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Gifted Adults, Gifted Trauma: When Pain & Brilliance Collide. Jennifer Harvey Sallin, Intergifted, Imi Lo

  • by Imi Lo
gifted podacst jennifer inter gifted





– Why are all resources for children, and what can gifted adults do?

– What is gifted trauma; what are some ‘classic’ family roles gifted people ended up playing in their families?

– Different ways of being gifted and why IQ isn’t everything

– The family roles gifted females and sensitive men tend to take on the caretaker role in the family.

– How can a gifted person find safety in the social world and in the community?

– How to balance being you and being safe in groups?

– Healing from Gifted Trauma




Imi: Hi, Jennifer. Welcome. Thank you for doing this.

Jennifer: Yeah, it’s such a pleasure to join in this conversation with you.

Imi: Absolutely. I mean, I’ve been aware of your work, obviously, for a long time, and finally, I reached out, so it’s really good to finally get to talk to you.

Jennifer: Same.

Imi: So to start with, can you please tell us a bit about yourself, about your own journey, and obviously, the community that you have created?

Jennifer: Yeah. So for anybody who’s listening or watching who doesn’t know about me, my name is Jennifer and I’m a gifted adult. I recently-

Imi: Gifted anonymous.

Jennifer: Gifted anonymous, exactly. I rediscovered my giftedness in my late 20s, and that was a huge turning point for me because I was one of those identified gifted kids who left school after getting some gifted-specific education and left school, and then nobody ever talked about it again.

Imi: So you were identified as a child, but then no one ever addressed it?

Jennifer: Yeah, I mean, I got gifted education.

Imi: That’s unusual. Wow.

Jennifer: Yeah, but it was just after I left school, nobody talked about giftedness again. So I think there’s a myth, and I’ve seen it with lots of other people. There’s this myth that gifted kids grow up and the other kids catch up, and everybody’s just the same. In adulthood, there’s those few geniuses out there, geniuses who don’t need any help because they’re so smart that they’re going to do amazing things. And they’re going to cure cancer, and they’re going to take us to the moon and all those things, but they don’t need anything special because they’re obviously so smart that they’re not going to have any problems. So I grew up-

Imi: I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic [inaudible 00:01:49] anyone.

Jennifer: Yes, I am. Yeah, that’s the classic myth that people have. And the things-

Imi: Obviously, yeah. They’re gifted, what help will they need?

Jennifer: Yeah, right, exactly. And so then, gifted people who are, let’s say, average gifted adult maybe just thinks, “Oh, well, that was just a kid thing. That was just a thing of my childhood,” or maybe they were never identified and so they still don’t think anything of it. They don’t think that they’re gifted, and they just don’t know what’s going on with them. So I rediscovered it in my late 20s, and then I realized that I needed to work with gifted people in my career as a psychologist and coach. And so then I switched over, and then that led me step-by-step to creating the community that I created for gifted adults because I just realized that everything out there was on gifted kids, gifted education.

Imi: Yes. Thank you. I know.

Jennifer: And I was desperate, desperate for resources.

Imi: Absolutely.

Jennifer: I needed to know why was I so different, and what did that mean for my needs? What did I need to do to take care of myself and have a decent life?

Imi: Yes. Thank God that you created that because there were so few resources out there. When you search gifted, it’s just all for children. And yeah, I hear you.

Jennifer: Yeah. So I’ve talked about it a lot, I’ve talked about my story a lot on other podcasts, so if people are wanting to go into more detail and hear more about exactly how I rediscovered my giftedness and all of that, they can go to the Unleash Monday podcast or Embracing Intensity or the Positive Disintegration podcast. There’s a bunch about them out there where I’ve shared my story in more detail, so [inaudible 00:03:37].

Imi: Sure. I won’t make you repeat then. And since we’ve just dived in, for our audience, can you just define giftedness? I want your definition. I don’t want the Wikipedia definition. And do it succinctly, like how would you define it?

Jennifer: If I’m just telling some person on the street, they’re asking, “What do I do for a job?” And I say, “I’m a psychologist”, and they say, “Who do you work with?” And I say, “Oh, gifted adults,” and they say, “Well, what is a gifted adult?” Then I’ll say, “A person with high IQ.” But really, that’s my two-second definition, just for somebody who doesn’t really have a context for understanding what giftedness is. But if I’m talking about it with somebody who does have a little bit more context or does want to know really more about the nuances of giftedness, then I will go into more detail and I’ll talk about the complexity of giftedness. So you have higher than average complexity of thought, and that can be in various areas. So usually, I’m talking about intellectual giftedness, and that’s higher than complexity, higher than average complexity of thought.

But if you’re talking about emotional giftedness, a lot of times, that’s higher than average complexity of feeling. Or if you’re talking about sensual giftedness, it’s higher than average complexity of sensuality, sensual awareness and existential, there’s the existential area and there’s the creative area. And so you have the higher levels of complexity in these different areas, and they can show up in one way. You can have the higher than average complexity of intellectual thought, but not really have high emotional complexity or other forms of giftedness, or you can have them all together or some combination. And so then, when I’m explaining it to people, I’m like, “It’s a complex phenomenon of complexity,” with just the [inaudible 00:05:33].

Imi: Yeah. I like it. So succinctly, just basically complexity of various aspects of our functioning. Question, can someone not have high IQ but be gifted and have all these complexities, do you think?

Jennifer: Yeah, I mean, IQ scoring is meant to measure some logical mathematical intelligences and some verbal, depends on the test that you’re taking, but it’s limited in what it’s measuring. So what it’s measuring is something interesting, and it does have to do with intelligence and complexity, but it’s not the full picture of what complexity is, what kinds of complexities can exist in the human mind and the human self. So it’s good for what it is, but it doesn’t tell the whole picture. So if a person gets an IQ score that’s above average, into the gifted range, then they can probably assume that they’re gifted, but that doesn’t really tell them in which ways they’re gifted or doesn’t say anything about emotional giftedness or physical giftedness or existential giftedness. For you to be gifted-

Imi: I asked that because a lot of people do identify with the intensities and the overexcitabilies or the other definitions, but then they don’t want to go through an IQ test because that would make them feel like such an imposter.

Jennifer: I know. A lot of people struggle with the IQ testing in general, and I understand it. I mean, it’s-

Imi: I mean, what would you recommend a grownup do? Do they go to Mensa? Do they hire a psychologist?

Jennifer: It depends. Some people, I mean, you mean to look at whether they’re gifted to begin with?

Imi: Yeah. I think people have this funny relationship. It’s a bit like mental health diagnosis. It’s like you want the validation. You still want to have a label and feel validated for all that you’ve experienced all your life, but then it’s scary as well. What if they say, “I don’t have this thing”? And especially with giftedness, right? With mental health diagnosis, it’s different, but with giftedness, it’s almost like, “Oh, I’m being so arrogant that I want to be diagnosed with giftedness, and then it turns I’m not,” how embarrassing it would be.

Jennifer: Yeah. And with IQ testing, I mean, you can have a bad day. Also, you can have things like dyslexia or autism or things that make it challenging to sit and do that test in the way that it’s intended.

Imi: Absolutely.

Jennifer: And so even if you say, “Okay, I will do it”, you may have reasons that it’s not going to show a score that’s really commensurate with your level of complexity, so it’s challenging. I mean, I think it’s a challenging thing for people to even think about, but some people love it. They go, they do their tests, they have fun with it, so not everybody’s scared of it. Some people enjoy it and they get their score and they’re happy, but I do think it’s important for people to keep in mind that it’s not the only way to identify giftedness. And so if they’re wanting to identify giftedness in another way, that’s great.

And that sometimes, it’s a faulty way of identifying giftedness because if you have other reasons that would skew your score in a negative direction, it would not adequately represent what’s in your brain, then yeah, that’s going to be disappointing and confusing. And so in that sense, it can be in… Inaccurate, I guess, is the best way to say it. So I recommend that people, first of all, just with mental health questions, you look at the literature on it, and does it match your lived experience? You look at the symptoms or you look at the outcomes, or you look at the challenges that it offers or the opportunities that it offers, and do they match? Do they match what you’ve lived through?

And I often tell people it’s important to think about it as a lifelong phenomenon. Does it match your life as you’ve lived it throughout your life? And not just today, how you’re feeling today. Because sometimes people, sometimes you’re in a positive mood and you have a lot of energy, and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, all those things match me today, but they haven’t matched me throughout my life.” and so then it’s hard to say that it’s a really an innate thing, and it’s more circumstantial. So starting there, and we’ll probably talk about this a bit, but people can have trauma around their giftedness where they’ve been masking and hiding.


Imi: Oh, that’s exactly what I want to talk about.

Jennifer: Yeah. So if they have been masking and hiding, it may be really difficult for them. They might even get triggered just looking at the list of gifted qualities. Like you said, maybe somebody starts to tell themselves, “Well, I’m just arrogant. I can’t even think of myself as this. How dare I want to think I’m special,” and so on and so forth.

Imi: Very common. Yes.

Jennifer: And in those cases, then it becomes really difficult to self-identify. And sometimes also these lists, I struggle. This is why I created this more holistic look at giftedness, because I struggle sometimes with these lists, and you know this with mental health stuff, too. You can read the DSM and you read about an anxiety disorder and well, we’re all… Because I’m like that sometimes, too. And so it’s hard for me to know in my head, at what point does it become a qualifiable disorder? If you believe in DSM diagnoses, for example. And the same thing with giftedness. It’s even me, when I was looking at the qualities of giftedness, I was thinking, “Yeah, but how do I know that I’m so much more complex than other people?” I mean, maybe they’re complex inside their house-

Imi: There’s always those self-doubts.

Jennifer: … something that they’re just not telling me. How do I know?

Imi: That [inaudible 00:11:20], it’s so salient in so many gifted people I talk to.

Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. So then in those cases-

Imi: [inaudible 00:11:26] asking me to scrutinize everything.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Imi: Especially when it comes to positive things about oneself.

Jennifer: Yeah. And a lot of people just think, I mean, we project what’s in our mind onto other people and so we think that while, of course, they have to be noticing these things, of course, they have to be thinking these things, maybe they’re not saying it, but I know that they know. And that’s a big part of the surprise for a lot of people when they realize they’re gifted and they go, “Oh, so other people really are not thinking these things? They really don’t have this in mind? They really are not able to see all of these different connections and or feel all of these different things or have all of these different complex emotions? Oh my God, I have been treating the world as though it operates like me. And no wonder I’ve been having so many problems related to that.” So that’s where professional support can come in terms of doing an assessment because when I do assessments for people-

Imi: Giftedness assessment.

Jennifer: … then I’m able to say to them… I’m sorry?

Imi: Giftedness assessment.

Jennifer: Yeah, giftedness assessment. Yeah. Then I’m able to say to them, “Listen. I’ve worked with lots and lots and lots of people, and I can tell you that your mind is qualitatively different than a person who’s not gifted. And I’ll hear, I can tell you why.” and then the person starts to go, “Oh, okay.” so there is a difference. And what I’ve been projecting out is not true, it’s just what I assumed that other people could do because I mean, that’s how our brains work. They project out onto the world and expect to see something. And even sometimes in the absence of evidence of that other thing, we still just persist in thinking that that’s the way that it is because that’s what having a mind feels like to us.


Imi: I can’t wait to jump into the topic of gifted trauma because we seem to [inaudible 00:13:23]-

Jennifer: Yeah, been there.

Imi: … yes, but before that, I have one curious question, maybe even just for myself. What makes you transition from being a psychologist to being a coach?

Jennifer: As soon as I started training as a psychologist, I appreciated my professors and stuff, but God, I was just like, “What is this? What is this field? It’s like so not curious.” I mean, this is the feeling that I had because of the way that my mind works. I just had so many questions that went far beyond what my professors were even willing to entertain. And so I got very interested in the fringes of psychology very quickly. I started studying William Glasser and Choice Theory and these kinds of rational emotive behavior therapy, I loved it. Albert Ellis, I thought he was a superstar.

In my mind, the way he worked, he was very out there on the edges, and I just realized I need to go faster. I cannot just sit and talk about the same problems session after session. I mean, I started in being a therapist, and I just felt like, “Come on, let’s get there faster.” so I realized that coaching would be probably a better way for me to work. And when I trained in right around 2000… No, 2001 to 2003 I think is when I was in graduate school. And back then, there was really no talk about trauma. So I could see that there were these really deeper issues, and they weren’t really directly addressed in a way that I felt would really lead to serious change and transformation in people’s lives. I mean, sometimes yes, but on the hold, there was structurally something missing. And I could see and feel that something was missing and I didn’t know how to name it or what to call it because people were not talking about trauma back then, except if it was like war trauma or something like that.

So I think if I trained now, I may enjoy in being a therapist more, like the classic therapeutic trajectory, because trauma is in there, but it’s named. Now it’s named, but back then, that was not the case. So I went the other direction and went into a more positive psychology approach, even though positive psychology was brand new at that time and I didn’t even know the words. But I went more into that approach, talking about human thriving and what makes a good life, and then building up toward that. And now, it’s only been this last decade that now that I’ve learned all that there is about trauma and embodiment and all of that, that I’m like, “Oh, it’s nice to be able to put these things together finally,” because I could feel that lack, but I didn’t know how to name it back then and didn’t have the resources, too.

Imi: Well, thank God that you followed your dissatisfaction, you followed your path based on how you feel. I think that’s very, very powerful. And not everyone can honor how they feel like you follow your dissatisfaction in a way.

Jennifer: Yeah.

Imi: Which is amazing.

Jennifer: Yeah, and my curiosity because I don’t do well keeping that in a box so I… Yeah, I mean when I was studying, I was always, like I said, pushing toward the edges of wherever I was studying, and then eventually just moving out from there. So yeah, I studied to become a coach right away. As soon as I graduated with my psychology degree, then I started studying to become a coach and yeah, blended them throughout the years where you just can’t-

Imi: So thank you. No, I’m glad. I’m glad. And I love that you created your own thing and you do things in your own unique way rather than doing the conventional model. And you did [inaudible 00:17:21] inspire.

Jennifer: That’s what I’ve appreciated about your work. So, you just-

Imi: Thank you. Yes, I’m also transitioning away from the traditional therapy model, and so I no longer do, well, mostly no longer do therapy on gifted trauma.


Jennifer: Gifted trauma. Okay, so you know-

Imi: Yes, go for it.

Jennifer: … trauma is a wound, right? The Greek word for trauma is wound. And when you think about trauma, what it does, it is, I mean, if we don’t have the resources to heal the wound, if somebody’s not there to help us heal the wound right away, then that wound stays either open or it gets scarred over with hard, rigid constructs, and that separates us from some part of ourself. And so there’s a fragmentation. And when it comes to giftedness, then you can have gifted parts of the self that have gotten wounded, and that wound is still either open, or it has scarred over with hard constructions and has become rigid. So when you see people, when you see gifted people who have had their giftedness completely ignored, they didn’t know that it was there.

They’ve been living with inaccurate self-knowledge for their entire lives about how they work, about how the world works, about what to expect from other people, about where they belong. That’s really difficult, right? That’s a wound to the self that needs healing. Sometimes it’s more like overt and people have bullied them, people have insulted them, or people have exploited their intelligence, their giftedness. Sometimes in family roles, it can be, I mean, a gifted person can play any family role, but they can end up, for example, playing a caretaker type role and then using their gifts for taking care of everybody else’s, just like the family’s function. And I mean, that can be really traumatic, right?

Imi: That is a common family role that they ended up taking on. It’s like the trauma of the gifted child at birth.

Jennifer: I would say a lot of times, it’s honestly the gifted females that end up in the caretaking role or more sensitive men, or whoever is taking on the more feminine aspect, then they end up… Yeah, they’re quite highly sensitive typically. And then they will take on those caretaking roles. And especially, I say especially women because as girls, were socialized often to be the caretakers and to make sure we’re not hurting daddy’s ego. And then the whole caretaking falls to us. But I see gifted people playing all kinds of family roles, so it’s not just the caretaker type roles.

Imi: Can you give me some examples?

Jennifer: Yeah. There’s always the hero role, for example, or the golden child, the one who’s good at everything and never disappoints. And to a degree, all of the roles are a caretaking role. It’s always interesting because even the scapegoat, for example, is a caretaking role when you look at the way that it gives the family an excuse and someone to blame for all of the family’s issues, and so nobody has to actually face their problems. And so it’s a co-dependent type caretaking role where one person becomes the problem child.

Imi: That’s already so much.

Jennifer: Yeah, it is.

Imi: Are they usually aware of their trauma or do they usually downplay it and why?

Jennifer: I would say most people downplay it. And I would say, I mean, in my experience, we downplay it because we don’t have a context to heal it yet. So it’s like when you’re in a place, it brings to mind. When you’re in a place where it would be if you would cry about something that you’re sad about and people would either ignore you or bully you or somehow make fun of you or somehow make it worse, they would take pleasure maybe in your crying and in your grief or something in your pain, just hide it away. That’s not a safe place to put that out there, right? And so similarly with gifted stuff, with gifted traumas, if we are in a room of people who don’t understand anything about giftedness, who maybe are going to tell us that gifted needs are just something that we’ve invented to feel special or something like that-

Imi: Yeah, ouch.

Jennifer: Yeah, right? I’m not going to bring it up there. And this points to why a lot of people in therapy or coaching with a non-gifted therapist or a therapist, they will simply just-


Imi: Yes. I want to ask you about that. Can people get hurt in conventional non-gifted specific therapist? And if so, can you be more specific about some of the potential things that can… Like exchange, things that could be said or things that are not said or not recognized?

Jennifer: Well, I mean, first of all, just having therapy that doesn’t include your giftedness, that doesn’t actually explicitly talk about it, that can be very difficult. But a lot of clients come in defensive of their giftedness anyway, they’re keeping it hidden. And sometimes, and I wrote an article about this that we can link to, I just recently wrote an article that talks about some of the ways this shows up concretely in therapy when clients either hide their giftedness or sometimes they’ll use their giftedness as a defense mechanism for engaging in [inaudible 00:23:06].


Imi: That is so right. Let me guess, rationalization and intellectualization.

Jennifer: Yeah. And sometimes arrogance. I would like to think of all gifted people as being humble and stuff, but that’s absolutely not true. So you do have people, gifted people who, that’s how they manifest their trauma reactions, as through… Like I talked about the scarring. And you can have these hard constructs that are like, “I’m better than everybody. That’s the way that I deal with it. I’m impatient, I’m condescending. I’m all of these ways of showing other people that I’m better than them.” so one just example comes to mind of a client that went to his therapist and she had lots of books around, and he said, “Have you read all of these books?” And right away, that was the first thing that he said to her.

And I’m like, “Well, and how did you expect her to respond?” So it can be the client that comes in really defensive, but from the therapist’s side, there can be a lot of defense against the idea of giftedness anyway. It can make a therapist, let’s say a non-gifted therapist, it can make them feel overwhelmed, just simply. It’s a lot of cognitive complexity that comes out, or emotional complexity, like I said, or existential or whatever. And it can be really overwhelming if you have giftedness plus overexcitabilities, if there’s the complexity and then the intensity of the overexcitabilities, I mean-

Imi: I get it.

Jennifer: Sometimes I have to say for the therapists-

Imi: But when you are also gifted, you actually really enjoy these clients because it’s like bang, bang, bang. It’s so exciting.

Jennifer: It’s so great. But if you’re a non-gifted therapist or you don’t have oversight abilities, that can feel really overwhelming. So I feel for the therapist as well. But at the same time, it’s always this question of how it’s dealt with in therapy. So if it’s named and recognized and honored and brought into-

Imi: But how can the clients name it if they don’t know it?

Jennifer: I know. That’s why it’s this whole crazy vicious circle. So a lot of times we’re scared to show it. We would need to show it in order for it to be named. But until recently, most people didn’t have any names for this. And even still, I always tell people that I’m working with therapists and clients. I always just tell everybody, this is a very new field understanding adult giftedness is very, very new. It’s still just like a baby. Or sometimes I say it’s like we’re in the wild west. We’re still sort of figuring it out. So it’s normal that there’s confusion about it that people don’t know yet that…

Imi: Please make more noise, please.

Jennifer: I know, I’m trying.

Imi: I know you’re offering training and things, which I really appreciate.

Jennifer: But in all the trainings I’m always telling everybody, “Please take a leadership role, speak out, advocate.”

Imi: Just out of curiosity and [inaudible 00:26:00], what kind of people do you attract into your training?

Jennifer: Well, they’re all therapists, coaches, psychologists.

Imi: Do they usually identify as gifted or they just feel overwhelmed, they want to know more?

Jennifer: They identify as gifted because it’s a requirement for training.

Imi: Is it? So you don’t train non-gifted therapists to learn about giftedness then?

Jennifer: I have at times, but it’s difficult. And this makes sense with everything that we’re talking about. It’s actually difficult to have a mixed group, because what’s happening in my trainings is that the gifted therapists and coaches are actually usually going through their own first sort of self-discovery process while they’re training. So my trainings are kind of combined for professional and personal development.

Imi: I see.

Jennifer: The main focus is on the professional development. But from my perspective, in order for a therapist or a coach, a gifted therapist or a coach to be ready to work with their gifted clients, they have to go through their own gift and disintegration themselves. Because any parts of themselves that are hiding out, camouflaging, masking, dealing with rigidity or chaos due to unhealed gifted traumas, those parts are going to show up in their relationship with their client. And they’re going to somehow find a way to avoid or reject the parts of the client that trigger the unhealed and unintegrated parts in themselves.

So they have to go through it themselves. So that’s part of the training. And when I have a mix, in the past, I’ve sometimes accepted one or two non-gifted therapists or coaches and they tag along, but it’s a struggle because they’re not going through that process. And so they’re just watching everybody else and going, “Oh, that’s interesting to see.” And it’s actually good for them professionally.

Imi: It would be, but I can understand the disconnect and how they can get in point with each other.

Jennifer: And for the gifted people, it’s hard because they’re revealing these…

Imi: It has to be a safe space then. I would imagine it would be a very hard place for you to hold, a hard space to hold. It’s like intense group therapy with a diverse group. I know it’s not therapy, but the dynamic of it could be as complex, I wonder.

Jennifer: At times it can become quite charged. But the way that it’s structured minimizes that kind of thing. And the only times that it’s really been overwhelming has been when somebody joins and they’re really not able to… I would say their gifted trauma is deep enough that they’re really not able to face it. And so they’re reacting in defensive ways. And in those cases, I just tell them, “I think it’s better that you wait and participate. Do some the therapy on your own, get some individualized support, and then come back to the group in the future when you’re ready.”

Imi: Now I know this is not a diagnosis, but I’m going to use the word symptom. What are some of the symptoms of gifted diagnosis?

Jennifer: All right, well, I-

Imi: So [inaudible 00:29:04] of gifted trauma, not that [inaudible 00:29:06] gifted trauma.

Jennifer: So when you think of gifted trauma there, I think of, like I said, the more sort of passive things like emotional neglect or neglect of the gift itself. So there’s the kind of things that we’re missing. And then there’s the more active kind that’s abuse related to giftedness, obvious abuse or a bullying or exploitation of the gifted self. And so those two things show up differently.

Imi: Is it usually by their families or usually in the world.

Jennifer: By the school systems, can be at the workplace. I mean anywhere where there’s other people who might be triggered by their giftedness. And anywhere there’s like societal norms against that next level of complexity.

Imi: Which I would assume is everywhere.

Jennifer: Yeah, pretty much. So it can be anywhere.

Imi: So how does it affect a person? Do they end up with low self-esteem? Do they feel like unable to express feeling? I mean, probably maybe there’s no answer to this because there’s no standardized answer, but what are some of the patterns you see again and again in someone with gifted… What do you see and you go, “That’s caused a gifted trauma”?

Jennifer: Yeah. Well, there’s, like I said, these two areas. So when I see the maybe lack trauma, it’s like an inability to know what one needs, an inability to know what is my unique self and how can I express it? An inability to feel hope about expressing one’s giftedness. If I speak up, nobody’s going to listen to me anyway, or my ideas are always rejected or my ideas are always stupid. Or who am I to dare think that I should deserve any attention or this kind of thing. So this can show up in this sort of really lack of connection with one’s unique self and one’s unique potential and the hope of being able to do something with that potential. So there’s attachment issues that obviously come with that kind of profile. So you can have existential depression, existential kind of an ongoing existential crisis that it can show up in physical issues, so chronic illnesses.

And then on the other side, you can see this more when somebody was actively abused about their giftedness or actively exploited, you can see this kind of rigidity that shows up in terms of controlling, needing to control the situation, needing to always prove oneself, this really intense kind of combative rebellion. Then you can find that it’s this more active thing. I’m going to show you, I’m going to control you. The client that I mentioned before, that’s like, I’m going to show that therapist what a dummy she is by pointing out that she probably hasn’t read all of these books. That more active antagonistic or condescending style. And it’s not always so clearly delineated, but that’s how I can start to see what’s behind some of these behaviors. It’s a either way, it’s a false sense of control.

Imi: False sense of control, the need to control [inaudible 00:32:41].

Jennifer: And both have their own corresponding at attachment issues because the one is kind of scared to attach, and the other is also scared to attach, but does it by a fight response. And this one kind of does it by a flight response more or less.

Imi: That’s a very good frame [inaudible 00:32:58].

Jennifer: But slight of people pleasing. So like you said, self-esteem, chronic imposter syndrome, problems with the workplace, jumping from job to job. Now, gifted people tend to jump from job to job anyway because of curiosity and interest. But jumping from job to job, because you have a lot of conflicts, interpersonal conflicts, that kind of thing, really struggling to make friends or having a lot of friends.


Imi: Why do you think it is? I mean, it may sound like an obvious question, but why is it so hard for gifted people to find friends in a community? My God, that’s hard. Just a place they feel belonged and seen and not having to add themselves.

Jennifer: Some people are lucky that they grow up in families that are mostly gifted, and they have the people that they hang around. And though the social circles they’re in are mostly gifted. And so those people, I think on occasion I meet them and they’re like, your work is lovely. I mean, I don’t really need it, but thanks for what you’re doing. They don’t need it because they already got it fulfilled by their family system, and that’s how it should be in a way. But for most of us, or for a lot of us, it’s not that way. And so when you think about the numbers, there’s somewhere below 5% that’s gifted apparently according to the research. I mean, maybe I think it’s probably somewhere a little higher than that, but whatever.

I think there’s a lot of unidentified gifted people floating around the world, obviously. So maybe the number’s higher, but in any case, it’s a very, very small percentage of the population. So there’s a numbers game already, and then you have the masking. So all of us who grew up masking these different weird parts of ourselves, if I’m masking it, how is somebody going to recognize it in me, and how am I going to recognize it in them? So I’m always telling people, if you’re trying to connect better, you got to start unmasking some of those aspects of yourself. Finding healthy ways to express them.

Imi: So I can already hear a client asking how. How? How do I stop doing that?

Jennifer: Yeah. Well, I mean, part of it is, like I said, naming the things in your own self, going through the checklist of what makes a gifted person gifted, and just acknowledging that that’s your experience. And then finding ways to just little by little start expressing that. So I kind of mentioned that one outcome of gifted trauma could be just believing that nobody’s going to listen to you anyway. Nobody’s going to listen to your ideas. So maybe you’re masking because you’ve got all these ideas, but you’re just doing people pleasing behavior and accepting. Let’s say at work, for example. You have all these ideas, but you’re just keeping quiet because nobody’s listening. Nobody’s going to listen to you anyway, that’s what’s in your head.

Imi: And I think people are terribly afraid of judgment and being called too much. Once again, that’s really [inaudible 00:35:59] actually hurtful. You’re too much. You’re too much. You’re too much. Oh, I can’t deal with you.

Jennifer: I mean, the masking serves a purpose. So it’s like, it’s one thing to say, yeah, okay, take off the mask, but it’s not take it all off in one go because you’re going to re-traumatize yourself. So it’s finding these little ways.

Imi: What other little ways would you say?

Jennifer: Yeah, so maybe sharing an idea with one person that you identify as somewhat interested in some of your more complex ideas, not coming to work and going, “Okay, I’ve decided to unmask myself. Here are all my ideas.” Because then of course, you are going to be too much for the people and the system that you’re in because that’s…

Imi: So it is about diluting it, I mean, intentionally and consciously.

Jennifer: Well, I wouldn’t call it diluting, I’d call it incremental, incrementally sharing.

Imi: Incremental.

Jennifer: Increasing context in which you’re safe to share. It may be a fact that you are not safe to share, for example, in your family, you’re not safe to share a lot of your ideas, but it doesn’t mean you’re never safe to share any idea. And it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other contexts where you won’t be safe to share more ideas.

Imi: I mean, the words-

Jennifer: It’s expanding the possibilities.

Imi: The word safe is an interesting one, because sometimes I challenge that. I sometimes say to people, “Well, you’re grown up now.” I mean, obviously after we have a relationship—  you’re grown up now. And actually no one can make you unsafe. No one can actually reject you unless you let them. I understand it’s hurtful when someone just shut upi down. But if we don’t go around needing their approval and recognition, or even needing them to understand, I understand it’s easier said than done, but if we can do that, then we can just be ourselves. And we go, “Well, this is me. You can take it or leave it.” What do you think of that? Or is that too stoic?

Jennifer: I think if somebody is really in a relatively safe situation, I think it’s a wonderful thing. There are people who still are as adults in abusive situations or in really restrictive situations. Then for them, it’s not as simple as just making a decision in their head and then doing it differently. That stoicism works when there’s a pretty stable situation around. But if you’re being actively abused, then it’s not possible. And I always just make that distinction because I’ve met so many people over the years who are in active abuse and trying to tell themselves, well, just keep trying. And it’s like, no, but if you have a person who’s actively abusing you, it doesn’t matter how many times you’re going to just try to be-

Imi: Oh, no, no, no. That would be a different matter. No, no. I think it’s people should learn to shut doors and say, “No, not surrounding myself with these bad people anymore.” I’m just thinking in the more general social situation where you can just come out as this intense, geeky, fast-talking, impatient, feisty person, opinionated person that you are, and let people judge if they have to. I’m thinking about something very kind of general. If you go to a social, meet up a party, for example, just be you and be blah, blah, blah, and talk about a subject that you’re interested in. Be honest about your obsessions. Be weird. And some people will be attracted to that, and most people may not. And I want my point being, that’s okay. Those people who you think of as rejecting you, they’re not really rejecting you. You’re just not a brand of cereal for them, right? You’re this high end-

Jennifer: That’s such a good way to…

Imi: … low carb, expensive thing on the top of the shelf. And when people don’t pick you, it’s not that they’re rejecting you, it’s just that, well, they prefer something else. Something else is a better fit, that’s all.


Jennifer: I’m really curious about the generational question on this, because I think those of us who have been adults for a while grew up in a time that it was the word neurodivergence didn’t exist. If you were, for example, autistic or had ADHD or something, something was really wrong with you. And now, I mean, neurodivergence exists and being kind of quirky and not fitting in stereotypes and stuff is kind of a cool thing. So I really see kind of a difference in the generations where my generation is like, oh my God, I seem different. I’m going to be a total weirdo.

And younger generations are like, yay, embrace your weirdo. Embrace your inner weirdo and let your light shine. So that’s something I think that our us older… Not ancient, but that us older generations can take from the younger crowd right now. It’s just fly your weird flag and enjoy being that, and that’s how you find each other. If you’re masking that weirdness, then you get two people at that party that you’re talking about, and you both fly the weird flag or whatever you want to call it, but you’re hiding it and-

Imi: Exactly, exactly my point.

Jennifer: … either one of you knows.

Imi: Yeah, that’s right. You need to let your natural weirdness come out and let it be a filter, really screen out people and let people come in. But that’s an interesting tangent where I recently, just literally last week, released an article on the trauma of being a second generation immigrant where your parents are from somewhere else. And it’s partly a cultural gap, a cultural intellectual gap, but it’s also a generational gap where they just have no understanding of things like mental health, diversity, queer theories. That could make, I think, gifted trauma worse, because also there’s a compounded guilt element, isn’t it? They sacrifice so much.

I think it doesn’t just apply to immigrants, but it kind of brings it to the next level. When you have that baggage of… Sorry, I’m just going on a tangent, but the extra baggage of, oh my God, having to balance your cultures, feeling guilty for being you, feeling guilty for having good things, feeling guilty for being intelligent and well-traveled and critical. I mean, I don’t know what I’m getting at, it is just thinking about that and it resonates.

Jennifer: Well, I like that you bring it up because it does highlight in a very specific way all the different intersectionalities of our person and how all of those play in. If you have gifted trauma, it’s not just like, oh, you have your gifted self over there, and once you heal that, then everything’s going to be fine. It’s like that permeates everything, all of the other identities, and they all have to learn how to be a nice family and work together internally to make you have a nice dignified life. That doesn’t mean a perfect life, but a dignified life. And I work with a lot of people who are third culture kids. I myself an expat.

Imi: Yes, third culture kids. Yes.

Jennifer: I mean, there are a lot of these things that you mentioned, gender, culture, could be like language. It can be all of these different things that fit together with who we are as a gifted person and all of those individual things. And if there’s trauma related to any of those individual things, they all relate to the gifted trauma as well. So I mean, just to say that’s why a lot of people like to work with somebody on these things because it can be hard to map all of that out, especially if those things are triggering us as we’re starting to map them out. So there are things we can each do in our own life. We’re talking about these incremental things, taking a [inaudible 00:44:01] position, letting our weird flag fly or something like that.

Imi: Absolutely.

Jennifer: And at the same time, structurally, it can be very nice to have support going through that process and naming these things. Naming these things with somebody else and mapping them out and going, okay, how do I get the inner family back together from its fragmentation? And how do I weave all of these different elements of myself back together in a way that feels dignified for me?


Imi: And that would be the last piece that I really want to talk to you about. How do we heal? I mean, therapy could be of some, coaching could be one. I mean, I’ll let you speak rather than jumping in, but I also wanted to talk about contextual safety, which is a concept that I’ve not seen apart from your work.

Jennifer: Yeah, contextual safety. So I never talk-

Jennifer: Yeah, I don’t know why nobody talks about contextual safety because they should. There are certain traditions that talk about it in maybe not in such a direct way, but I like to name it because there’s something for me in terms of resilience that is only really nameable when we see what context is pulling us forward. And I think to some degree, this came maybe more from my positive psychology orientation, the coaching orientation. I always thought when I was working with people, when I’ve been working with coachees, I’ve always been thinking, what is the difference between running away from something and running towards something? And a lot of times we come to our issues thinking, okay, I have to run away from all of these problems.

And then there’s some indeterminate future situation where we are well or something is resolved and that’s our future. And when you’re in the midst of a crisis, yeah, sure. That’s the way you should work through it. And that’s how therapy is usually oriented. What are the problems? How do we start to untangle the problems? Then in coaching, it becomes more like we have to have a clear goal that we’re going to. We’re not starting from the problems, we’re starting from the goal. And then whatever obstacles are in the way of reaching that goal, then we address them as they come up. So at some point in our journey from healing or in our journey to healing, it starts to switch over to this kind of forward thinking, what am I going toward?

And that’s a lot of what gives me this idea of contexts provide possibilities, because as you start creating different contexts for yourself, different healing possibilities arise. So if you, for example, anybody who’s listening, if you think, okay, I’m a little inspired from this talk between Imi and Jen, I’m going to start to show myself a little bit more just incrementally. I’m just going to try to let that weird flag fly a little bit. Then you may start to notice that you have one or two other people around you that kind of resonate with some of these things that you’ve been keeping hidden inside or that you’ve held back. And that just having two people or one person around that changes your context and it changes what’s possible for you to name, identify, address, integrate.

And every time you change your context like that, your next goal changes your context a little bit. And when you have a couple friends, this is what happened to me in my 20s, I got a couple gifted friends, and it started to change the context of what was possible for me to heal. And then once I had those two and I kind of healed a bit more, then I was able to go out and go, yeah, I’m not like a defective person because this is what I had concluded. Something is seriously wrong with me. I cannot fit in. I cannot fit in with the normal world, and I just don’t know why. No matter how hard I try to force myself, I internally implode, and something’s wrong with me that I can’t… Everybody else can sustain it, but I can’t.

And so having those gifted friends was like, oh my God, okay, there’s something common amongst us, and there’s nothing wrong, I’m not defective. There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s just like that I have been in a context that doesn’t really make much sense for who I am. And so then I was able to dream differently. I could start to create a different internal context for myself in terms of what about my goals? Because that goal does create a context backward. And so it’s not just, again, the problems orientation, it’s really this thing and it pulls you forward. I mean, I find if I wake up and I think, how do my actions today help me embody more of that goal and move toward… I mean, I don’t think it’s totally linear, but move toward or become more of that goal person I have in my head. That creates a context for my day and for my actions.

And it allows me to heal through my everyday resilience and my everyday actions in a way that a problems orientation can’t do, because that’s just sort of if you’re running away from the pain, which again, is at some point very helpful, but then things switch. So if listeners are in the problems orientation at the moment, okay, that’s totally fine. That’s the context for healing. But keeping in mind that contexts change and grow, and as we heal and as we develop and integrate more, all of these different parts internally, the context continues to change.

So even now, I was just thinking of an article I wrote, I don’t know how many years ago, but at least I would say six years ago or so about gifted trauma. And I said I was still working through it, and I was thinking this morning, I’m still working through it, and I just don’t really see that it’s going to end. But at the same time, the way that the context changes makes the working through it way more rich and pleasurable in a way. I mean, I know that might sound strange, but healing can be very pleasurable when it’s reconnecting us with our wholeness and the whole human [inaudible 00:50:45].

Imi: Feeling pleasurable. I think that’s something people really don’t think about or say it like that, but it could be. Oh, absolutely. I enjoy time with my own therapist so much. It’s the best time.

Jennifer: Yeah. Me, too. I mean, we’re here to connect, and a lot of what we’re like healing is this disconnection and the inability to attach in safe ways and comfortable ways. And so as we reconnect with that capacity with time, I mean, it’s so pleasurable. I think it’s what we’re here physically anyway. It’s what we should naturally be able to do if everything would go perfectly, even though that’s not the reality.

Imi: I already know the answer, so healing is possible for the gifted person?

Jennifer: Yes, yes, of course, healing is always possible.

Imi: It’s a beautiful journey.

Jennifer: It is. And I think that it’s important to understand that healing looks as diverse as every gifted person, and every gifted person’s story and resources, because sometimes people hold themselves then to this ideal of what healed looks like. And I think it’s not so… I’m knocking about healing goals and such, but it’s a goal for yourself that is as unique to you as your fingerprint or whatever, or just your brain print or something. It’s your own particular journey. And I would not have imagined that my healing would take me in the directions that it did. And still, I’m constantly surprised by it, and I think, oh, okay, this is new. It is going to my general goal, but isn’t it on a totally different path that I would never have predicted? So I think that’s also really important.

And when at some point in the healing process, I think a lot of people do come to that kind of deep pleasure in their own journey, even though the journey still contains pain and struggle and challenge. But I mean, I often liken it to raising children. We can really enjoy that even though we know that there are going to be struggles and there’s going to be struggles throughout the entire lifespan of the relationship. But we can take complete pleasure in that role even as that pain happens because there’s so much joy in the connection and the relationship. So with ourselves, I think that’s, with our gifted selves, I think that’s how it quote should be, if we can get it there.


Imi: Thank you for leaving us with such a positive life giving message towards the end. So final thing, what quick tip, or just some words you might say to someone who’s sitting on the fence, either someone who feel very lonely, existentially lonely, which is so common in gifted adults, or someone who’s just wondering, oh, am I gifted? I’m not sure.

Jennifer: Yeah. Okay. Well, for the existentially lonely, I will tell you, you’re not alone.

Imi: Where do I find my people then?

Jennifer: Yeah, exactly. Welcome to our community. Come to InterGifted. Yeah, InterGifted is a great starting point. There are other ones out there as well, Mensa and many others, but generally, we’re the ones that are really focused on self-development throughout the gifted lifespan. So we’re a good place to start. Then maybe adding others later on, perhaps. But yeah, a lot of people find that InterGifted is a really great place for them, so come join us. But that does point to sort of my tip, which is like you have to be proactive. And you and I know this of course, as therapists and coaches, you have to really invest a lot of time and energy in healing and connecting, and you have to have that kind of willingness to do it. One thing that we struggled with when we started the community was that people wanted the results of connecting without the proactivity of taking the risk and going for it.

And so we had to do some education around how to really be proactive in connecting with your gifted self and with gifted other people. So yeah, the proactivity. Read a lot. Read books. Read books on giftedness. Go to our blog where we have tons of articles on giftedness, or listen to the different podcasts out there that are about giftedness. Just start immersing yourself into it and be proactive and reach out then when you’re ready. And then, I mean, I guess that sort of answers both questions, but to the second question also, assessments are really a strong starting point for somebody who’s really ready to invest in their process. They’re really ready to get started and invest.

It’s important for assessments that people are in a pretty stable place. And because this is a whole learning thing. And in order to really learn, you have to be in a receptive state of mind and state of being. And so it’s important that people are pretty stable when they reach out for assessments. But then once they are, the assessment process is it’s a little bit like a turbo charge to the whole self-discovery and integration journey.

Imi: Thank you. That was very, very thorough and informative and thank you for coming out as you and creating something that is so unique. I’ve really learned a lot from our conversations, and I hope others will, too.

Jennifer: Well, thanks again for inviting me and for the work that you’re doing as well for the gifted population. We all appreciate you so much. So yeah, thanks just for hosting the [inaudible 00:56:51].

Imi: I literally just refer someone to InterGifted today, so.

Jennifer: Oh, nice. Yeah, we always refer people to you as well.

Imi: All right. I’ll put it on, let stay in touch and have a good new year.

Jennifer: Thank you. You, too. And thanks to, everybody who’s listening and good wishes for the new year to everybody who’s listening as well.

Imi: Thank you, Jennifer. Bye for now.

Jennifer: Bye.

Consultant and Author at Eggshell Therapy and Coaching | Website

Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive experience in mental health and psychotherapy across diverse international settings. She specializes in working with highly sensitive, intense and gifted adults. Her books, 'Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity' and 'The Gift of Intensity,' are internationally acclaimed and available in multiple languages. She integrates psychological understanding with both Eastern and Western philosophies, such as Buddhism and Stoicism.

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