If you or your people are still wondering if giftedness exists or if identifying gifted children is only a way to create division and increase inequality, let me introduce you to Judith.
She was a 16-year-old high school senior attending honors classes at a local university. Dark-haired, brown-eyed, fast talking, and extremely intense, she came to see me after her mother, Priya, had called to say she was worried Judith was socially isolated, depressed, and not academically challenged.
At our first meeting, Judith said she felt like a freak. She was driven to learn about, oh, everything and extremely lonely. Her peers did not share her passions. Even while attending college classes, she was disappointed to find much of the coursework unchallenging although there were a few professors who pushed her beyond where she thought she could go and who were deeply enthusiastic about their area of study. She loved those teachers.
Judith told me she was bullied in elementary school. Her enthusiasm for learning was misinterpreted as bossiness or condescension by educators and the other children. She would turn in book reports that were much longer than required and wrote 50 page prologues to highly imaginative novels she wrote in her spare time. She designed complex games at recess that confused the other kids.
Like many gifted humans I have known, Judith needed intellectual stimulation as much as she needed air. Even though she was clear about that need, she resisted the gifted label. She would explain that she was intensely aware of her shortcomings. She was also offended by what she called the “elitism” of the word.
At one session, in her fast-paced, animated style, Judith explained her love of philosophy, sciences, and mathematics. I did the best I could to comprehend the theories and examples and wished I could have provided more feedback on the substance of what she was saying, but her grasp of these topics was beyond me. It was easy to see how lonely her world might be. Many adults, including me, had little or no exposure to this level of intellectual content and complexity. I wondered if I really was capable of helping this young woman, whose Corvette mind could leave my VW bus brain in the dust.
And with whom could she share her excitement about the prospect of taking free MIT classes online? Where could she talk about her intuitive insights and her deep spiritual connection with nature? Where could she disclose her extraordinary fear of failure or her avoidance of activities she could not master quickly? Probably not with the other kids spending hours on TikTok.
Like other gifted kids I have known, Judith’s emotions were explosive at times and she struggled with perfectionism and procrastination. She said, “I don’t want to turn in crappy work that isn’t up to my one hundred percent.” She would also run out of time on assignments when she would get caught up in exploring something intellectually fascinating. Educators and parents often misinterpret these high standards and curiosity as laziness or obstinance. The powerful emotions can be misjudged as immaturity.
In our sessions, we talked about the beauty of and value in exquisite quality and yet we also looked for ways to determine what assignments and projects needed the highest standards, and which ones could just get completed adequately and efficiently. We made lists of ways to self-soothe and manage frustration and anger, including looking at triggers, emotional needs, sensitivities, and hormones. We used her own creativity and intuitive depth to concoct visual and auditory experiences that were both comforting and empowering.
Judith needed self-acceptance and a sense of her own worth and agency to navigate a world that often misunderstood and even rejected her. She was slowly building more resilience. Her love and knowledge of astronomy, physics, language, and philosophy, along with her intuition and spirituality, began to strengthen her sense of self and her place in the world. After meeting with me over a few months, Judith was also able to understand the importance, even necessity, of acknowledging her identity as a gifted human.
In fact, it made all the difference.
To my bloggEEs: How has knowing you are gifted (have a rainforest mind) helped you navigate the challenges in your life? What was it like before you knew? Thank you so much for being here, for finding me, and for your commitment to self-understanding and creating a more compassionate world. Much love to you.