Gifted Coaching is a unique offer designed for people who are gifted, intense and highly sensitive. Gifted adults are those who are endowed with intelligence and deep awareness, but they are also more prone to emotional and interpersonal crises. Being emotionally gifted is an underserved subject. Without the right kind of guidance and support, they may be held back from meeting their full potential.
What is Giftedness? Have You Been Told You Are ‘Too Intense’ ?
All your life, you have been told you are ‘too intense’, ‘too much’, ‘too sensitive’.
As a child, you were sensitive, and easily overwhelmed by people and noise. At school, you were obsessed with fairness, and you reacted to things when other children did not. You were advanced in some areas but seemed to lag in others. You were explosive at times; one minute you were exuberant and could not shut up, another minute you became angry. Your parents criticised you for being overly moody.
As an adult, your family and partner criticise you for being too sensitive, intense, or too serious. You become impatient with others quickly, and it is hard to find people who share your interests. What works for others does not seem to work for you: the conventional job, the corporate ladder, cognitive behavioural therapy, the stable and secure relationship. You believe that this is your failure; that somehow you ought to change to fit into the mould. From time to time, you have intense bouts of anxiety and depression.
All your life, you have thought that there is something wrong with you. However, never did you consider the possibility that your intensity is a sign of enormous creative potential.
“Upon the gifted among the misfits lies the burden of building new worlds.”
Giftedness researcher Dr. Mary-Elaine Jacobson has identified some of the top criticisms an intense person faces:
“Why don’t you slow down?”
“You worry about everything!”
“You are so sensitive and dramatic.”
“You are too driven.”
“Who do you think you are?”
What Does Being Gifted Mean: Intensities as Gifts
“Overexcitability” — a high level of reactivity of the central nervous system — is a constitutional endowment.
Unbeknown to most, intensity is a universal characteristic of gifted children and adults (Heylighen, 2012; Lind, 2001; Tucker et al., 1997). Your immediate reaction on seeing the word ‘gifted’ might be to cringe. It is a loaded term in our society and is misunderstood by many people. The traditional definition of ‘giftedness’ has been limited and often associated only with IQ or traditional talents such as music or sports. Nevertheless, with gifted coaching we can realise that there are infinite forms of extraordinary abilities not captured in the conventional conception. Alongside their intellectual rigour, many intense people possess a high level of interpersonal intelligence, intrapersonal intelligence, and spiritual intelligence (Gardner, 2000).
According to the ‘hyper brain/hyper body theory’ (Karpinski et al., 2018), gifted and highly sensitive people with a high cognitive ability also have a hyper-reactive central nervous system. Sensory information reaches their brains much faster than average, and the information is processed in a significantly shorter time. This results in heightened excitability in multiple dimensions, known as ‘overexcitability’. This is a term translated from the polish ‘nadpobudliwosc’. Since the prefix ‘over’ might incorrectly give the impression that this word means unnatural or undesirable, a better translation would be ‘super-simulatability’ (Silverman, 2008). There are five forms of overexcitabilities: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional, and each contributes to specific traits, strengths, and qualities (the following descriptions are drawn from Peichowski, n.d.; Webb et al., 2005). Here are descriptions for each, and these are concepts we will repeatedly address in gifted coaching.
Intellectual OE is demonstrated by a marked need to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and analyse and synthesise. Contrary to popular assumptions, Intellectual OE is not about your grades in school or even your actual IQ score, though it can be manifested in these ways. It has more to do with a drive towards learning, problem-solving, and reflective thinking. Intellectual OE makes incredibly active minds; with it, you are intellectually precocious, immensely curious about the world, are acutely aware of your surroundings and are an astute observer. You are also likely to be an independent and critical thinker, are less likely to accept things at face value and feel a need to continually evaluate new information (which can be exhausting!).
When you get excited about an idea, you feel as though your brain will not stop. And while your curiosity and drive feel normal to you, they seem obsessive or overwhelming to others. You can also become critical of and impatient with others who cannot keep up. When combined with high moral standards, your introspection can turn into intense self-scrutiny.
Intellectual overexcitability is not just about IQ. Since your quest is driven by a need for understanding the unknown and a love of truth (rather than external recognition), your intelligence and rigour are not always reflected in your achievements.
As someone with imaginational overexcitability, you will experience unusual imaginative and fantastical thoughts, often from a young age.
You think in terms of images and metaphors; poetry and visual language come naturally to you.
You might have imaginary playmates, imaginary pets, engage in lots of fantasy play or spend long hours daydreaming.
You have a rich inner world that is the source of your creativity but also your escape. You may appear shy or self-conscious because you spend an extensive amount of time in your inner world.
You are spiritually attuned and may see and perceive things that others don’t. You also tend to have idealistic visions that are not shared by others.
In addition to having a deep capacity for a wide range of emotions, your emotional overexcitability manifests as an ability to form deep emotional attachments to people, places, and objects. With your naturally high empathy, you feel like you have to be the emotional caretaker of whatever environment you walk into. You seem to absorb the emotions of people around you, and may have trouble setting personal boundaries and separating your feelings and needs from those of others. You are uncomfortable with conflicts and concealed anger, and will always try to take care of the situation.
You might also find that you involuntarily soak up the feelings of other people. You are equipped with multiple sensors that are permanently connected to your surroundings and have a heightened ability to feel the emotional states of others. As a result, you could be overwhelmed by the amount of information you receive in a group setting or crowded space.
Since you feel things more deeply than your friends and partner, a perpetual sense of loneliness lingers in your psyche. People with high Emotional OE are often told that they are ‘too emotional’, or ‘too sensitive’. In some cases, these misunderstandings and attacks can lead you to hide your strong emotions deep inside. Even as others perceive you as cold and distant, you feel everything on the inside. In more extreme cases, you may have learned to dissociate with feelings altogether and live in a constant state of numbness.
Psychomotor OE is a heightened excitability of the neuromuscular system. This can be expressed as ‘having lots of energy’, love of movement, rapid speech, or a need for constant motion. Your excessive energy may be expressed in habits like leg tapping, nail-biting or verbal tics. When feeling emotionally tense, you may find yourself speaking rapidly, acting impulsively or acting compulsively (such as becoming hyper-organised). You may experience insomnia or a manic state. As the bodies of children with Psychomotor OE tend to fidget and twitch with excitement in ways that look like hyperactivity, they are often misdiagnosed as having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Sensual overexcitability is expressed as a heightened sensitivity to sounds, smells, tastes, and touches. This can lead to an early and deep appreciation of the beauty in this world, such as in art, language and music. However, it can also lead to being easily overstimulated or overwhelmed by sensory input.
Sensually overexcitable children may find clothing tags, classroom noise, perfume, or smells from the cafeteria distracting. Parents of children with these issues may feel frustrated at, say, the cost of specific foods their child can eat, the clothing which they find comfortable, or the fact that their child does not enjoy ‘normal’ activities due to overly bright lighting, insufficient downtime, or overwhelming noise.
Without sufficient understanding, many intense children simply withdraw from their surroundings as a coping strategy and end up being perceived as being shy and timid.
What is Giftedness: Gifted Adults and Their Misdiagnoses
A gifted adult is endowed with greater potential and awareness but is also more prone to emotional and interpersonal crises. The intellectually intense child who eagerly blurts out answers in the classroom is considered disruptive; their inability to sustain attention to what they are not interested in is deemed to be defiance. As an adult, your enjoyment of solitary intellectual pursuits or having to be alone because true peers are not available might be misinterpreted as being aloof, arrogant, a social recluse, or even clinically ‘schizoid’.
Not every gifted and highly sensitive person is fortunate enough to have realised their gifts, or have supportive family and friends to affirm their identity as a cultural misfit. Without knowledge and awareness, having an operating system that is ‘out of sync’ causes shame and inner turmoil.
Unfortunately, health care professionals often handle brain differences in a narrow fashion. To apply labels and diagnoses to people, clinicians and therapists have relied on rigid protocols or standardised manuals, such as the DSM. Overexcitability is often incorrectly diagnosed as a mental disorder. If you are a gifted adult, your high energy might be interpreted as ADHD, intense emotions as Borderline Personality Disorder, bouts of creative obsessions as Bipolar, perfectionism as OCD and your existential depression is mistaken as clinical depression.
Of course, a gifted adult is not immune to medical disorders. However, the natural characteristics of a gifted adult can often look like pathology when there is not any.
“We are treasure chests with more jewels inside than we can imagine.”
By Gifted, are you Saying I am ‘Special’?
Being called a gifted adult, you may ask: Am I really that ‘special’? Are you suggesting that I am superior in some way? Does this further alienate me from those around me? Is gifted coaching just hogwash that makes me feel good about myself?
I do understand the fear of your power, and of losing belongingness. Here is a more useful way of thinking about it: We all have our unique blueprints and trajectory in this lifetime, and everyone is gifted with specific qualities to do certain things in the world. Maybe you are qualitatively different from someone who is less intense, but that does not make you any better or worse. As Alan Watts poignantly puts it: “In the spring scenery there is nothing superior, nothing inferior; flowering branches grow naturally, some short, some long. From this standpoint, you see, everybody is seen to be a perfect manifestation of the Godhead or of the void or whatever you want to call it.”
When you are born into the world with a fast brain, fierce passion, the ability to see things penetratively and to feel things deeply, you ought to embrace them. Helping you own the person that you are is the primary goal in gifted coaching. As your body already knows, suppressing your expression leads to existential guilt, depression, restlessness, physical pain, and chronic emptiness. In a way, you don’t have a choice but to follow where your intensity leads.
Since gifted adults are much more aware than most of the issues both within themselves and in the world, they are true game-changers of society. People who have Intellectual Overexcitability are likely to question, evaluate, and scrutinise the existing system. Their rigorous search and passion for learning also allow them to synthesise knowledge drawn from various places, providing a rich source of creative material. Their Imaginary OE will enable them to envision how things might be and to paint a picture that is outside of most people’s imagination. Emotional OE makes them sensitive to issues of morality and feeling the pain of others informs them that meaningful changes are needed. Finally, Psychomotor OE propels them to take action, and provides them with stamina and motivation, often expressed in bouts of intense work and creativity.
As a gifted adult, you are both unique and interconnected with everything else in nature. There is no superiority and inferiority in nature. All things, beings, are unique just as they are.
Gifted coaching is an increasingly established area of coaching, the goal is not just to ‘make you feel good about yourself, but to help you become aware of the person that you are and learn to operate your qualities, strengths and weaknesses.
“Be humble, for you are made of earth. Be noble, for you are made of stars”. —Serbian Proverb
Gifted People Can be Hurt
Gifted coaching starts with tracing back to the beginning of the gifted adults’ stories and addressing the root of their pain. Even if you were labelled as ‘gifted’ as a child, it does not mean you have the understanding and support you need in order to thrive in the world. The discomfort of being gifted, of being different, of feeling different, can have many life-altering repercussions. Just like eggs require the right temperature to hatch, and seeds need the right soil conditions to germinate, so do gifted people need the right conditions in which to flourish.
A gifted child is likely to have an unbalanced development of cognitive, emotional, and physical skills. For instance, they may be highly developed intellectually but socially inept. Possessing special abilities creates room for envy and competitiveness from others, especially bullies, who label these traits and abilities as abnormal or a ‘freak show’.
From a young age, intense people have concern for deep issues of existence, such as the questions around death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness. They also care intensely about global and environmental issues, but when they share their thoughts, people in their lives either look at them with puzzlement or worse, reject or humiliate them.
Many gifted children have difficulty making friends with peers. They find it hard to meet friends who can match their intellectual, creative, or spiritual intensity. Other children tend to avoid befriending someone who has a different voice, someone who speaks up when others do not, or who is highly inquisitive. While teachers, coaches, and mentors set high standards of achievement for gifted children, the same gifted abilities may be labelled as a show of arrogance by their peers. Jean Peterson’s research revealed that two-thirds of gifted students have experienced bullying by eighth grade, which is more than double the incidence of bullying in the general population. The dynamic that plays out in school corridors and the playground is typical of the ‘tall poppy syndrome’, which amounts to ‘cutting a person down to size’.
As a gifted child, on top of your struggles in school, your home might not have been a safe haven for you. Because of your high sensitivity and empathy, you were particularly prone to being ‘parentified’— having a role reversal with your parents where you had to step up as a ‘mini adult’ and become the caretaker of your parents and siblings. This may not have been because your parents maliciously tried to harm you, but because you intuitively picked up on emotionally unsafe and unstable conditions and took it upon yourself to provide care and support for those you loved and cared about. This can lead to an overwhelming sense of anxiety about the needs and feelings of others and, ultimate;y, an early advance into maturity means you have lost your innocent childhood.
The combination of unpleasant childhood experiences, not feeling like you belong, and trying to measure up to the standards set by others and yourself can, in the end, prove debilitating. Because you are exceptionally sensitive to interpersonal cues, you may, more than others, be impacted by the usual rough and tumble of traumatising childhood experiences. Your intensity also translates to perfectionism and a tendency to over scrutinise yourself. You may live with a strong inner critic who constantly tells you that you are not meeting your own standards or the standards of others.
The wounds of being ‘too much’ do not just disappear as time goes by. If they remain unhealed and undigested, you may carry them into your adolescence and adulthood. As a result, you continue to struggle with the following emotional and behavioural issues:
· Existential Depression: As a gifted adult, you are more likely to experience a type of depression referred to as existential depression. It comes from seeing the injustice, dysfunctions and hypocrisies in the world but not having the capacity to change them. You may have an idealistic view about how things should be, but your ideas are not shared by others around you. The emotional trauma of rejection, criticism, shame, or abuse only perpetuates the existential angst.
· Under-achievement: As an intellectually intense and rigorous person, even as a child you naturally stood out. However, you might have been conditioned to hide and adapt yourself to avoid attracting envy and anger from others. Your abilities may have been stifled by your teachers or parents to ‘level the playing field’ with your peers. If you were attacked or alienated due to your achievements, it is understandable that you have now adapted yourself to deal with the threat of envy. Theories and research show that people go to great lengths to down-regulate other people’s envy if they feel threatened by potential hostility from it (Parrott in Smith, Merlone & Duffy, 2016). To not outshine others, you have learned to hide your good ideas and downplay your achievements, if you have any, to appease others. As time goes by, playing small might have become your default, and you struggle to achieve your potential even when you want to. This can manifest in your adulthood as self-sabotaging behaviours such as turning down a promotion, not going for opportunities that require you to speak up, extreme self-consciousness or social anxiety. These ‘symptoms’ will be some of the first things we address in gifted coaching.
· The Crisis with Conformity: Being unusually fast, rigorous and curious, it is difficult for you to focus on one thing, or to take the conventional life path dictated by mainstream society. You may be forced to take up stereotypical gender roles or make career choices that are not true to your nature. Being confined by society’s limited ideas about what ‘success’ means, you may not get to do what genuinely excites you or what makes your soul sing. If due to social adaptations you have silenced your true self, you may experience an intense mid-life or quarter-life crisis, or be faced with depression or a critical illness later in your life.
· Deep Loneliness: Finding true peers or a romantic partner is often a challenge for a gifted adult. You become bored and under-stimulated easily and may have trouble finding people who can keep up with you. You need a lot of alone time to process your thoughts and creative ideas and are likely to be highly independent and to value autonomy. You may find it hard to meet someone who matches your intellectual, emotional intensity and at the same time is romantically appealing. Finding a lifelong partner may be harder for you than for others, though when you do identify people you can trust and be with, the relationships are deep and last a long time.
· You are hyper-empathic: Without realising it, you tend to ‘absorb’ other people’s feelings and energies. This can get overwhelming. You may not realise your hyper empathic tendency is making you feel what others suppress or project onto you. Instead, you think disturbing emotions — such as anger and anxiety — belong to you. As a result, you may have assumed you were ‘just too sensitive’ or were ‘imagining things’. This can be made worse if there are people in your life who gaslight or scapegoat you as the ‘problematic one’ or ‘the one who thinks too much’. Setting boundaries and helping you differentiate between ‘your stuff’ and ‘others’ stuff’ is another theme common in gifted coaching.
· Perfectionism: Do you find yourself postponing what you know is important to you? Perfectionism is a common trait of gifted people, and this can paradoxically cause you to delay or sabotage the very task you know you need to do. Your low tolerance for boredom may also cause you to delay routine tasks that do not catch or sustain your interest.
· Creative Block: Many gifted adults, talented writers, musicians, performers, and artists report periods of stalled creativity at some point in their careers. This can be related to negative self-doubt, being excessively critical, and the fear of failure. It takes self-knowledge and practises to find the sweet spot where you are not burnt-out, bored-out, overly drained or under-stimulated. Gifted coaching is, in many ways, creativity coaching. By finding your unique voice, mission and vision in the world, we can hopefully help you work through your creative blockages.
· Imposter Syndrome: Do you feel awkward with the praise bestowed upon you for your gift? When you think that you are not worthy or are living a lie, this chronic self-doubt and feeling of intellectual fraudulence is termed Imposter Syndrome. Intense persons have a high level of cognitive functioning. Still, you may feel lost when facing certain complex life situations that do not follow a logical path, or when you emotionally feel out of control. You may not be good at everything, but that does not diminish your gifts or make you a fake. If all your life people have tried to put you down or attack you for your achievements, it can be hard to internalise a sense of innate goodness or confidence.
(Here is a Full Article on the Wounds of “Being Too Much”- 8 Wounds often experienced by the Highly Intense and Gifted. )
“As a bird with beautiful feathers is the target of hunters, so the gifted are targets of the envious.”
― Matshona Dhliwayo
Being Gifted Means You Have High Degrees of Drive, Complexity, Intensity
To recap, when mis-channelled, your intensity, drive and complexity could complicate matters and create the following challenges for you:
CHALLENGES CAUSED BY YOUR INTENSITY:
Being seen or named as being ‘too much, too emotional, too sensitive, too friendly, too excited, too driven, too disorganised, too fast, too competitive, too arrogant, working too hard’.
Feel like you constantly overwhelm others around you and need to hold back or edit yourself.
Being paralysed by the sense of shame or fear of failure.
Despair from feeling like an outsider.
Experiencing deep existential depression and loneliness as no one shares your ideas or concerns.
Struggling to find friends/romantic partners who can match your level of intensity.
Being challenged by a constant desire for stimulating situations and existential boredom.
CHALLENGES CAUSED BY YOUR STRONG DRIVE:
You may have a highly critical inner voice that is continually telling you that you are not good enough. This can make procrastination, creative blockages, or social anxiety worse.
A sense of responsibility even over things you cannot solve.
Using alcohol, drugs, food or other behaviours to self-soothe or temper the angst you feel.
Experiencing obsessive-compulsive behaviours to assert a sense of control.
Disappointment and frustration in others due to high internal standards.
Fearing wasting any time, thus always feeling on-edge.
‘Super-hero syndrome’ — feeling that you can do it all, and struggling to delegate.
Confusing exhaustion for accomplishment, and feeling burn-out and bore-out (spiritually and intellectually) at the same time.
CHALLENGES CAUSED BY THE COMPLEXITY OF YOUR MIND AND EMOTIONAL LIFE:
You have difficulties making decisions as your mind processes an overwhelming amount of information and weighs multiple factors at the same time.
You struggle to tame your active mind when you need to, and you may not be able to sleep or rest at regular hours.
You are a perfectionist— setting standards that are not shared by others around you.
Having idealism that is not shared by others around you.
Not being able to enjoy the activities, books, or TV shows that most people enjoy.
Finding it difficult to express yourself in a language that others understand.
Other people do not get your humour, leaving you feeling socially awkward.
“They hated me, because they knew from birth that I m bigger than them.”
Can You Be Emotionally Gifted?
Gifted individuals are defined as those who have shown outstanding abilities, competence and talents. Most existing resources focus on intellectual giftedness or specific talents. Most of the time, emotional giftedness is not being discussed. Thus, many emotionally gifted people don’t realise their gifts.
Perhaps you have always been aware of your ability in certain areas— for instance; you may have the capacity for strong, accurate gut instincts about people and events. Or maybe you are able to observe others to gather information from your surroundings highly accurately and astutely—but you have never called these abilities ‘gifts’. Most people never critically ask ‘
Unfortunately, we live in a world that glorifies rational, ‘head’ intelligence such as intellectual capacity or reasoning ability, and values it higher than ‘personal intelligence’ or the more intangible, heart-based wisdom, including heightened capacities for empathy, justice, moral sensitivity, reflectiveness, self-knowledge and a drive towards personal growth.
An emotionally intense individual might also be intellectually gifted, or have talents and abilities in other areas of their life. However, the majority of them excel in other specific kinds of intelligence. One such example is having high ‘intra-personal intelligence’. This means you have a rich inner world and are very insightful and perceptive beyond your years. It means being self-critical and evaluative.
Many emotionally intense, gifted individuals also possess a high level of spiritual intelligence. They are more able than most to experience moments of awe, beauty, of a sense of deep connection with the rest of humanity. When they are moved to tears by a piece of music, art, or natural scenery, they are having a moment of spiritual connection.
Unlike intellectual intelligence that can be picked up in an IQ test, body-kinesthetic intelligence which can be manifested on the sports ground, or musical talent that shows from an early age, your form of intelligence might be a quiet one. It is hidden and expresses itself such that you appear to be a deep and sophisticated thinker, or seem wiser than your years. But there is no official metric to measure your form of intelligence. It is also not something that people talk about.
Many emotionally intense individuals do not fully see or celebrate their gift because it is not lauded by society. Teachers are not trained to notice it, and parents are not told that their insightful child may be gifted. Thus, these children are left to struggle on their own. They can sense that they are somehow different from others, but no one has told them why or how to manage their uniqueness. Inevitably, many begin to believe that there is something wrong with them. Many grow up to be adults who have not learned to see or value their unique abilities, but instead carry the labels of ‘thinking too much,’ ‘feeling too much’, ‘too much in my head’.
Being ‘gifted’ does not mean you are superior, it may just mean that you are wired differently. It is essential that you recognise your giftedness to live authentically and do not beat yourself up when you find that you express yourself differently or possess specific needs that the majority of people don’t share or understand.
The following are some forms of under-acknowledged gifts that are commonly found amongst intense individuals.
Expanding the Definition: Forms of Emotional Giftedness
From an early age, children with high interpersonal intelligence show instances of empathy, unselfishness and consideration for others. These highly empathic and perceptive children feel and appear more mature because of their sensitivity, responsiveness, and insight into other family members’ pain. They seem like ‘old souls,’ aware of the suffering, hypocrisies, and complexities of the relational dynamic around them. This quality may result in children with high interpersonal intelligence falling into the role of confidant, counsellor, or even saviour within the family. They may even experience a kind of ‘role reversal’ with their parents and feel overly responsible for the afflictions of others. When they fail to heal the distress experienced by their parents and siblings, they may feel guilty and helpless.
This capacity for deep empathy and insight into others’ inner state may also bring about a kind of moral sensitivity that is beyond their years. These children tend to care about others, want to relieve pain and suffering or show an advanced ability to think about global ideas like justice and fairness. These unusually compassionate children are intensely aware of world issues and the feelings of others. However, being so sensitive may also make them vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed.
This specific trait is about a heightened capacity to be introspective. This kind of intelligence is essential for attaining a mature sense of self and a high level of inner wisdom. Introspective individuals are keenly and accurately aware of themselves, and they have a higher-than-normal level of self-knowledge. Gardner (1983, p. 252) describes the intrapersonally gifted individual as someone who engages in constant and continued development where he strives to become increasingly autonomous, integrated, or self-actualised. The end goal of these developmental processes is a self that is “highly developed and fully differentiated from others.”
It is in their intensified ways of experiencing, examining, and analysing themselves that the gifted grow in an expedited manner. These individuals constantly experience, in their whole being, the painful split between who they want to be and who they are now; this experience propels radical action and positive changes. These inner forces also often generate overstimulation, conflict, and psychic pain that are misinterpreted as pathologies.
It is precisely this ability to be the ‘self-aware’ segment of the self—to go through sometimes painful self-examination—that enables these individuals to realise multidimensional development towards higher levels. In other words, the intense emotions that these individuals experience on a consistent basis are actually the impetus for tremendous growth. It is their tendency towards and the courage to constantly engage in such processes that makes them uniquely gifted.
Existential intelligence is defined as “a concern with ultimate life issues.” The core ability of this intelligence is the capacity to associate oneself with the existential features of the human condition, such as the significance of life, the meaning of death, the ultimate fate of the physical and psychological worlds, the love of another person, or total immersion in a work of art (Gardner, 1999, p. 60).
Someone who possesses a high level of existential intelligence is constantly asking the questions: “Who are we?” “What’s it all about?” “Is there meaning in life?” And so forth.
As children, the existentially gifted may have a difficult time fitting in with those around them who are unable to comprehend their concerns and may dismiss them. Their teachers and parents may also fail to answer their questions about major, elusive topics.
Moreover, the existentially gifted are also more likely to experience a high degree of existential angst. Being aware of the finite quality of life and their own potential, they constantly feel propelled to move forward. This can manifest as constant restlessness, anxiety, insecurity, and other unpleasant sentiments.
Many existentially gifted individuals are idealists, able to consider the limitless possibilities of how things can be. It may pain them to see how the world is falling short. They may challenge existing values and traditions as well as any inconsistencies and absurdities they see in the world around them. They are on a constant quest to connect with something larger than themselves and seek answers about life’s obligations, opportunities and mysteries.
Unfortunately, when the existentially gifted person tries to share these concerns with others, especially when they are young, they are met with responses that range from apathy to dismissal to hostility. They soon realise that most people are more concerned with the mundane, thus they feel internally isolated and end up keeping their thoughts and feelings private until they find a community that shares their humanitarian concerns or a space that celebrates their particular interests and values.
When addressing the question of what giftedness means, few think of Spiritual Intelligence as one of it. Although we are all capable of and can work towards spiritual awakening, some people are more innately spiritually gifted.
Communion with the spiritual dimension can manifest itself in various ways. It may be through distinct changes felt in the body, infusion with a sense of strength that is beyond oneself, a strong sense of “pulsating energy with all living things” (Pieschowski p.257), or the feeling of being in harmony with the universe. Spiritual experiences among the spiritually gifted generally fall within these themes: unity, oneness, ecstasy, timelessness, and the interconnection of everything (Piechoski; Robinson and Hoffman; Lovecky, 1998).
Children with spiritual gifts often have the ability to induce heightened consciousness through meditation or fantasy play, show wisdom that seems beyond their years, and feel strongly connected to the world around them, their inner self, other people and God (or however a higher source is defined) (Piechowski, 2003).
Many individuals may not necessarily recognise or name their spiritual experience as such, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that they are more likely than others to have these experiences. They may encounter frequent moments of awe or deep appreciation of beauty in the arts or nature. These individuals are drawn to these experiences and are more likely to make room in their lives for them rather than to drown in the mundane. It is precisely their ability to enter these states more readily than others that make them gifted.
Sadly, more often than not, spiritual aptitude creates more difficulty than ecstasy for the spiritually gifted child. Usually, when the child tells an adult about intense spiritual thoughts, the adult tells the child it’s wrong to have such ‘ideas’. The stricken child is then led to devaluing her experiences, instincts, and perceptions. In the worse cases, she begins to believe that she is ‘crazy’ and internalises the shame that she carries into adulthood.
Reclaiming Your Emotional Giftedness
I hope you have reconsidered what it means to be gifted, and see that emotional giftedness, spiritual giftedness are both a part of it.
Do you identify with some of these gifts or traits? While analysing your life’s course, did you demonstrate some traits of giftedness, especially in the domain of interpersonal/intrapersonal intelligence?
You may feel unable to reclaim your identity as an emotionally gifted person because of the social stereotype that the gifted are somehow above everyone. That is not the case; owning your emotional giftedness is not about arrogance, but rather the need to be congruent with your capabilities, values, and place in this world.
Yes, being emotionally gifted means you have certain high abilities, but that comes with very specific needs that if ignored, will create physical and mental illness. Being able to honour your reverence for authenticity is essential to your growth and wellbeing. If you are indeed emotionally gifted but fail to recognise it as such, you may fail to respect your own need for solitude, reflection, agency, and autonomy. You may shame yourself for being different, for not being able to conform to the norm.
It is precisely your sensitivity and intensity that underpin your potential excellence. Thus, for the sake of your own growth and for those around you to benefit from your emotional giftedness, spiritual giftedness and intrapersonal, interpersonal giftedness, it is essential that you embrace your true identity in order to reframe your unique qualities as assets rather than liabilities.
Gifted Coaching for the Intense and Sensitive Person
Perhaps you have kept your gifted adult trauma a secret all these years but have finally realised that you want some external support in order to cope. If you decide that it is time to seek gifted coaching for your giftedness and intensity, you may want to weigh in the following factors:
Does your coach or mentor have experience in working with gifted and intense adults?
Approximately, only about five per cent of the population can be considered ‘gifted’. At the moment, there is little research on the challenges of being a gifted adult, as most literature focuses on children. Very few learning resources are available for coaches and therapists to learn how gifted adults think, feel, and typically behave. Gifted coaching is a growing field, but with the lack of training, experienced coaches can still be hard to find.
Without a good grasp of what is ‘natural’ to you, your therapist or coach may try to fit you into certain boxes or evaluate your situation based on standards that apply only to the normal population. In fact, many gifted adults are repeatedly misdiagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, ADHD, or Borderline Personality Disorder, even when no real pathology is present. It is crucial that you are coached by a someone who has worked with and has a nuanced understanding of the challenges faced by gifted adults, without resorting to dogmatic labels in a standardised diagnostic manual.
Can they keep up with your speed, intensity, and complexity?
You have a fast-moving, expansive, and wandering mind that is accustomed to highly imaginative and abstract thinking. When you approach a situation, you see it from all angles, from the minute to the big picture, and from the intellectual to the philosophical. In a way, your questioning nature may make the job of your coach harder because whatever they say will be analysed by you, and not taken at face value. You are responsive to a new idea only when you are worked with collaboratively, rather than pushed to accept certain conclusions. One of the goals of gifted coaching is to help you honour these traits, not to make you feel there is something wrong with you. Therefore, you want to work with someone with strong backbone and healthy self-esteem, who will not take your challenges personally, feel threatened by you, or worse, blame you for being ‘too much’.
If you feel that your therapist or coach is uncomfortable with the way you are, or that they project their own anxieties onto you, you may find yourself replicating your family dynamic within the coaching relationship, where you have to take care of your coach’s feelings and protect them. While this may be a natural process at the start due to the nature of our projections (known as ‘transference’), if the pattern is not addressed or reversed it could become toxic, traumatising, and eventually hamper your healing and growth.
As you open up and expose delicate emotional truths about yourself, you really want the gifted coach that you are trusting to have the capacity not just to accept but also to welcome your unique way of being. A competent therapist will be able to champion your gifted intuitions, perceptions, and thoughts. They will help you find your voice and help you feel empowered in the world.
Are they flexible in their approach?
Since you are wired differently from the norm, your mind works in unique ways. Your emotional state can swing rapidly and drastically within the course of a day. Motivated by your drive towards intense processing at the beginning of your healing journey, you may experience mini break-downs or a full-blown existential crisis. You may need extra support that is beyond the conventional once-a-week coaching model. Do discuss with your therapist their boundaries and rules around scheduling, and see if they can provide you with flexible and warm support at a pace and in ways that suit you.
Are they asking the right questions to understand your life story?
A gifted coach who is experienced in working with gifted people will have some knowledge of the common gifted traumas, but they also should not box you in with their existing framework or knowledge base. Ideally, they will combine what they know with diligent questions about your unique experience. They should take considerable time to understand your present and past experiences, your expectations, strengths, and weaknesses.
In particular, a skilled gifted coach may focus on some common themes that occur again and again in a gifted adult’s life, such as the tug-of-war between freedom and loyalty, or between authenticity and belongingness, the ‘survivor guilt’ you may have for outsmarting others or for leaving a dysfunctional home, etc.
Do they see through your wall and into your pain?
You may have spent your entire life trying to appear ‘normal’, ‘okay’, hiding the pain that you feel. This may be due to childhood conditioning, or the fact that so far there has been no one who you could fully lean on. You are always the listener, problem-solver, and emotional caretaker for others; there has been little room for your vulnerability to be shown. This means you may hide your pain or struggle to let your guard down, even in therapy. If you are a high achiever in the world, the inexperienced therapist may just see you as being ‘quite sorted’, not understanding the huge, invisible burden that you carry. If you are being lauded for your talent, then your depression and shame may escape their radar. Sadly, this perpetuates your pattern of pain-avoidance and counter-dependency (where in order to solve everything on your own, you never count on anyone else). Being ‘missed’ once again by those who are supposed to care for you may remind you of your early family dynamic and leave you feeling even more despair. If your therapist does not have the ability to appropriately challenge your stoic facade at the right time, you will continue to put up a wall and won’t progress.
“I never dreamed of such happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling.”
Gifted Meaning Making: The Path To Healing and Thriving
In a successful course of coaching for gifted adults, asynchronous development, overexcitabilities and multipotentiality all require specialised knowledge and intervention to ensure a positive outcome.
Here are some of the things that may be useful to help you find your way in the world:
- Accepting your limitations
- Owning your gifts and your drive whilst letting go of perfectionism
- Being aware of times when you are exposed to the wound of being called ‘too much’
- Learning to deal with the frustration of when others cannot keep up
- Learning to say or do the right thing in the right context – as apart of managing excitability
- Understanding the conscious or unconscious reactions people have towards giftedness, including envy
- Honouring your quirky sense of humour and finding the right context for it
- Working with your inner critic that is at times out of control
- Dealing with obsessive thinking or rumination
- Being more tolerant of your own mistakes, and the mistakes of others
- Identify where the line is drawn: Is that really your responsibility? Especially in cases of ‘parentification’
- Stop procrastinating due to the fear of failure
More specifically, some of the things that can be discussed in gifted coaching for intense individuals are:
- How to stay on track with your main gifts, vision, and mission
- Understanding the importance of how to both conceptualise (big thinking) and also operationalise (small doing)
- How to get what you need and want from the world and other people
- Managing emotional sensitivity, intensity or other over-excitability, using them to your advantage
- What to do with mundane tasks
- How to stay focussed, not scattered in the midst of multiple potentials
- How to manage strong reactions to injustice in this world, channelling your energy into action rather than despair
- Building resilience and learning to thrive regardless of setbacks
All your life, being different and misunderstood may have created a sense of separation and isolation. As an intense and highly sensitive person, you have a vast capacity to love and to give, and you may be sitting on a lot of untapped potentials. Yet, your past trauma and interpersonal injuries have held you back from manifesting your full potential.
Perhaps so far no one has witnessed the pain you feel from being considered ‘too much’, as you have buried it so deeply.
Perhaps you have not met another gifted adult in your life, and are longing for a sense of belonging in the world.
Perhaps most people only know to lean on you, and few have reached out to you or stepped up to be your rock.
Perhaps you have reached a point in your life where you know that without the right kind of healing, mentoring, and guidance, you will remain stuck and not be able to move on in life.
Adequate coaching for a gifted adult can be life-saving. If you can find the right person to work with, they can offer you a valuable healing relationship, through which your inner mechanism will be activated and can start to do its work. They will also give you astute insights, guidance, and practical steps to channel your creative potential. In this process, you will have a deeper understanding of your unique qualities and learn to embrace them. Slowly but surely, you will realise that you are not ‘defective’. Instead, you will learn that you are ‘distinctive’.
Treat your coach or mentor like you would any other meaningful relationship in your life. If you continue to feel that they do not understand your extraordinarily complex, multi-layered, and sensitive thinking, it is okay to call it a day. Remember, you are not investing in them but in yourself. You are putting resources into optimising your one and only life so that you can become the best version of yourself with no regrets.
Finally, an invitation to reclaim your true self as an intense and gifted adult
For a long time,
You might have resented the fate of being a misfit.
You wish it could all have been easier, that you were able to fit in, feel like you belong, and have less anxiety.
However, it is not up to you whether or not you are born a conformist.
If you could rest with an ‘easy life’, you would have.
If you could give up on your quest to live honestly, you would have.
You did not choose your fate.
You did not set out to be a rebel, but hypocrisies hurt you.
You did not opt-in to be a black sheep, but you are not winning in the dog-eat-dog world.
You did not choose to have a fast brain, a soft heart, a complex mind and a sensitive body;
But it is now up to you to work with what you are endowed.
You were once disempowered, confused, and shamed.
But you also have all the power from here on, to take the matter into your own hands.
It is on you, to nurture the wounded child that was once ostracised,
to honour your gifts while accepting your flaws,
to set healthy limits with friends and family,
to find other misfits, and kindred spirits that offer you courage and solace,
to say no to the ‘shoulds’, and say yes to the ‘wants’,
and finally, to compassionately kiss the socially- compliant facade goodbye, and embrace your truest innermost nature as a gifted adult.
“Personality begins where comparison leaves off. Be unique. Be memorable. Be confident. Be proud.”