Overexcitabilities and the gifted – Living With Intensity

I’d like to share the point of view that Kazimierz Dabrowski held that came from the Living with Intensity:Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults by Susan Daniels (Editor), Michael M. Piechowski (Editor) book. Overexcitabilities (OEs) are only part of the story, and things make sense when you put them in the context of his theory of positive distintegration (TPD). OEs by themselves really don’t serve us well, because while they define what is going on with us, it doesn’t tell us what purpose they do serve.

According to Dabrowski, OEs are a necessary part of advanced personality development. Not every one has them and not everyone progresses through the levels of personality development. Those that don’t hover at lower levels, kind of content with where they are at.

He felt some mental health disorders (like depression and anxiety) were actually a NECESSARY part of personality development and not necessarily needing treatment. He was of the belief that conflict – conflict either between the real self (what we are) and the ideal self (what we want to be), or between the self and others – is a necessary component of advanced development. While most people would be of the belief of “Why would you want negative behaviors to persist? Why don’t you medicate them away?”, he believed that would be stunting the advanced development of the person.

Also, he felt

We feel comfort among those who agree with us – growth among those who don’t.

Think about how LIBERATING this concept is. It’s this very friction between the forces where are true development takes place. Without it, no growth happens.

The way I think of it as I’m reading this book, OEs and positive disintegration is similar to the cycle of the phoenix – where at the end of its life, it burns itself and from the ashes a new phoenix arises. That is the imagery I formed when reading about positive disintegration.

In chapter 2, Daniels and Peichowski remarked that J.D. Salinger looked everywhere outside himself to find that peace he was searching for relentlessly. He tried Kriya Yoga, Dianetics, Christian Science, and many other fads of the day to find answers. The reason he never found them was because he was looking outside himself. The answers aren’t out there, they are within us. You don’t want to trust in authority figures outside yourself, because you will end up deriving a sense of self from external sources, rather from within. When you develop your self-concept on the opinions of others, you are developing it on shifting sand and not a rock solid foundation.

In the meantime, how do you cope, like right now?

You have choices:

1) Screw the society you live in. You are who you are, everyone else can like it or leave. If you have an intact self-concept, this might actually work, though it might alienate everyone you know and leave you alone. Yet, if you are okay with this, then this will work for you.

2) Put on a facade and act “normal” for the sake of having friends who’ll accept you. But suffer the life of being fraudulent.

3) Meet people half-way. Learn to temper your OEs a little bit (for example, through sensory calming strategies, or exercise to diffuse some of them), adjust your speech to your audience (my dad told me when I was younger that I would do well to not talk far above people who couldn’t keep up, it was simple consideration for their abilities), while looking for giftedness in others (I found that when I went looking for it, I was surprised at what fascinating friends I’d made).

4) Have compassion for those that don’t have what you have. They are never going to suffer great highs and lows, they are never going to experience the richness of life that you do, and are never going to have those transcendental experiences that you are capable of and reach advanced levels of development. Reach out to those less fortunate than you are. There’s plenty of people suffering who are never going to have that inner peace that we are capable of.

5) Get a copy of Living With Intensity. Yeah, I should get some sort of payment for extolling the book and encouraging others to get it, but really, I just want others to be helped by it.

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15 Responses to Overexcitabilities and the gifted – Living With Intensity

  1. Spacemom says:

    Interesting. I have recently started to study Dabrowshi’s work

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    How do you like his work so far? I have found that the Living With Intensity book seems to distill it enough for me to understand with real life examples. I mean, I consider myself fairly bright, but it does help to see real-life examples of how complex theories might look in practice.

  3. joanna says:

    You really should connect with my father – he’s an expert in the work of Dabrowski. If you would like his contact info shoot me an email.

  4. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Joanna – I just might do that. Thanks for letting me know. I appreciate it. When I get further in the book (and know a little more), I will email you for information.

  5. Papa T says:

    Interesting…doing research for a project in one of my courses…Googled “‘living with intensity’ sources”…hit numero uno? RSG!

    My presentation focuses on Sensitivity and the Transescent Gifted Student. The “challenge” is finding ten journal articles that “fit in the box” of the course requirement to cite ten peer-reviewed journal articles that are “less than five years fresh.”

    I’m getting a copy of this book…searching journals…writing…etc. Will be glad to share my “results.” I’ll be doing a PowerPoint presentation for this class.

    I’ll throw my hat in this ring (again). There’s no doubt that I’m “OE,” sensitive, intense, and impossible (a few apropos labels). And declaring one’s own “giftedness” goes over about as resoundingly as declaring one’s sacredness. [Being scared would probably be more acceptable…]

    Anyway…Joanna…if you’re still around and can throw me a bone or two on this one, I’d be indebted (sort of).

    Blessings to all…

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Papa T.

    I feel there is nothing wrong with being convicted that I am gifted, or sacred. It’s in the broadcasting to the general public that leaves something to be desired.

    There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what giftedness is and is not. The common (mis-)conception is that giftedness = intellectual superiority. What were does that leave the non-gifted individual? Feeling intellectually inferior. I don’t know of many people that like feeling inferior. It causes hurt feelings, bruised egos, and separates individuals that otherwise might have some commonalities. Declaring giftedness can subtly denote a demarcation line: “I belong here, but you don’t”.

    But giftedness is not simply an academic/intellectual phenomenon. It is so much more than that. It’s a qualitative difference in the experience of EVERY aspect of life, potentially creating these internal conflicts everywhere one turns.

    There’s also intuitive leaps of cognition, and my theory is while this applies to intellectual information, this would also be applicable in the realm of interpersonal relationships, falling under the category of “emotional intelligence”.

    These conflicts and abilities being gifted isn’t always a “gift”, but it can actually feel more like a “curse”. As in, “what good is KNOWING something that you can’t do a DAMN thing about?”

    As one who suffers the consequences of sensing/feeling/caring too much, I know that this gift often feels like a curse.

  7. Joanna says:

    Papa T – visit my blog (http://wisdomwithinink.com) and contact me, I can get you some bones!

    Yes, giftedness can be a curse. It is misunderstood. Our society prefers us all to dumb down and definitely not yell from the roof tops, “I’m gifted! My children are too!” Doesn’t make for good neighborly relations, in general. Until society becomes more aware and accepting of giftedness (as they are finally accepting of the opposite end of the spectrum) we just have keep educating ourselves and our children.

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Joanna –

    I’m glad you replied, it was on my to-do list literally the next thing, but you beat me to it. I realize too, I hadn’t gotten your father’s contact info either.

    Also, I’m behind in catching up with your blog…next thing on my to-do list.

    So many things I’m behind on lately.

  9. Papa T says:

    Yes, Mrs. RSG, the broadcasting of one’s gift definitely leaves something to be desired. Unfortunately–or not–before I can broadcast my gift, there is a certain amount of broadcasting my giftedness…and sacredness…that must take place. I have languished in a dark and deep forest of Self shame for many years. Only recently have I realized that I am deeply ashamed of my Self. For me to declare my sacredness is new and honest.

    As with anything that “excessively” (yes, sneer quotes to set off my subjective quasi-assertion) depends on labels. Nothing really fits well in any box–or container–besides the one into which it has been imbued or set. Certainly no one likes feeling inferior. I know that I have not liked it. I don’t wish it on anyone else. But, I am my responsibility, and “they” are theirs.

    I do not shy away from the challenges of linguistic difference in communication. Allow me to use your language: I know that I am qualitatively different in the experience of (nearly) every aspect of life. And that the potential of meeting internal–and external–conflicts everywhere I turn has been realized. The essence of these conflicts, I think, leads to the quandary of the cursed gift.

    Thank you for sharing your forum. It often takes the edge off the curse.



  10. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Papa T

    It’s my humble opinion that word choice is critical when dealing with these ideas. I can select words that fan the flames of controversy or create divisiveness, or I can use words that enlighten without inviting unnecessary tension. And this all depends on the context I’m speaking in as well. Since this is a public blog, I have no idea whether or not my guests are gifted or not, and I’m try to be conscientious of that fact. I believe that the vast majority of those who stick around ARE gifted, but I don’t presume all are.

    Yes, it is terrible that you have been shamed for who you are and how you relate to the world around you. I had been there myself, when I was much younger. I learned to keep the spiteful people in my life at a distance and learned to be confident in my own skin.

    My favorite quote of all times, “speak softly but carry a big stick”. I apply this to my life by this way: stop fighting with those around me, because my “big stick” is the internal fortitude I get from knowing I can always walk away from those who hurt me. My power is in taking away their power to hurt me. I secretly know I am better than them, but it does no good to try and convince them of it. I only waste my energy and time.

    But getting back to nomenclature, I don’t need the terms gifted or sacred, or anything to let me know that I’m very capable of complex thoughts/emotions/intuitive leaps of cognition.

    I’ve been through quite a transformation (and back again) these past 5.5 years. I went from smart to stupid to smart again (when I quit my job, got pg again, then had gone through a lot of struggles with not having a career in the biosciences and having 3 little kids to take care of). That’s what lack of confidence and essentially being isolated does to a person.

    I have to say (again) it’s INCREDIBLY hard to be one’s own support system. I’ve mentioned to you before about the crushing weight on one’s psyche because I know it all too well.

    That oppressive weight does a couple of things: it crushes one’s esteem, it causes isolation, and it deceives on of the truth.

    I’ve seriously considered suicide no less than 5 times in my life. When I was in 8th grade, when I was 18, when I was in my career in forensics and at least twice when I became a mother of my third child.

    Many times the thought runs through my mind that life is just too hard to keep going, especially when I feel overwhelmed. My first thought runs not to get help, but to get out.

    Life as a gifted individual, especially one with multiple OE’s (and not all gifted individuals have all of them) can be so exhausting…

    No one does this to me. I do it to myself – mostly by administering my own regimen of self care.

    The truth is, gifted individuals ARE more powerful than they give themselves credit for. Including you.

    But…when one realizes this, I think for the simple fact of being humanistic, there is a responsibility to use this power wisely.

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Just after I posted the above, youngest daughter split her head open and had to have 2 staples.

    Tomorrow we go to a wake for oldest daughter’s teacher from last year.

    This has been a very stressful week.

  12. Joanna says:

    Oh, I’m sorry, Casey! Hope she’s OK and that today is not too hard on everyone.

  13. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Thanks Joanna –

    E is doing okay today. The staples don’t bother her anymore like they did yesterday. But I’m a little nervous about when it comes time to have them removed.

    I found out that M’s current teacher will be there from 4-8 (and I imagine the school principal too), which is within the time we would go. So it will help knowing that she will be able to have other significant adults in her life to be there too. The school had tied green ribbons today on all the trees around the school in honor of Mrs. P.

    It is hard in part because I lost a dear friend/co-worker to breast cancer a few years back and because you never expect your young child to have to lose someone who was very significant to them. And Mrs. P was so kind to M.

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