What is Giftedness? Its Meaning and Use in Coaching
As a coach for the gifted, I devote my work to supporting intellectually advanced and intense, or “gifted”, adults because I believe in the importance and potential of these unique, if sometimes overlooked or misunderstood, individuals. But I regularly encounter a lot of confusion about the subject, both in the general public and in “gifted” individuals themselves. What is “giftedness”? And why does it matter? And what is coaching gifted people all about?
Many people resist the label of “gifted” because they aren’t exceptional at all possible subjects, didn’t receive optimal marks in school, or even because they believe they have a learning disability. Others resist the label due to the social stigma attached to it (this is particularly true in Europe where considering oneself as gifted has historically been looked down upon as presumptuous and erudite). And still others resist the notion simply because it is a label – an oversimplified way to organize the many facets of a person – and they consequently see no use for it: “Okay, if I’m gifted, so what?”
The “so what” is actually quite important. Not being fond of overly simplistic labels myself, many question why I persist in utilizing this often taboo conceptualization. I continue to use it because it has proven to be an incredibly effective tool for self-awareness and self-acceptance. It helps a portion of the population understand that they’re not alien, crazy, awkward, or socially useless; it helps them make sense of their inner world, accept their limitations, and find a place for their vast and often misunderstood and stymied potential. Of course, it goes without saying that using the label “gifted” as an ego boost or as an escape from personal responsibility would render it useless (and, one can reasonably argue, harmful).
“Giftedness,” in short, is not just about being smart. It describes instead a range of conceptualizations of the world, with some of its most striking characteristics being intense curiosity, hypersensitivity to stimuli, and a high capacity for global (or broad and comprehensive) thinking.
And it’s not just about ease in learning and living either. In fact, the qualities that make up the “gift” of giftedness are often the very qualities that cause many gifted individuals to experience their “blessing” as more of a curse. A gifted person lives an extremely intense and rich inner-life. This intensity, when misunderstood, can provoke strong reactions in others, and lead to agonizing inner confusion about one’s social place and value. The qualities that give a gifted person such richness of spirit can be unwelcome and discouraged by family members, teachers, and friends. Gifted children often experience themselves as “too much” for others. “You ask too many questions” and “you think too much” are comments both children and adults in the gifted range regularly hear. Adaptive behavior and low self-esteem often follow, showing up as isolation, perfectionism and overachievement, and/or underachievement and depression.
I encounter clients reporting these very symptoms, yet having no idea where they come from. Reframing their experience and giving voice to the intense inner world they have tried to disown or manage in secrecy (often in an effort, conscious or unconscious, to “fit in”) is the first step to an amazing recovery of a sense of self. Once fully integrated – as with any tool which has served its purpose – the conceptual label of “gifted” can then be set aside. What remains is a new awareness: an understanding of one’s unique potential and limitations, finding sense in past experiences where before there was confusion, and identifying and embodying one’s needs and responsibilities. From this foundation, anyone, “gifted” or otherwise, can build a life of purpose and integrity. This is why I use the tool!
For more information, read: Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults, by Susan Daniels, PhD and Michael M. Piechowski, PhD