, sister, mother, friend And it all became a bit too much. I didn’t feel I had the right.'”

Mackenzie adds, “It is a strange notion this, that things are ours by right. It is not by right that we are born beautiful, not by right are we clever. It wasn’t even as if her parents were dumping guilt on her.

‘On the contrary. My dad always says that he thinks my generation had it harder than his, because for us there are no moral boundaries.’

“Guilt was just something she imbibed with the air – guilt about being beautiful, being bright, being successful.”

From “Talented, clever, sexy… and guilty” by Suzie Mackenzie [Guardian Unlimited March 22, 1999]

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Alyssa Milano in MistressesAlyssa Milano is another accomplished and talented woman with these kinds of feelings:

“I had to deal with a certain amount of guilt that accompanied being successful at a young age. The guilt that my parents gave up their dreams, friendships, and the only life they knew to make *my* triumphs a possibility.

“The guilt that my brother had to deal with having a famous sister. It was not easy, but thank God I had them to remind me what is important in life.” []

Alyssa Milano has credits as an actress and producer and is a recording artist with several platinum albums.

She is also a philanthropist, author and designer:

“Because of all her charitable work on behalf of children, Alyssa was invited by UNICEF in 2003 to become a National Ambassador. … Milano also has her own clothing and jewelry line, TOUCH by Alyssa Milano. …

“In her book ‘Safe at Home: Confessions of a Baseball Fanatic’, Milano writes about her passion for baseball and how her love for the game has helped shape who she is.” [From her site]

[Photo from Facebook page of her TV series ‘Mistresses’]

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Multitalented Creative People article

Read about more multitalented creators like Gordon Parks, Julia Cameron, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Mayim Bialik, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch and others in the article: Multitalented Creative People [an excerpt from my main book].

[For more on actors and performers, see my site The Inner Actor.]

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It isn’t always easy or natural for many high ability people to acknowledge the value of the good achievements our passions lead to.

Developing Multiple Talents bookOne reason may be that some people hold a stereotyped view of what giftedness or exceptional talent means (as merely high IQ, for example) and feel that an identity as “gifted” is incompatible with their self-concept.

Others may have a fear of failure or success related to living up to the label, or have an aversion to being thought “elitist”, “superior”, or “hogging all the glory.”

And they may feel guilt, shame, or other destabilizing feelings about being exceptional. Highly talented women, according to some research, may hide abilities in order to survive socially.

From my book Developing Multiple Talents: The personal side of creative expression

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Changing Our Thinking and Beliefs – Beliefs about life and abilities affect our identity and self esteem, how much we develop creative talents and pursue other interests.

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Getting beyond impostor feelings article

Getting beyond impostor feelings – Many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.

I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” Maya Angelou

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Book: Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative by Eric Maisel, PhD.

“Smartness is a smart person’s defining characteristic. Everything she thinks about the world—how she forms her identity, how she construes her needs, how she talks to herself about her life purposes and goals—is a function of how her particular brain operates.”

See more and hear audio clip of Maisel in article: Challenged By Being So Smart.


Originally posted 2012-09-13 12:05:33.


  1. Rick Martinez says

    As just a regular guy, I believe–and it’s just my opinion–that more and more men are coming around to enjoy intelligent conversations and even heated discussions on various topics–especially with articulate women. Yes, it’s taken a while for men to evolve, and thanks to the push and patience of virtuous women,
    men are finally opening up to listening, learning, enjoying dialogue rather than discourse, and having fun
    all in one great experience–and all without anyone winning or losing. Hey, the refrain of yesteryear is now on the other foot: “We’ve come a long way baby.”

  2. says

    Highly talented women, according to some research, may hide abilities in order to survive socially. >>

    This is absolutely true.

    • Kady says

      When I was younger I felt I had to hide my intelligence or I wouldn’t have any friends or get any dates. A man once told me that I should never discuss quantum theory around men. He said that most men wanted to be the smartest man at then table and a man didn’t like to be shown up by a woman. Now that I’m older I don’t care as much (I’m not that old). I’m not going to deny myself the pleasure of fully expressing myself just to make other people ‘happy’ or more to the point, less threatened. Developing a thicker skin, while still maintaining empathy is key. That, and being comfortable with solitude – enjoying the company of ones self. But sometimes I wish I could clone myself – I would have so much fun!

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