So, what is giftedness really…Or, why you might not understand why I’m complaining all the time

This discussion is born out of a comment raised about the definition of giftedness.

A particular commenter could not relate to all of my angst (and quite honestly, I don’t expect anyone to – these are my experiences and my feelings towards them), and it seemed that it was mostly because her view of giftedness varied from how I define it. She defines it in terms of “what you have to show for it”. Fair enough. In fact, many people feel that way. Only…it’s an incomplete view of giftedness.

I agree with Linda Silverman and the Gifted Development Center who redefines what giftedness really is (as I stated in the post regarding gifted women):

It’s time we took giftedness out of the closet and separated it entirely from the concept of achievement. It’s time we recognized it, valued it and nurtured it in our schools and our families. As a parent wrote in an issue of Understanding Our Gifted,

Every gift contains a danger. Whatever gift we have we are compelled to express. And if the expression of that gift is blocked, distorted, or merely allowed to languish, then the gift turns against us, and we suffer(Johnson, 1993, p. 15).

Because many people do not understand the gifted experience, those that have gifts are often unrecognized and the gifted individuals intensity (emotional, intellectual, psychomotor, sensual and/or imaginational) is either misunderstood or misdiagnosed as an illness to be medicated (add/adhd, bipolar,etc). There are many stories of adult individuals who don’t get the chance to use their abilities and don’t get the opportunities that would let them achieve great things in society (mothering, in fact, is a huge unrecognized contribution to society and still is to this very day). Many are told (by their own parents, family, teachers, bosses) that there is something wrong with them, so they have had the confidence crushed right out of them. If a modern school psychologist had the chance to evaluate Nikola Tesla way back in the 1800s and the things that went on in his mind (some pretty intense visual images), he most likely would have been diagnosed with schizophrenia and medicated – instead of going on to invent the alternating current model of electricity that we used to power our homes and businesses. At the same time, had Tesla not gone on to become an inventor, and instead have been medicated, he would have still been gifted (only not having anything to show for it).

However, that being said, coming from 28 years of achieving (16 years of school+12 years of laboratory work), I’m keenly aware I’m not achieving a whole lot right now (nothing in the past 5 years to add to a pretty extensive CV).

That’s where the angst comes from – being keenly aware of my own shortcomings as I mother of bright girls (one whom who is a highly sensitive and selectively mute child), and of being emotionally traumatized as a child and young adult by my family and that had a direct effect on parenting my own children for a while, and of being a woman not satisfied with just mothering and housework and attending to my husband’s intimate needs (even if I do benefit greatly from the last one).

It’s about having HIGH expectations for oneself (and others) and for having HIGH needs to express oneself and nurture one’s interests. It’s also about having difficulty being understood by your peers (whether we are talking about kids or adults). It’s a very isolating experience when bulk of the mothering friends only talk about chick flicks, and shopping, and clothes, and complain about how their husbands suck, and exchange ideas on how to get their kids to behave through complicated reward/punishment systems, or spanking, or time-outs (all of which I think don’t work in the long run and do not create healthy self-discipline). No one in my neck of the woods wants to talk about chemistry experiments, or the pros and cons of different mathematics curriculum used in different schools, or have a thrilling discussion with me about the biography of Tesla I’m reading (and quite honestly, I wouldn’t expect them to want to discuss the biography I’m reading).

Because of the differences in experience, giftedness ALSO affects relationships with others. There are many a highly gifted individuals who struggle with their personal relationships. Ask any highly gifted individual who is trying to date. It’s hard to find compatibility with others who are not gifted themselves. I got lucky because my husband is gifted as well. I would have a lot more problems with our marriage if we couldn’t relate to each other in a way that is meaningful for us.

Just ask me how many friends I might have that struggle with this very concept – of connecting with others on a deep meaningful level when the others in their lives only skim the surface.

This is why I have angst. I was never ID’d as gifted as a child, but that formal identification is irrelevant anyway (but I do have my old records and my CV to lend proof to it). But it goes an incredibly LONG way to explain why I feel the way I do about many things, from parenting intense children to needing to express myself through writing, to needing to feed my brain.

At any rate, I hate to sound like I’m picking on that person, but I had to clarify this because it greatly troubles me. Giftedness does NOT equal achievement but rather explains the different perception of the world around the gifted individual. Achievement does help the gifted individual feel deeply satisfied as he or she (generally) feels compelled to contribute his or her talents to the greater good.

Add to all of my own difficulties, I have at least two gifted girls, both of whom have high sensitivities (my third one is probably gifted too, but it’s too early to tell). I have had to understand their individual sensitivities and their intellectual needs (my first grader is reading 6th grade material and wanting to do third grade math). Because they are girls, I want to explore the concepts of incorporating my individual growth with my families’ needs. I don’t believe I need a job to do that, but I do need to cope with the lack of tangible achievement. I am raising some pretty amazing girls, but I can’t add that to my CV, unfortunately.

So, yeah. I get that I might sound like I have a lot of angst, and that’s because I do. I spend an inordinate amount of time in self-analysis and it is both exhilarating and exhausting at times. It’s just part of who I am.

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11 Responses to So, what is giftedness really…Or, why you might not understand why I’m complaining all the time

  1. teachingyoungchildren says:

    It’s a good post, and, no, I don’t feel to be picked upon. I agree wholeheartedly that it’s horrible when individual gifts are suppressed by family and society. I think it’s also great that in modern day and age gifted individuals don’t have to be isolated. You just get out your thoughts in the blogosphere or forums that are created for the people who think like you do, and, poof, you are magically connected with like-minded individuals. However, here is the problem – I never learned from someone who agrees with everything I have to say. Maybe all those moms who talk about how to discipline their kids and don’t read Tesla biographies do have something to teach you.. if you open yourself to listening to someone who is not your intellectual peer.

  2. raisingsmartgirls says:

    I’m glad you haven’t taken offense.

    The moms who discipline those kids using traditional behavioral extinction methods simply do not work for my highly sensitive children. Trust me, it’s not because I haven’t tried. It simply doesn’t work. My dd2 meltdowns turned her into a feral child who looked like she was having a seizure (her eyes rolled back into her head once and I could not snap her out of it with just my voice for a few minutes).

    And honestly, the last time I went to my mother’s group and listened to them exchange ideas on how to make convoluted reward/punishment models of money/stickers in exchange for good behavior and the removal of money/stickers in exchange for bad behavior simply makes me skin crawl. That does not teach a child to want to be good. It teaches a child how to depend on external motivators to change behavior.

    That’s not to say I can’t be friends with those moms who don’t read things like I do, and in fact I do have some friends, but by and large, I feel uncomfortable about a LOT of the topics they do prefer to talk about, so I really try to limit my expsoure to them.

  3. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Oh, yeah, I forgot – I have 3 adult sisters and I really don’t relate well to any of them. None of them read anything beyond magazines. I can’t share any parenting techniques with them, and my oldest sister had been my biggest opposition to nursing my youngest child to 3 years old. That same oldest sister is the same one of accusing me of being bipolar and messed up in the head as a child.

    Can I get along with them? Sure, as long as I don’t open my mouth and talk about anything I care about (attachment parenting, child discipline, co-sleeping/breastfeeding or any number of intellectual topics or even considering choosing my next career path).

    So, yeah…plenty of isolation here. Not my choice always though.

  4. Jennaviere says:

    “It’s about having HIGH expectations for oneself (and others) and for having HIGH needs to express oneself and nurture one’s interests. It’s also about having difficulty being understood by your peers (whether we are talking about kids or adults). It’s a very isolating experience when bulk of the mothering friends only talk about chick flicks, and shopping, and clothes, and complain about how their husbands suck, and exchange ideas on how to get their kids to behave through complicated reward/punishment systems, or spanking, or time-outs…”

    Yup, lady.
    I think I’ve said before that this is my biggest source of grief. I have no peers. Most of the time, I am ok with that, because my insatiable self-led education process doesn’t allow me time to do trivial friend-maintenance anyway. Honestly, I’d rather stay in on the weekends and read my new virology textbook than hang out at a bar talking about… whatever people in bars talk about.
    (Do people in bars talk about influenza?)

    I commented on the other post before I read this one. Yes, the perceived underachievement is the source of angst. High standards within oneself. High expectations. It presents an equally high risk of failure. Very often I abandon an idea or a goal before I even attempt it because I *think* I have the foresight to know it isn’t possible (at the given time) to carry it out to the highest possible standard — may revisit it later though.

  5. raisingsmartgirls says:

    “(Do people in bars talk about influenza?)”

    Well…when I worked at the crime lab, and I’d go out after work with some of my colleagues, we did, in fact, talk a lot about DNA analysis. So I would imagine in some places, for instance, on university campuses with research facilities, there would be some talk of influenza somewhere at the bars.

    But…generally speaking, no probably not much talk about influenza among the general population, except perhaps to say someone in the family got it.

    I’m not fond of the bar scene much anyway because of the smoke there and you can hardly have a conversation anyway.

    But yeah…in the past 2 days of family functions, the most talking I did with anyone was a 40 minute conversation with a 7th grader who was visiting my sister’s family from out of town. He was an introverted giftie who was trying to remain invisible in an empty formal living room. I started engaging him in conversation, asking him about things he liked (fantasy books and animals) and found it rather enjoyable. He seemed to enjoy it as well, and after we were done, he was feeling comfortable enough to join the kids.

    The rest of the time I kept mostly to myself, reading my book on Tesla, or (like yesterday) reading Tesla and jumping on my mom’s computer. My oldest sister caught me looking up something on google, then asked me sharply “what are you DOING?” and then
    “what’s WRONG with you?” because I was being anti-social. Because, you know, if you don’t want to talk to people at a party, that automatically means there MUST be something wrong, of course.

    Sigh. Whatever. It sure beats feeling like crap because you get strange looks or criticism for your opinions.

  6. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Speaking of which…man if my family ever finds out about this blog, I’m never going to hear the end of it.

    They would be absolutely using it to prove that I’m mentally unstable or having delusions of grandeur. Which I assure my readers, I’m neither.

  7. Deb says:

    Having found your blog because of my child (I responded to a different post earlier), I’m now reading through some of your other posts and feeling like I’ve found a kindred spirit, of the race of Joseph. (Reference: Anne’s House of Dreams from the Anne of Green Gables series, which my daughter, S, and I are reading now. But maybe you’re not there yet.)

    Exploring ways to help my daughter has given me some great insights into my own (probable) gifted issues from childhood. I can relate to your posts on many levels. I have always downplayed my abilities, and to this date, when someone asks me where I went to school, I say, “New Hampshire” instead of “Dartmouth”–because I don’t want to manage a response to either a) Whoooooa, um, okay, reallY??” or b) “Oh…what’s that?” But I can’t tolerate most of my intellectual peers either. I find most of them to be pretentious, arrogant or greedy. I pride myself on living outside the box, in the side channel outside the mainstream, just over the edge. Lots of acquaintances, few friends.

    Sorry, long post. But again, thanks for your writing. Makes me think. I like your “raisingsmartgirls” moniker. You might appreciate that one of the mantras I say to myself when S is melting is, “The world needs strong women…the world needs strong women….” How to help her succeed, how to raise her self-esteem so she didn’t have to deal with the bleep I did, how to be her friend and parent at the same time…..such challenges we face!

  8. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Deb – I’ll come back to reply. I have got to take my daughters out for a while, but I replied to your other comment here:

  9. Spacemom says:

    I hear you! I am very lucky to have found a few peers in my area. We are willing to discuss politics, latest novels and non-fiction we have read and the news.

    I worry about my oldest as she already has peer issues. The GT teacher had my daughter and her friend placed in the same class because they ARE peers. I was even told by the 1st grade teacher how my daughter had psychological issues because she was not as mature as she was intelligent (classic gifted sign).

    I think one of the hardest things is to convince others that smart/intelligent does NOT equal life is easy and all things come easy. The “average” kids seem to be the most well adjusted people in the world.

  10. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Deb – thank you for replying. I will have to look for that Anne of Green Gables sequel, but I will keep that in mind when we read it.

    Hmmm…yes, I do think there is a danger of some intellectuals also being a bit pretentious and arrogant too. It’s hard to find a blend of the intelligent and sensitive. I know they are out there though, because I’ve found a few of them in real life. They are just too far from me geographically now.

    I’ve never felt the desire to either self-promote or downplay my abilities. I did take a little bit of pride in my work and know that I was doing some good for some people.

    Dartmouth…oh, very cool. I, myself, had gotten accepted to the University of Chicago, but turned it down when my mother refused to pay room and board and I’d have to commute from home (where my parents were knee deep in arguments with each other). I really feared I’d be one of the students hanging themselves because I knew I wouldn’t be able to study and get good grades under those conditions.

    [But of course, when it was my brother’s turn 10 years later (and my parents weren’t fighting anymore), she let him live on campus.

    My brother also went on to a private law school, out of state, and now is a little bit pretentious and arrogant. Fortunately, his wife (a doctor) is really down to earth and I hope she stays that way].

    As for me, I decided to go to a Big 10 public university instead, and the trade-off wasn’t bad. I met my engineering husband there and still ended up working at U of C 10 years later and still retained a lot of my values.

    I like this description of you: “I pride myself on living outside the box, in the side channel outside the mainstream, just over the edge”. That would be me, too.

    Yes, the world needs strong women and THINKING women. I don’t think it’s terribly wrong to have any particular views as long as one has researched and come to their own conclusions – not what someone else has told them they should believe. Most times it’s “well my child’s pediatrician said to do this”, or “but magazine X said this technique will solve our child’s behavior problems”. Yeah, that’s research for you.

    That’s not fact-checking. That’s just quick fixes that really don’t fix anything long term and often create more problems.

    Though, I must say this: as much as I’d love everyone to agree with me, I actually like it when someone brings something to the table that may provide an alternate view, if it’s validated by sound research. It’s how I learn and how I test my own hypothesis about my girls. So far, in 18 months of personal research, I haven’t found anything to really counter my beliefs, but only served to strengthen them. That’s probably the biggest benefit to having sharp critical thinking skills.

    So…yeah, enough about that.

    I love the internet because I’ve met some really wonderful people this way. They will not always agree with me, but I will always welcome their opinions [I will try to state why I might still feel the way I do about something I have spent a lot of time researching and working on at home]. I have some pretty strong opinions at times, but I do try to be fair.

  11. raisingsmartgirls says:

    Spacemom – I’m a bit envious that you have friends like that. But, for the most part, I try to make peace with what I don’t have, and appreciate having the friends I do have. The friends I do have are kind, and that is a very good thing. I don’t spend enough time with one of them, a nurse friend of mine and her husband (a police officer), but I do enjoy their company when we get together.

    You are so right when you say, “I think one of the hardest things is to convince others that smart/intelligent does NOT equal life is easy and all things come easy. The “average” kids seem to be the most well adjusted people in the world”.

    It’s that classic asychronous development. The hardest part is trying to figure out how to support the child while their social/emotional development catches up with their intellectual development WHILE getting the support YOU need to withstand their little emotional storms.

    It’s not easy at all to be the parent of a child who is incredibly bright but emotionally draining with those storms that they have. I think the PARENT of a gifted child needs as much support as the gifted child does themselves! It’s a very exciting but can be full of turmoil for both parent and child.

    And of course, you have “well-meaning” (I use that term loosely) friends/family/teachers that really don’t get what that child really needs to manage their emotions and thrive in ALL areas of their lives.

    So…that’s kind of what my blog is here for. To offer support and encouragement to the parents of gifted kids who struggle with that asychronous development. It’s somehow very reassuring to know that others are struggling with some of the very same things I am.

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