About 2% of the general population fall into the category of the ‘gifted.’ Thus, to some extent the use of the term is simply a statistical description. In a sense, then, to describe someone having verifiably high intelligence is simply a statistical statement of where someone falls on the bell curve of measured human intelligence. There has been over a century of medical, neurological and psychological research into the characteristics of people of high intelligence, and on the whole it could well be said that most of the information on giftedness is scientifically on very firm ground. Moreover a good deal of psychological research has established that this carries with it emotional, social and even physiological differences (a greater sensitivity to some outside stimuli even as infants). Giftedness is more a manner of thinking, feeling and acting based on the nature of an individual’s nervous system. Gifted children and teenagers, though, may come into some unnecessary and possibly severe problems adjusting later in life if they and their parents do not realize this.
Here are some general observations about the ‘gifted’:
The gifted are often ambivalent toward their own giftedness.
Many are uncomfortable being called ‘gifted,’ because of an unwanted implication of arrogance, superiority and elitism, but there is currently no other term to describe people of high intelligence. A number call themselves ‘G-T’ simply as a handy description. There is a great deal of ambivalence among the ‘GT’ toward their abilities; some see them as a curse rather than a gift because of the emotional trauma that they receive from others in a culture where excellence can be punished at least as often as it is rewarded.
The gifted may show unusual capabilities in a number of areas.
High intelligence and artistic (visual arts, literature, music, even dance) ability are often linked. For example, Albert Einstein thought that his second choice to physics would have been music.
Giftedness is not a disease or defect.
A gifted person is not ‘damaged goods’ on account of his or her giftedness in any way. For example, I could not pray in good conscience before God for anyone to be ‘healed’ of giftedness. Rather, the term describes not what is wrong about the person but really what is right about him or her: God has given a person natural cognitive, perceptive and cognitive abilities in a degree which he has not given them to others.
Giftedness is not always linked to academic performance in terms of grades.
The school environment is often a place where GT students feel bored, misunderstood and rejected from an early age, particularly if their school tolerates bullying among its students. The more gifted might not be those with the highest grades in all subjects, but those who show flashes of extraordinary insights and understanding and master difficult material more easily than others. This may not translate into a higher grade point average, though. If the GT student is identified early and learns study skills and discipline in a supportive environment, though, this kind of academic performance may in fact become more possible. Otherwise, GT students may have an academic performance just shy of excellent, though sometimes something seems to ‘turn on’ in terms of developing academic discipline in the later years of high school, college or even graduate school.
Here are some links that discuss the reality of gifted underachievers:
Giftedness often means a insatiable curiosity and a love of learning but does not mean a love of study and reading in itself.
GTs can be voracious readers of many different types of material on many different subjects, as I myself am. Strangely enough, this received a strange and scornful spin from at least one hostile critic some years ago. What was said was that I was someone who ". . . just liked to study." There are lots of things I like to do, and study for study’s sake is NOT one of them! Rather, I am very curious about many things, and I have always been able to read at a fast pace. Often I find that I can find information on the objects of my curiosity faster and easier through reading. But there are a number of other ways that I’ve worked to satisfy my curiosity and love of learning, such as visit historical places, and use what I’ve read about to create things like software, literature, sermons and drawings. This is actually pretty normal for someone who is GT, though it may not be ‘normal’ for someone who is not GT. Over the years, though, I’ve found that this scornful spin is just another example of "sour grapes."
Many do not know that they are gifted, and may discover it late in life.
Many are unaware of their capabilities, and grow to adulthood without understanding themselves. In years past both schools and parents often hid the intelligence test scores from their children, and much later in life they found out where they really stood in comparison to others in terms of their measured intelligence. The discovery of how much others’ often extreme reactions to them are a result of their being threatened by their intelligence (very often unintentionally on the part of the gifted) actually comes as a kind of relief. Even more, when they begin to have contact with other gifted individuals, they realize that they’re not alone.
Many of the gifted experience social rejection and abuse throughout much of their lives.
Many experience some kind of hostility, exploitation, denigration, bullying, sabotage and even physical and emotional abuse throughout life; it may include physical bullying from kindergarten through high school, and social hostility, rejection and ostracism throughout life. (This may have been a factor in some of the school shootings such as Columbine). They sometimes seem to be especially targeted by the intensely ambitious but mildly talented and extremely unscrupulous for exploitation and abuse (pathological manipulators and addicts, for example). Extreme envy also seems to be part of the motivation for this targeting. A growing isolation and alienation from others for emotional survival over the years often is part of the reaction to this treatment. Throughout life they may be the ‘walking wounded’ with so much apparently unutilized potential due to the depth of their trauma.
As an American male baby boomer, my experience was pretty much the same, that no very few adults would step in either to protect me from another’s abuse or to give any worthwhile support or guidance when I was in those situations. When I was growing up, the expectation for guys was that you should be able ‘to stand on your own two feet’ and ‘defend yourself.’ I think that this is generally true for most social encounters for both sexes — we call it assertiveness now.
Unfortunately, assertiveness is only partially effective at dealing with a bullying problem, especially in school. Bullies can be incredibly cunning at playing the system and camouflaging their aggression. I would add that they can also be incredibly cunning at instigating others to join in on their aggression, even those in authority. In those cases it’s hard to stand on your own two feet when there are multiple adversaries joining in to try to beat you into the ground. And bullies themselves can be incredibly cunning at hiding their aggression by playing the victim if there are aggressive reactions to their aggression.
One thing to remember about bullying of any type is that the victim is never to blame for the aggression of the bully. A determined bully will keep on studying a potential victim until he or she finds a weakness that he or she can exploit or an opportunity to unleash his or her aggression, preferably with an element of utter surprise. The only final defense against a bully — child, adolescent or adult — is for the bully to take responsibility for his or her behavior and to change his or her attitudes and behavior.
For a personal experience with chronic bullying please see Please Stop Laughing at Me by Jodee Blanco. This link is to a summary. For myself, I was chilled by the following remark from one of her ex-high school classmates: "It was almost like Jodee wasn’t a real person. People could constantly pick on her and maul her, and that was the norm to do." This is part of the dehumanization that I think is one of the rationalizations of that kind of behavior. But the truth is about bullying in the school, mobbing in the workplace or abuse in the family is that the victim really is not to blame.
A number of the gifted may also demonstrate different areas of unusual sensitivity, otherwise known as overexcitabilities (OEs).
What this really means is that the GT adult with these characteristics experiences the world with a greater than average intensity and sensivity. Sometimes these characteristics may be seen even from infancy. These are more like slight neurological differences rather than a real problem. This intensity and sensitivity may in fact be the root of great creative and artistic abilities. This does not equate to mental illness, although those with OEs may seem to overreact to things that do not bother others as much. This actually means that the GT with OEs is reacting to a situation which really is more intense physically and/or emotionally to him or her than to others.
Sometimes giftedness appears to be or is actually intertwined with other psychological or neurological problems.
Psychological problems can be wrongly attributed to the gifted, where giftedness is not understood. Instances of depression may occur, though, when the abusive treatment just described occurs over any length of time. The GT nature can be misdiagnosed as ADHD, Asperger’s syndrome, or even intertwined with these problems. For more information, see SENG: Counseling, Multiple Exceptionality, and Psychological Issues. Dr. James Webb especially has a key resource to help distinguish between the traits of giftedness and genuine psychological problems. The bottom line is that it is not always easy even for physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists to recognize giftedness and distinguish it when it is present with genuine psychological or neurological problems. If it is so difficult for trained professionals to deal with these situations, then certainly untrained non professionals should hesitate to offer any snap judgments in these areas.
Sometimes others slanderously attribute psychological problems to GTs.
Even so, GTs without these serious problems do go through some pretty difficult times, and unfortunately, there may not be much support from others around them. I’ve generally had very poor sympathy/empathy from non GTs when I’ve gone through these hard times, and believe me, I know what it’s like to be down near the single digits in my bank account and wonder what’s next. Some of the non GTs almost seem to have thought that what I was going through was something that they could take advantage of or hold over my head as proof that ‘You’re not so hot.’ My fellow GTs have corroborated my experience in this area tremendously. It often does seem that we
Repeated, slanderous attribution of psychological problems to others is one of the key signs of an abusive person. Even more significantly, there have also been studies which show a correlation between depression and being in close contact with a malicious, deceptive, emotionally abusive person — the kind of person I’ve termed a ‘pathological manipulator.’ I believe that there is a growing realization that in some cases antidepressants may simply be anesthetizing the victims of an abusive spouse, relative or coworker. One thing that we might want to consider if we find ourselves in the dumps for a while: what is happening or has happened with my closest personal relationships? If we don’t know what genuine love and affection is like, we can fall prey to a codependent and abusive relationships.
My fellow GTs and I have often wondered why we seem unintentionally to attract dysfunctional, abusive and exploitative people. Here are some ideas:
- We have the potential and abilities to go where their ambitions want to take them.
- Some mistake quietness, patience and a listening ear as gullibility and naiveté if we have those qualities.
- Some may study us for a long time to learn about our weaknesses and vulnerabilities before they demonstrate their true character and motives.
- Some may have actually been loyal and trustworthy friends previously but become otherwise due to their own choices and circumstances.
The bottom line lesson, which I have not mastered by any means, is to get to know people, their strengths and weaknesses, and their trustworthiness, over the long term. There’s nothing that says that we need to spot a person a lot of trust that they haven’t earned yet. What seems to work with new acquaintances is to share some fairly safe things and see how others deal with that information. And over the long term, it is simply scriptural wisdom to distance oneself from someone who starts dealing with us in an untrustworthy manner.
Others may unfairly stereotype a gifted person as ‘lacking social skills.’
Others often attribute ‘a lack of social skills’ to the gifted, and the media stereotype of the ‘nerd’ (few are actually like this) tends to reinforce this form of defensive denigration. Rather, the ‘g-t’ nature itself forces a different way of relating to others. In addition, the gifted may not receive appropriate social feedback and reinforcement if others expect that they will not fit in socially anyway.
Once I imagined myself replying face to face to one of my past critics and false friends who would lambaste me behind my back for ‘having no social skills.’ Here’s what I came up with: "You’re right. There are some ‘social skills’ that I never learned, like spreading rumors behind other people’s backs, backstabbing anyone who has any more talent than I have, instigating other people to do my dirty work for me, and holding petty grudges for months and years. And I am sorry to say, that I’m not always as good as I want to be on the social skills that I really want to have, such as being loyal to my friends, understanding and respecting others who are different than I am, helping others when they are in need, and having compassion for the less fortunate. And a person who has real social skills doesn’t have to spread lies around about other people who have done them no harm."
Gifted people are often labeled as ‘weird,’ and compared unfavorably to others who are more ‘popular.’
The ‘weird’ label often comes from the less intelligent and less talented. And most certainly the GT do pursue many different interests. And often they have a unique way of expressing themselves, humorously, intelligently, thoughtfully, and even metaphorically. Many times their utterances will be sprinkled with a number of literary allusions. Certainly a gifted person may not be as concerned with fashion or beauty as someone who is more ‘popular.’ But popularity is not necessarily normal or even desirable, especially if a person takes the teaching of Jesus seriously — such as Luke 6:16.
Giftedness may be mistaken for homosexual tendencies.
‘Gifted’ boys sometimes seem to be the target for homosexual exploitation and propaganda by homosexual men, and the target for misdirected homosexual ridicule and abuse by other men. The self-mystery of the gifted during childhood and adolescence — ‘I know I’m different from others, but I don’t really understand how’ — has probably led to being answered by the outside attribution of homosexuality by others more than once.
The key to countering this, of course, is the reality that homosexuality is not necessarily associated with artistic or musical talents, interests or abilities, nor a personal sensitivity, or a lack of enthusiasm for participation in rough and brutal sports, or any other aggressive activity. Adherence to an exaggerated macho ideal does not make a person a man, nor does having some or any of the characteristics of someone’s idea of a stereotypical homosexual mean that the reality is there. See here for more on what a Biblically based view of manhood is.
In connection with this, there have been at least four times in my life that I know of where others have maliciously spread rumors or voiced suspicion that I’m homosexual because I’ve had periods where I haven’t dated much, and because I’ve remained single throughout my life. It’s been a shame upon the body of Christ that at least two of these campaigns took place in professedly Christian groups by professed Christians. The simple truth, if anyone would have actually asked me, is, "No, I’m a flaming heterosexual. Homosexuality has never even been a serious temptation to me."