By Belinda Seiger, PhD, LCSW
In my private psychotherapy practice and in my personal life, I have known many gifted women who seem to possess what I refer to as the “rage to achieve.”
They are constantly driven to learn, to create and to be intellectually productive even while raising young children.
What distinguishes these women from their ambitious counterparts is that their motivation is not financial security, accolades or professional visibility; but their love for the process of learning, creating and involvement in a field or arena that holds deep interest and fascination for them.
Many of these women face periods of frustration when the demands of family and their need for intellectual immersion collides.
As one friend who was getting her second master’s degree put it:
“Mass chaos,” ensues when one attempts to become immersed intellectually while simultaneously remaining attentive and available for family responsibilities.
Like other intellectually curious women who attempt to put their endeavors aside while her children were in diapers; this friend had become depressed and frustrated at not being able to fulfill her innate intellectual curiosity.
When her children were old enough, and with help from her family, she returned to school on weekends to pursue her interests.
She couldn’t help it; she was driven to learn more and pursue on the deepest level the financial algorithms underlying the economy!
One woman I worked with in private practice called this same drive to learn, her “lion.” She felt that “the desire to know, to do, to learn is like having a lion that needs feeding; if you don’t feed the lion it roars and makes itself known for sure!”
Like gifted children and young adults; gifted adults are distinguishable not only by their IQ’s but by their intensity, multiple talents, high energy, curiosity and obsessive need to increase in-depth knowledge in subjects that interest them.
Trying to ignore these qualities can result in a depressed mood, anxiety and feelings of being unfulfilled emotionally and intellectually.
Caring for children and families requires time and energy that must somehow be shared with such intellectual or professional pursuits.
Not doing so can leave a woman feeling, as one client stated, “like I have lost myself.”
One woman I know dries her hair while reading numerous legal periodicals and political journals; she informs her friends that if her hair looks good that day; her mind is full of knowledge.
This creative “time sharing” demonstrates the dedication that such woman have to the process of staying abreast in areas that interest them.
Women channel their desire for knowledge in a variety of directions; some embrace motherhood and their children as their new projects with the same intensity that they pursued neuroscience.
They pursue all there is to know about every stage and phase of their children’s lives and find fulfillment in doing so.
Other women become involved in their communities as highly active volunteers, innovative committee chairwomen and the “go to” person for community action and fundraising.
One friend of mine, trained as a lawyer, who humbly eschews the “gifted” label, is highly involved in her husband’s political campaign as well as the local parent advocacy committee in her children’s schools.
One former Broadway actress and singer who had recently had a four year old began teaching a music class for parents and children and sang in her own band of other moms.
A former recording artist plays in a band with her new mom and dad neighborhood friends.
Yet there are women who may not have discovered such outlets for their former ambitious, curious, multifaceted selves.
A resurgence of these aspects of the self may occur when the woman may not be ready for the full immersion that such a drive requires. Such clients have described themselves as having symptoms of anxiety, irritability and restlessness.
It is at this point that many such women seek counseling from a therapist who can empathize with the woman’s energy and strivings and assist her to fulfill them even while raising children and other commitments.
This is often a crossroads for women who many have suppressed their need for intellectual involvement and put their focus on mothering. A first step in reconciling this conflict is acknowledging that for highly intelligent, creative or talented persons, it is a necessity to “feed the lion,” rather than a choice in order to be satisfied emotionally and creatively.
Frequently, parents become more aware of their own thwarted gifts as they recognize and identify their children as being highly intelligent, gifted or talented. Suddenly, such women (and men) realize their own capabilities and look back on lives where their gifts may have been overlooked, ignored or misunderstood.
This can be an eye opening time filled with insight for many adults just discovering their own giftedness.
Additions by site author Douglas Eby:
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.”
The photo is from the documentary Lost in Living – “the story of four extraordinary women who share their personal triumphs and struggles as mothers and as artists…”
Read more in my article Being Creative and A Mother.
Also see article Motherhood and creative work.