You know what it means to feel like an alien. Interestingly enough not all ‚aliens‘ do. Let me tell you the story of a princess (and the pea) who thought for a long time – secretly – that she must have fallen to earth (like David Bowie)… until she understood (quite late in her life) that she is just another ‚normal‘ extra-ordinary human being.
I had coffee at the shore of Lake Geneva with a friend I met at university (in 1991) the other day. Let’s call her Estelle. I suppose (but how can I be sure, I’ll have to ask her) that Estelle has never felt like an alien. I did. Many times I learned the art of camouflage. No one would guess. Like with the character played by David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976).
What if ‚gifted‘ looked different than you think
I was really sorry and sad to learn that Estelle has had a very difficult time as her teenage daughter is suffering from an eating disorder — which has an impact on the whole family.
Since then I have been brooding. I had shied away from publishing another article since I had my ‚Coming out‘ as Patty Muffins. I want more people to know and really understand what ‚giftedness‘ is — and what being ‚gifted and talented‘ as it’s called in the UK is not.
I had seen (too) many people shrink back, feeling like I was ‚too much‘ for them. That’s why I am still a bit reluctant to put in words and share publicly what follows.
Facts are needed not stereotypes and prejudice. I wish to educate people I love as well anyone else who might be concerned (hello paediatricians, general practitioners, educators, school psychologists, psychiatrists and headmasters of schools and the list could go on).
Fact is: ‘gifted’ is not better — just different!
The question, „How to find a middle path between informing without insisting or imposing?“, was preoccupying me these days. The awareness of what ‚giftedness‘ actually means changed my perspective in so many ways.
Estelle’s first reaction when I told her about my discovery during lunch, maybe two years ago, was quite strong. She vehemently excluded the possibility that the topic could concern her or one of her three children.
It now reminds me of the article I’m Not Gifted, I’m Just Busy! by Linda Kreger Silverman.
The Gifted Woman Gap
Estelle is not to blame. You are neither. Nor am I.
Linda Silverman’s article begins like this: „Why is it that we, as women, find the term “gifted” distasteful, and no matter how many degrees, credentials, positions of leadership we attain or accolades we receive, we cannot comfortably call ourselves “gifted women”? I believe this is because, historically, only men could be gifted.“
Fact is: we (still) live in a patriarchal world with a general and many subtle gender biases. Most of us have to either become aware of them or have to actively work to diminish their devastating impact in our daily lives.
Furthermore, in Swiss and many European cultures, all that is related to ‚standing out‘ or being part of a ‚elite’ is smelly. The latter reminds us of past horrors that happened in the last centuries with regard to theories of superiority and unacceptable suffering culminating in genocides. I’m the first to agree that all this should remain very present in our collective and individual memories…
Therefore, the concept of ‚gifted‘ triggers in the perception of most people the idea of a danger zone! The spontaneous reaction is: don’t touch! (These are just two reasons why this happens, there are others.)
Prevailing stereotypes and prejudice around ‚giftedness‘
I had faced opposition and reactions like Estelle’s before when touching at the concept of ‚giftedness‘, Therefore, I decided to leave it at that and have not mentioned it anymore since. Now I wonder if I should have tried once again to tell her that the topic might bear interesting surprises for her (as it might for you dear reader).
I am speaking in a general way here. Of course, this is not to blame anyone. And even if the correlations between eating disorders and gifted girls are significantly higher than for the general population, there are many other factors involved.
Another thing I’d like to stress: there is much more to know thyself — and finding ways to share one’s brightness and brilliance with the world — than understanding the concept of ‚giftedness‘ which is just one aspect of an uncommonly intelligent person.
My job certainly is not to convince others, who don’t want to hear about it, that exploring the subject might be not just interesting but also important for them.
When you feel like an alien
What can be done if you have felt like an alien for a long time and now know that this feeling was linked to the ignorance of your extra intelligence and intensity?
And you are quite sure that someone you care about might be ‘an alien’ as well? It’s simply a question of trial and error I guess. As so often in life. That’s why I wrote this article. It makes me feel a bit less alien because I know that there are millions of us on planet Earth.
Fact is: most of the Bright Adults (depending on the definition 2-5%) just don’t know about the ‚gifted‘ part.
After I found out about myself I told my very best friend that she certainly was ‚gifted‘ too (her niece had just been tested — and labelled ‚hochbegabt‘ or ‚gifted‘ which is a whole other problem I shall explore another time). I still remember vividly when and how she said, „Komm doch mal vom hohen Ross herunter“ which translates as, „come off your high horse“. In other words, she invited me to stop acting as if I was better than other people; to stop being arrogant or haughty.
It hurt. For quite some time… It made me shut up for quite a while. I’m glad that she was laughing yesterday, and I was capable now to laugh, too, when I read the paragraph aloud to her (in the meantime she has acknowledged her extra-ordinariness).
I addressed the very interesting question, „Am I arrogant“? before.
What is giftedness?
In another article with the title „What is giftedness“ (which is a very vast — and among experts also rather controversial — topic) Linda Silverman writes:
„Gifted children and adults see the world differently because of the complexity of their thought processes and their emotional intensity. People often say to them, “Why do you make everything so complicated?” “Why do you take everything so seriously?” “Why is everything so important to you?” The gifted are “too” everything: too sensitive, too intense, too driven, too honest, too idealistic, too moral, too perfectionistic, too much for other people! Even if they try their entire lives to fit in, they still feel like misfits.“ Read the full article.
More to come on the topic on this blog.
Gifted Adults know how much they don’t know
Most ‚gifted‘ people have one thing in common: they know perfectly well that, after all, they are not that intelligent. They don’t feel superior at all. Some think it’s their effort and perseverance, not talents or intelligence that are the cause for their achievements. Others, on the contrary, may feel rather inadequate, ‚not fitting anywhere‘ or not living up to their own standards and ideals.
Intelligence shows in different ways. Part of it can be measured and part of it not. Part of it may show and gift results outwardly and part of it is pure personal, internal experience.
What distinguishes people with extra-ordinary perception and cognitive capacities (probably, again, not all of them), however, is their grasp of the fact how little they know and how ignorant they are…
Possible turbulences if you don’t feel like an alien
I have other friends like Estelle. Fact is: when you grew up in a family of ‚aliens‘, ‚different‘ feels ‚normal‘. If you have found a matching life partner or spouse and/or work that gives you joy and meaning aka if you are thriving and have found a way to contribute to making this world a better place you don’t really have to care…
All may be ‚fine‘… until maybe one of your children starts to have troubles at school or in the neighbourhood. This can look like this — I’m taking examples from people I know personally:
- Your girl (8) is being bullied by the kids from the block who don’t wait for her as agreed upon to walk to school. The girl (a cheerful, sunny child that just got detected as ‘bright’) feels desperate and cries in the evening, saying to her mother, „I don’t know what is going on; they promised to wait and let me down once again.“
- You wonder why the marks, and more importantly the motivation of your boy (9) dropped massively after he changed teachers. My friend inquired and found out that the former teacher let him do certain things in a corner, away from the others, which allowed him to concentrate and be less distracted by all he picks up from his environment which was not the case anymore as the new teacher insisted to „treat everyone the same“ (this is a BIG issue in Swiss schools).
- Your boy (10) has become very reluctant to go to school. After investigating, he admitted to his mom that he is bored and lacks challenge. A discussion of the parents with the headmaster of the school with the aim to explore possibilities turned out bad and didn’t lead anywhere.
- Your girl (11) has been diagnosed with ADHD. You get showered with advice and certain therapies and approaches bring her relief. Martial arts training supports her self-confidence and helps her to keep bullying at school at bay. When her mother finds out (through being in contact with me) that she might be gifted, this changes the way to look at things.
- Your girl (14) was diagnosed with a mental health disorder. During therapy, it turns out that the girl is not really challenged at school. The parents have found a private school in the meantime and hope now that a different educational environment might help their daughter – she has not been tested yet but is probably ‚twice exceptional‘ or 2E (see below).
- Your boy (15) has just been diagnosed with dyslexia. His mother told me before that he had „learning difficulties“ and had to „try very hard“ but managed to get into High School. (I guess that he is 2E, many bright kids use their smarts to compensate.)
There are many examples in literature on what might happen if the Bright Child lacks an environment that helps to get her or his needs met. They may start disturbing the classroom or acting out (more common among boys, cultural standards expect girls to be ‚nice‘ and blend in).
Fact is: some gifted children show behaviours that look like ‚attention deficits‘ or ‚mood shifts‘ that may be wrongly labelled as pathologies. If they are misdiagnosed and therefore wrongly medicated and treated this may harm their mental and physical developmental massively.
We want thriving children and adults
Fact is: the intellectual and emotional needs are special for most ‚gifted and talented‘ individuals. Depending on the data, this seems to concern 30 to 60% of the GAT kids; studies show that about a third of the gifted minority seems to bloom (but the numbers are usually small and the samples of ‘gifted’ children only contain the ‘bright’ ones who were perceived as ‘smart’ or ‘high performing’ and consequently tested).
All GAT children and adults certainly need enough and more than average challenging stimulation; ideally, they can learn according to their own pace, immerse themselves in their favourite topics and learn from peers that may be several years older than themselves. Furthermore, those individuals that are Highly Sensitive Persons which are also very empathic (take the official HSP test for yourself or your child here) need possibilities to withdraw so they can avoid overstimulation.
There is another important concept I can only mention and will explain further in other articles: these children are out of sync with their peers. See Stephanie Tolan’s Out Of Sync: Essays of Giftedness. They show different levels of development on the physical, intellectual, social and emotional levels… (this is the ‚alien‘ thing; it started early in our lives — do you remember now???)
I advocate that EVERY child has the right to thrive. Our education systems certainly try to achieve this. However, if a value like ‚inclusion‘ is judged to be more important than ‚expression of individual potential‘ and if a majority of educators shies away from the possibility that there are super smart kids that need different treatment this may create havoc among the minority of bright girls and boys.
Children that have to function in an environment that does not match their needs may get not just miserable but ill. You must also know that there are children (and adults!) who are so-called ‚twice exceptional‘ or 2E they are ‚gifted‘ and have ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, depression, an eating disorder or Autistic Spectrum Disorder to name a few examples. Most healthcare and educational experts are ignorant of this possibility. If they are not detected as having special abilities as well as special challenges to overcome they (and their families) may suffer greatly.
I’m glad that my questioning (and feeling a bit helpless, not hopeless!) lead to a concrete way to do something that may benefit others.
I hope (and trust) that this article shall spark the interest and much more in other ‚aliens‘ here on planet earth… Thanks so much for reading. To your brilliant life.
And now something completely different (and completely related as you know if you love Monty Python and their quirky sense of humour – yet another characteristic of Gifted or Bright Adults):
Do you (still) love Fairy Tales?
Many (not all!) gifted people love science fiction and mystery. Many gifted grownups preserve their childlike sense of wonder…
Let me tell you the story of Princess Patty Muffins who fell to earth… to be published on this website very soon 🙂
Please share this article with family and friends to dispel prejudice and help other people who may or may not feel like an alien to thrive not to survive.
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