When You Are Gifted, Can You Tell Anyone?

It depends.

(photo by Viktor Forgacs, Unsplash)

You might be able to tell your mother. You can tell me.

But, in many cases, if you use the G word to describe yourself, it does not go well. You may be accused of arrogance, snobbery, insensitivity, or psychosis. You may be bullied by fellow students or dismissed by teachers. You may be ejected from your progressive leftist activist organization and declared very much UNwoke. You may have to stop listening to NPR.

Oh. OK. You can listen to NPR.

And yet, it is complicated because there is no one clear definition of giftedness. Right? What does it even mean?

But you and I know what it means. It is so obvious, really. But it is not simple. It is not one thing. There are many levels, layers, degrees, and types. It is not always referring to intelligence. It can be about talent such as music and art. It can be about athletics.

Interestingly, when the G word is applied to talent or athletics, there is not the same discomfort. No one will accuse you of arrogance or psychosis if you are a gifted artist or an Olympic athlete. Somehow it is quite acceptable to be more talented or more physically adept than someone else. But more intelligent? Not so much. When it comes to intelligence, it appears, we must all be the same. And this is not just a North American phenomenon. I have heard from many of you around the world who are in cultures that also confuse equality (good!) with sameness. (not so good)

So, then, what do you tell people if you are gifted?

Well. First, maybe most important, before talking about it to others, acknowledge for yourself that you are intellectually more advanced, more complex, than the average human. That you think more, feel more, and know more. You have high levels of sensitivity and empathy. This does not mean you are extremely capable of all things, all the time. But, it is likely you love learning and are curious about most things and are quite capable, often, if you are interested.

If you are in any type of relationship, then, and are wanting to share who you are, it will likely be more effective and actually more descriptive if you talk about specific traits. They won’t know what you mean, really, if you say you are gifted. Instead, you say, for example, you are an avid reader, obsessively curious, a deep thinker, appreciator of beauty, story teller, mathematician, HSP, analyzer, creator, engineer, nerd, intuitive, you collect words, wonderer, wanderer, seeker…You get the idea. You are not hiding the fact you are gifted. You are explaining what it is more explicitly. Right? As you get to know the person, you can go into more depth, say, about the 5 languages you speak, your achievements, the number of times you dropped out of college, your dreams and fears, your career paths, your enthusiasm for narwhals.

And, of course, you can always say you have a rainforest mind! Then talk about how you are so lush, resourceful, fertile, intense, tangled, and misunderstood. How you have so much to give. You can use the quiz, if you’d like, for some comic relief.

So, you see, there is a way to tell someone you are gifted. And, if you need practice, you can start with me. And, maybe, your mother.


To my bloggEEs: Has it been hard to know what to say to people about being gifted? What has worked for you? Thank you for being here, as always, and for your sweet support and love. Much love back to you.

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Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

36 responses to “When You Are Gifted, Can You Tell Anyone?”

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  1. David Avatar

    This is a great question! And a toughie.

    I don’t usually talk to people about it. When I do, I just try to paint some of the weird and beautiful chaos in my head, or as the Columbus Group puts it, the “inner experience and awareness that is qualitatively different from the norm”. Rather than tell people what I got on some test, I would much rather tell them about the math of my sock pile, the construction of a multilingual pun, or how I taught an AI to dream for me. You know, magic. If they’re jazzed about that, the labels seem superfluous! (This jives with your comments about relationships Paula.) But most people are not jazzed; they fear, envy, or simply do not care to acknowledge cognitive difference in all its luminous and irreducible variety. Luckily, we don’t need most people to acknowledge it!

    As time goes on, I feel less need for labels, and less need for the magic to be seen, shared, accepted, or celebrated by non-stakeholders. I think that comes from a combination of increasing self-acceptance, work on neglect and trauma to make self-acceptance possible, and last but not least, trustworthy stakeholders (friends, family members, and a partner) who celebrate my cognitive difference and want to see some magic tricks. Not everyone needs to know; not everyone can hear; but we need a few willing souls to share the yields of the rich chaos in our heads.

    1. pprober Avatar

      I shall be one of those willing souls, David. Your “rich chaos” is beautiful. Glad to have you back!

      1. David Avatar

        Thank you Paula 🙂 Glad to be back!

  2. Ian S Avatar
    Ian S

    When I first started trying to “know myself” around 2013-14, I quite often suggested the G-word as a descriptor for myself and got negative reactions. It tended to intensify the extent to which others put my “differences” down to emotional immaturity or autism. These days I rarely use it, partly because of its loaded nature and partly because when people say “gifted”, it’s not always clear whether they mean “gifted” in the quantitative “high IQ” sense or if they are referring to the “rainforest mind” traits. For instance, I find that James T. Webb’s articles on giftedness usually refer to the “rainforest mind” type, which makes them very useful and relevant to me, but it could also potentially confuse people who see “giftedness” as purely an IQ thing.

    These days I identify most with the “rainforest mind” label and to a lesser extent “Highly Sensitive Person”. I think “rainforest mind” seems to cover all of my traits, while “Highly Sensitive Person” covers most but not all of them, though my experience has been that it is a good enough match in the vast majority of situations, as being broadly understood by others is a lot better than nothing. My relationships with my parents improved dramatically when they encountered “Highly Sensitive Person” extensively, my relationship with them improved dramatically, as they started recognising that many of my traits are highly consistent with high sensitivity, instead of viewing them as “wrong and needing correcting”.

    I don’t like labels generally, but I find that if I don’t attach myself to some kind of half-positive label, my “critical inner voice” will fill in the gap with something unpleasant. It particularly favours “burdensome irrational freak” and “creep”. Autism has also not been a particularly helpful label (I was given a questionable diagnosis of Asperger’s in my teens). Although I am “different” in most of the same areas as “Aspies” generally are, in many cases I am “different” in the opposite direction, and so the reasons for my “differences” get misunderstood if I am considered to have autism.

    One problem which adds to my sense of being inferior is that my “rainforest mind” tendencies have their pros and cons, and it’s not socially acceptable to put the pros down to being gifted, but it’s certainly socially acceptable to put the cons down to being deficient. That said, I do get some positive recognition from peers for being highly intelligent, and my “critical voice” is often inclined to filter out the positive feedback and focus on the negative feedback, so some of it is clearly an internalised sense of inferiority that stems from bruising experiences in my teenage years, rather than a tendency for others to actually view me as inferior.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Thank you for this, Ian. It sounds important to separate your internalized criticism from how others view you and then work on caring for your sweet teenage self!

  3. Neeraj Avatar

    more than anything else, the use of the “giftedness” label for me is for myself…

    i.e. first and foremost, I need this label to quarantine myself from internalizing other inappropriate labels that others may throw at me due to certain misunderstandings.
    And this can happen so easily. ( Others I have observed can very easily without any provocation can start labeling me. ex. If I write some lengthy text sentence to someone whom I am in business with. They may just feel offended by the length and intensity of the sentence. And even after repeatedly rereading the sentence I cannot understand why such an offense is a seemingly neutral sentence. Now giftedness construct helps me to make sense of the situation to me rather than outrightly start questioning my sanity..)
    So before anyone else understands me, this is the very central utility of this construct…that it helps me make sense of my experiences better.
    Now once I myself am assured in my skin, I myself understand how my giftedness affect my day to day life, interaction with others etc …then once in a while I can try communicating this felt experience/ this truth to others, especially to those surrounding us who matter to us the most…they may not totally agree with what I am saying…but can at least give some lending ear, some credence …
    for the rest of the people…does it really matter?…why do we need to shout out on the street , listen I am gifted? …maybe if we want to help some of them who are in trouble…and we can see that their trouble is because they are gifted? …
    maybe to convince them to listen to your ideas that they are not listening now, as they think you are dumb or weird..and if you tell them you are gifted they will start listening?!….
    In general…I feel in the hierarchy of matters at hand…as per as convincing about one’s giftedness…first and foremost..it is important to convince oneself…is giftedness construct helping me to make sense of my own felt experiences better?
    then it matters for the near and dear one…is letting them know that you are gifted making your interaction with them better, is it helping you to come over some of the past bad interactions?

    Beyond that…I don’t feel a very strong need…there are many more other things on my priority list, that I want to shout and tell to the larger audience than telling them I am gifted…on some occasions if my interactions with someone create some confusion or some curiosity…
    and when it boils down to why I am behaving in the particular way..then I may have to use one or other label…which can describe characteristics that I posses due to being gifted…
    For example , I would say…sorry for skipping the small talk…right now I have to communicate this important matter..
    sorry for being a bit intense right now..etc etc…

    So this is my take on this.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Yes, so what I see you are saying is that knowing you are gifted is important for you to know, to understand yourself. It is the accurate label! Thank you, Neeraj.

  4. Someti Avatar

    Dear Paula, thanks for still being there and thanks for this kind of posts. I am sorry I haven’t had much time to write here lately, but I still frequently visit and read your blog!

    I feel identified with what you describe in this article. I resonate a lot (as usual) with those descriptions. And, in some way, you describe what definitely works for me: I do not use the G-word. As it has several connotations that I do not feel identified with. But instead I try to humbly say “I am good at languages” (not saying I am currently learning my 6th foreign language because I need to learn something new) or I may say “people say that I am creative, they like the music I write” (not saying I have written scores for orchestra, chamber music or musical bands unless I am asked 😂) or even “I got some good grades at university because the subjects were interesting to me” (the subjects were indeed interesting, but I do not quite tell that the very same subjects were also interesting for other people who didn’t get the pass or the good grades), etc.

    I am sure many of my friends, colleagues and family members know the G-word. I am convinced some of them are certain about my giftedness. So: why should I use the G-word if they already know all this? (and for the ones that still do not know me well… they may get to know me later, no hurry).
    Nobody uses the word to describe me either. They may also think the G-word bears connotations that they feel I am not related to.

    All this, happening in Spain. So you are right: it is not a matter of US culture whatsoever. By the way: I will be spending a few days in the USA, a bit far from Eugene, but I’ll think of you 🙂


    1. pprober Avatar

      Always good to see you here when you do come, Someti!

  5. Me Avatar

    From a very early age on, my parents told me NOT to think of myself as different and/or special compared to others. When I entered school I was told not to be a smart arse, not to learn ahead and to stop my arrogant behaviour. When it came to sports, it was a total different ball game… I just should have tried harder! I know only too well, what you talk about Paula.

    Up until fairly recently I honestly believed that most people had my mental and intellectual capacity.
    It was very distressing, as how could people not understand what I am talking about if I am not any smarter or more intelligent than anybody else at all…. more than once have people told me that I am arrogant. A word that still hurts me when I hear it.
    Thanks to a couple of books and last but not least your beautiful book, Paula, have I discovered that I have been living against my nature for the best part of my life due to my conditioning. It was a relief to find out about my giftedness. Things fell into place, life became less stressful and now I have much more patience with those who do not understand me. It is never too late to turn the ship around and I appreciate things like this blog, reading from other gifted peoples experience, being part of a group of gifted, HSPs, scanners and the likes.

    The other day, my dad once again asked me why I think that I am smarter than others, when we had a discussion about something. My answer surprised me a bit as it came out of nowhere, or rather from a newly found confidence, I said “because I am, I was born like this, I was born with a different mental and intellectual capacity fullstop”.
    I admit just after saying it I felt guilty of being arrogant.
    We are all victims of our parents, every generation anew, but I believe conditioning can be overcome…. for me very much WIP.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Yes, we are Works in Progress!! And, yes, things fall into place, things make sense when we know we are gifted!

  6. Sarah Avatar

    This is soooo true, unfortunately. But then again, who are we to give ourselves such a nice label?

    I have recently discovered the concept of Highly Sensitive Person(s) and this has given me a way to explain my experience in a way that resonates more with my mother and husband, both of whom have always recognized my unusual capacities.

    By describing it as increased sensitivity they get why sometimes I feel bombarded by too many stimuli because they can relate to being overwhelmed in a way that they can’t relate to having increased ability. When I describe my experience in a framework on noticing more (or too many) details, remembering things too clearly (sometimes), having a compulsion to categorize and/or analyze, not to mention feeling isolated because I feel like my experience is so different from most people, as evidenced by getting “the look” at cocktail parties it doesn’t sound quite so desirable as say speaking 5 languages. It’s more relatable to them, that other side of the gifted coin.

    1. pprober Avatar

      The concept of highly sensitive person (HSP) has become much more known and accepted since it was introduced by Elaine Aron many years ago. So that can be one way to go for sure. Thanks, Sarah!

  7. Alia O. Avatar
    Alia O.

    Gonna have to call you on your initial premise: “No one will accuse you of arrogance or psychosis if you are a gifted artist or an Olympic athlete.” — they will if you self-describe. “I am a gifted artist/athlete/whatever,” comes off as incredibly arrogant. I believe you may be trying to express that society has a higher tolerance for high achievement in specific fields rather than for general high function; that it’s “permissible” to be impressive in a well-defined (limited) role, but there’s far less tolerance for just roaming around, being more, or too much, in sloppy, all-encompassing ways.

    As for the main point, “What do you tell people if you are gifted?” Oh, honey, no. 1) In 99 of 100 situations, you don’t have to. Like an over-full bucket, it just kind of sloshes out regardless. There’s no need to self-describe to be bullied, othered, called out, or left out for it. Or, if you’re lucky, just go around not-quite-fitting expectations and being surplus to requirements. Someone who’s inconveniently tall doesn’t have to self-describe to constantly be ducking doorframes or banging into things designed not-for-them. Nor for anyone with eyes to spot the problem. …which is more or less what you’re saying in the first bolded paragraph. So, why ask the question at all? 2) Why would you need to self-describe? Initially, it’s taken as arrogance. After that, it’s self-evident. And, to those not observant enough to figure it out — why are you associating with those dullards? 3) Okay, you’ve come out as Gifted; now what? What does the pronouncement change for you or the relationship to the other person? Hint: unless you’re arrogant or playing games, it shouldn’t change anything. If you’re going around trying to impress people, get a new act. If you’re going around just being you, then the labels shouldn’t matter to you or them or how you relate.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Ha! Well said, Alia. Thanks!

      1. Alia O. Avatar
        Alia O.

        I’ve been that over-full bucket, noticeably sloshing for a long time. There are up sides to it as well as problems. Yeah, I was bullied and ostracized as a kid, despite trying to reinvent myself in half a dozen new schools. An early lesson: Wherever you go, you’re still you, and, wow, sometimes that sucks. But I’ve also repeatedly been hired to do jobs I’ve never done before, even for one where I had to google the job-title’s acronym meaning on my way to the interview. I never lied about my experience; I played up my enjoyment of learning new things and drew connections between whatever the job duties were and things I had done previously. But something was obvious to the interviewers who hired me, just like it was obvious to the kids who tormented me; no labels required.

        Personally, I don’t think the Gifted label benefits anyone, except, perhaps in an academic setting where you need a shorthand to explain “that kid.” I will definitely give you side-eye if you announce, “I’m Gifted.” To me, that signals a couple of possibilities: insecurity, arrogance, neurodivergence that has left you a little weak on the social cues (come sit by me), you’re punching above your weight (in which case, hang on to your socks, buddy), or you’re literally a kid who just got labeled and is trying to make sense of what to do with that.

        I guess my question is: are there benefits to the Gifted label, or an alternate label, that I’ve missed?

        1. pprober Avatar

          Good question, Alia. The quick answer for now is, like you say, in schools, if then teachers provide for the learning differences, or at least a teacher can understand why the child is unhappy or reactive, and make accommodations. It is also important for the individuals as adults to understand they are gifted and what it means. Otherwise they are likely to misdiagnose themselves and not understand why they are having difficulties in relationships, jobs, etc. Knowing you are gifted is part of self-understanding and self-compassion. There is probably more to say on this!! (alternate label=rainforest mind!!)

          1. John Avatar

            One specific area in my life where the Gifted label was extremely helpful is in my marriage. For decades – literally – my wife struggled to understand why I said certain things or thought the way I did or acted in ways that made no sense to her. I could go on detailing all the ways my rainforest mind impacted our relationship in negative ways because we didn’t recognise its presence. But suffice it to say that when we discovered what it really means that I am gifted we went down a rabbit hole of reading book after book – including yours, Paula – and finally managed to unravel everything that we were struggling with.

            We’re now in the best space we’ve been in for years because we understand this thing that was hidden for so long but that was impacting our relationship so significantly. And we can both now navigate my rainforest mind thoughtfully and intentionally, which makes me feel seen and understood and makes my wife feel less overwhelmed and confused by me.

            So in this case the Gifted label (along with HSP) has literally saved our relationship. That for me is a huge benefit that I have received from this label.

            1. pprober Avatar

              Oh, John, what a great example. Thank you.

            2. Alia O. Avatar
              Alia O.

              Huh. Thanks for the example, John. I guess I’ve been stuck with the label, and hating it, for so long it strikes me as wild that someone would be, well, like us, without having been bludgeoned with that label for years. But, yeah, knowing “what is that thing” is the first step in researching what that means. Sounds like your research allowed you to have fewer cases of “why are you like this?!?” Mazel tov!

              My introduction to the Gifted label was when I got thrown out of kindergarten, er, advanced to first grade and then rapidly booted to second. No one explained what was happening, and, even if I was smart, there was still little-kid logic at play. From my perspective, something about me meant I didn’t get to have naps, snacks, and play time like other kids. Instead, I got sent off to be picked on by older kids and resented by a teacher who didn’t believe in skipping grades. With an introduction like that, my disdain for the label makes sense, no?

              1. pprober Avatar

                Oh dear, yes, Alia. It makes total sense. Why people don’t explain to kids what is happening is just astonishing to me. And the importance of finding the right teacher!! Argh!

                1. Alia O. Avatar
                  Alia O.

                  Thinking about my introduction to Giftedness a little more, the school wasn’t wrong. The oft-quoted incident that got me booted up 2 grades was when the kindergarten teacher overheard me tell a kid that according to the schedule, our favorite activity was coming up at a certain time and we should rendezvous 5 minutes early to get the best spot, thereby betraying that I could read, tell time, plan my activities, and had a vocabulary that would get me funny looks as an adult in the rural community where we lived. I had no business in K, where kids were learning “orange” and how to count past 10; I’m lucky they didn’t burn me as a witch.

                  But any adult taking a few minutes to explain the problem or be kind to me while I got shuffled around, rather than irritated that they had to figure out where to stash me, would’ve gone a long way. I obviously had the capacity to understand, even if I couldn’t quite figure out academic expectations without help.

                  My subsequent experiences in attending other public schools while Gifted (and learning disabled, but, that’s another story of the system failing me) proved to be similarly less than ideal. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

                  1. pprober Avatar

                    Oh, Alia. I just want to hug that little girl! Would you be OK if I quote you in a future article about gifted kids?

                    1. Alia O. Avatar
                      Alia O.

                      Ending up as fodder for your writing is the price of admission around here, no?

                      I don’t see any harm in you using my story; it’s not one I have used/will use in any publication and, given the timeframe, all parties, excluding myself, can reasonably be assumed to be dead.

                    2. pprober Avatar

                      And, of course, I would not be using your name! Thank you, Alia.

  8. Alexandra Avatar

    Okay, I really need practice. When I grew up, my family would take my abilities for granted, no support for me, but they liked to brag with my achievements when I was not in the room. Today, when I start revealing my actual thoughts, how I try to make sense of the world and think of my way to making it a little better, they would say it’s too much. So I used to shut down and most of the time, I don’t speak about myself.

    I’m practicing now by writing that I am indeed gifted, that I love complex systems, research, cooking, stars, harps, aerial sports, I love life in its intensity.
    I am gifted because I can feel other people’s feelings, thoughts, their pain very clearly and deeply in my own body, and I know intuitively how to respond in a caring way. I am gifted because I think of solutions that most people don’t think of or even if they would, they would not dare doing this. I am gifted because I learn super quickly by experience and I suck at memorizing things by heart.

    My hope for the future is to find others that are similar or at least compatible. So that they can bear who I am. I deeply long for significant connection.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Yes, Alexandra!! This is where you practice saying you are indeed gifted. 🙂

  9. Jennifer Avatar

    In all the years I have been participating in various gifted communities and forums online, one of the topics that is rarely discussed is jealousy.

    I’ve always consciously tried to not draw attention to myself. And yet I have lost friends due to jealousy. When I was young I was often bullied by peers, but also adults such as teachers and coaches because of jealousy. Some attempted to undermine me, often secretly but sometimes overtly, by casting aspersions on my character.

    It’s often obvious that the roots of this hateful behavior is in jealousy, but how can you defend yourself against it? You certainly can’t call it out for what it is, because then you are simply announcing that you think you are someone who should be envied, and opening yourself up to further abuse and social sanctions.

    Being targeted by jealous people made me feel unsafe, that the only way to feel safe is to be careful to not fully be myself, to keep a mask on, even around friends and family. It is why I never use my real name on the internet or attached to any of my creative projects. It’s why I feel uncomfortable typing this. It’s like living in an alternative universe where some aspects of our lives must always remain hidden and unspoken.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Yes, Jennifer, it is not often discussed. It can be so very painful to have to hide. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Jennifer Avatar

        Thank you.

        Sorry, I misspoke when I included the teachers and coaches who I was mistreated by, but not likely due to jealousy.

        It was hard to accept jealousy as the source of conflict because I always assumed the conflict was my fault, that I’d done something to anger or offend the person. It made me far more self-conscious and self-censoring, and ashamed of being put in the spotlight for my accomplishments.

  10. John van de Laar Avatar
    John van de Laar

    My challenge is that, in my world, even just appearing gifted can bring on judgement, misunderstanding, mistrust and rejection.

    I have never told anyone outside of my immediate family that I am gifted or intelligent. But even when I’ve tried to hide it, it has been visible to people and they have accused me of all the things you mention. Thankfully though, there have been a few special people who have celebrated my giftedness even when I didn’t realise that I am gifted.

    In the end I’ve had to learn to be comfortable just being myself and let others decide how they will respond to me. And then I create boundaries with those who can’t handle who I am. It hasn’t been easy. But it has been liberating.

    1. pprober Avatar

      This sounds like the key, John. Being yourself and creating boundaries. Congratulations on your liberation! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Meredith Avatar

    Wellsaid, Paula!
    I also think that telling someone we are gifted is similar to telling them we are nice. If we are, it should be obvious without us needing to say anything.
    For this reason I have learned to be leery of anyone telling me they are a “nice guy,” or a “great boss.” If they feel they have to say it, it’s probably not true.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Oh, that’s interesting, Meredith!

  12. Nimue Brown Avatar
    Nimue Brown

    And how exciting it is when you start making sense of another person and find they are just as lush and complicated and full of ideas!

    1. pprober Avatar

      Oh yes! That is so thrilling, Nimue!

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