Many gifted or exceptional people feel insecure at times, struggle with impostor feelings and high sensitivity, among other experiences – which can lead to questioning the gifted or high ability label for themselves.
Not settling for underachievement
We may not have realized all or even many of the promises of our identity as a gifted kid, and through circumstance or suppression left talents unmanifested or unspoken.
But that doesn’t mean we have lost that aspect of who we are.
You can learn more about the traits that gifted people have, and stop denying being gifted with high abilities, accepting and celebrating who you really are.
But you may have to “get over” aversions you have to allowing others – and yourself – to recognize you as different and exceptional.
The photo above is Winona Ryder in one of her movies; she has commented about being sensitive – in the form of high sensitivity, it is one of the common personality characteristics of gifted, creative and intense people.
“The whole, like, sensitive, fragile thing,” Ryder said. “I do have those qualities, and I just don’t think there’s anything wrong with them.”
She starred in the film based on Susanna Kaysen’s novel Girl, Interrupted in 1999, and thinks Kaysen “captures a mood we’ve all experienced.
“It’s like a reflective time we’ve all had in our lives, whether to kill ourselves, whether to be miserable or move on.
“You go through spells where you feel that maybe you’re too sensitive for this world. I certainly felt that.”
From my article Winona Ryder and Sensitivity and Mental Health.
The challenge to accept our exceptionality
Author M. Scott Peck (1936-2005) noted:
“Many who are truly superior.. are reluctant to consider themselves ‘better than’ or ‘above’ others, in large part because a sense of humility accompanies their personal and spiritual power.”
In his book “The Road Less Traveled and Beyond” he describes his interview with Jane, a young business school student:
“‘I don’t want to be a whiner’ [she said]. ‘Then you’ll need to learn how to accept your superiority’ I retorted. ‘My what? What do you mean?’
“Jane was dumbfounded. ‘I’m not superior.’ ‘All your complaints [I said] – your whining, if you will – center around your probably accurate assessment that your dates aren’t as smart as you, your professors aren’t as humble as you, and your fellow students aren’t as interesting as you.'”
[Also quoted in my article Gifted Women: Identity and Expression.]
Many creative, sensitive, highly intelligent people may feel like misfits.
Lady Gaga has said she “felt like freak” in high school, and that 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 my article Identity and Being Creative.
How weird are you? – JP Sears
Sears relates that as a child he used to feel pain for his uniqueness – something many of us can relate to.
See his video and more in my article
Challenged By Being So Smart
Coming out Gifted
Lisa Erickson, MS, LMHC writes:
The caller says they went to my website and started to cry.
I have heard this reaction before.
It isn’t because they read the page on addictions or the one on depression.
There is only one page that evokes this response. The caller has read about giftedness on my website. The information is new to them.
The tears come from the shock of recognition, the personal “aha”, the sense of relief, and the prospect of a new path.
Who isn’t drawn to a way of understanding themselves that seems to explain the sense of differentness, the longing for something more, and the sometimes painful comparisons with others?
It is the awakening of something long forgotten or never named.
It is the beginning of a redefinition of identity.
Understanding yourself as a gifted person can be compared to the coming out process for gays.
Continued in her article
Coming out Gifted
“There was something wrong with me, I thought, because I seemed to see things other people didn’t see.” John Lennon
Many creative people say they feel like misfits
Therapist Sharon M. Barnes works with creative, sensitive, intense, intelligent children, teens and adults.
She hears from many of them statements like Lennon made.
See much more in article
Emotional Health Program for Creative, Gifted, Sensitive People
How Will You Know a Gifted Adult?
Psychotherapist Paula Prober addresses this question of gifted identity in one of her articles – here is an excerpt:
How do you know that you’re with a gifted adult? There are clues.
It probably won’t be obvious. And they certainly won’t tell you.
In fact, they may not even know themselves.
They may just think that they’re weird. Or a little crazy. Or a lot crazy.
There are certain questions that they will have trouble answering.
Questions that most people think are simple.
Questions like: What do you want to be when you grow up?
What is your favorite book?
What color do you want to paint your living room?
How are you?
There are certain questions that they’ll want you to ask them. Questions that most people want to avoid.
Questions like: What makes life worth living?
What are you reading now and how are you influenced by this particular writer?
How many languages would you like to learn and why?
When are you going to change career paths next and what looks good to you these days?
How does the octopus express consciousness?
Read more in her article
How Will You Know a Gifted Adult When You See One?
Paula Prober is author of Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth.
“Stupid people tend to overestimate their competence, while smart people tend to sell themselves short.
“As Shakespeare put it in As You Like It: ‘The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.’
“That conventional wisdom is backed up by a Cornell University study conducted by social psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger. The phenomenon is now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.”
From article 17 Signs You Might Be Smart – Even if It Doesn’t Feel Like It by SHANA LEBOWITZ & ÁINE CAIN, BUSINESS INSIDER, via sciencealert.com 17 NOV 2018. (Photo: Richard Feynman.)
About the above interesting article’s use of the term ‘stupid’ – it can be very divisive and pejorative.
As researcher, psychologist, author, and podcaster Scott Barry Kaufman comments in a Facebook post:
“I have no problem referring to high IQ people as “smart”, but I have a big problem referring to those with lower IQ scores as “stupid”. There are many “smart” people who repeatedly act “stupid”, and a lot of “stupid” people that far exceed our expectations and display brilliance.”
His site: scottbarrykaufman.com
Our different drummer
In her post [with a great title – but apparently now off the web] “Is Your Different Drummer Insane or Are You A Gifted Adult?”, Laura Young commented about the value of the book The Gifted Adult by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, and asks about gifted children:
“Where did all those kids go?. What happened to them once they hit adulthood?
“Well, it turns out, a lot of them have felt a bit out of step with their peers and have been fluctuating between trying to force themselves to be normal by shutting themselves down and berating themselves (“But everyone else seems so happy. What’s wrong with me?”) and not giving a rip (“Screw it. I’m the smartest one here. Too bad I’m not smart enough to hide it. Fire me, go ahead, this place is whacked anyway.”)
“In short, that leaves a lot of people (Jacobsen estimates between 5-10% of the population) feeling lonely, confused, wracked with self-doubt, irritable, questioning, stalled, inconsistent, frustrated and wondering if the drummer they have been desperately trying to march to is, well, insane.”
A rose by any other name
The term “gifted” of course has a lot of baggage, and exceptional people do often get negative reactions from other people, as I mention in my post Do gifted and talented people get appreciated and supported?
But some people have learned to “get over” wishing they were “normal” and accept they are… whatever they are, whether they may want to be called “gifted” or not.
Actor Richard E. Grant once commented, “You only learn about yourself, it seems, from how other people react… From the get go I’ve been accused of asking too many questions and being too passionate and extreme about what I like or what I don’t like.
“It’s like gorgonzola cheese – I’m probably an acquired taste! You know, I’m right in there. And it’s not something that I really have control over so much as just that that’s, you know, the DNA of my personality.”
~ ~ ~
Jodie Foster admits, “I have this incredibly passionate feeling about what I do that can make me annoying, and I recognize it.
“Sometimes, I’ll talk about a movie I’ve seen, and then I’ll start seeing foam coming out of my mouth. I go, And then they did this and they did that! People ask me if I could just lighten up a little bit.”
[See more quotes on the page Giftedness characteristics.]
Another post: Jodie Foster on impostor feelings and faking it.
Also read my interview with Jodie Foster on making her film “Contact” and on filmmaking, and gifted women.
Photo of Foster also used in post: Dancing With Our Unconscious.
~ ~ ~
Am I really gifted?
Dr. Mary-Elaine Jacobsen notes in her book The Gifted Adult,
“When many of us hear the word gifted we almost always think two things:
(1) Only schoolchildren are gifted and
(2) Since I’m not a child, I can’t be gifted.”
“These automatic responses are understandable given what most of us have been told about bright people.
“But most of what we have been told is radically incorrect and enormously incomplete.”
Here is an image of a page from the book:
The book also has a number of questions that can affirm whether you are likely to be gifted:
She prefaces the list with: “Choose all of those statements that best describe the way you experience the world. Please keep in mind that Everyday Geniuses tend to undervalue their own abilities.”
I have always had an insatiable curiosity.
I am able to run my mind on multiple tracks at the same time.
I learn rapidly and retain / apply what I learn.
I tend to be very independent.
I tend to be less motivated than others are by rewards, bonuses, and praise.
At times I have asked embarrassing questions or rudely pointed out truths at the wrong time.
My preference for the complex can fool me into underestimating the simple answer.
I like to refine and improve others’ innovations.
I feel comfortable with a wide range of emotions. [continued]
See more on the page: Self-tests: giftedness / high ability.
Articles by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen
Arousing the Sleeping Giant: Giftedness in Adult Psychotherapy
“When the term gifted is used in casual conversation, it generally is assumed the discussion is about someone under the age of eighteen. Yet the attributes and concerns of the gifted do not disappear in adulthood, and at certain junctures in an adult’s lifespan can become critical to an individual’s well-being.”
Giftedness in the Workplace: Can the Bright Mind Thrive in Organizations?
“Inspiring though they may be, tales of eminence often imply that from an early age the truly gifted know exactly what they must do and undeviatingly pursue their lifework. Such distortions exacerbate gifted people’s inner pressure to make their mark in the world. Furthermore.. the transition from full-time learner to full-time worker can be painfully disillusioning.”
Encountering the Gifted Self Again, For the First Time
“There are many confusing notions about what giftedness is and is not. Indeed, in several respects, the life experience of the gifted individual seems paradoxical (e.g., being considered highly successful while secretly feeling like an impostor).”
More related articles:
Adult Underachievement: Living Up to the “Gifted” Label – Or Not — “I don’t think I’m even close to fulfilling my potential.” Actor Kerry Washington
Addressing gifted adult underachievement: Acknowledging our own abilities – One aspect of high ability, and being able to do many things well, is a tendency to discount those abilities.
Adult Underachievement – The ‘gifted’ label & the pressure to deliver
Unrealized talent, unrecognized giftedness – “Unrealized talent does not make a comfortable chair, unless you’ve sat on it your whole life, then it makes it a dangerously comfortable chair.” Actor Eric Roberts
Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem and the Gifted Adult by Stephanie S. Tolan – she points out that self-identification as a gifted adult “is complicated by the great diversity among the gifted adult population. What does a gifted adult look like? Unfortunately, for many gifted adults, it looks like somebody else.”
Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel notes how intelligence – one of the key qualities of giftedness, though not the only one – is such a central aspect of our identity:
“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.”
He notes that every smart person experiences challenges, and lists fifteen of them that many people have in common, including:
“Living in a society and a world that does more than disparage smartness, that actually silences smart people (because the power and privilege of leaders is undercut by smart people like you pointing out fraud, illogic, and injustice).
“Doing work day after day and year after year that fails to make real use of your brainpower…”
See more in article: Brainpower and The Smart Gap.
One of his related books: Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative.