A Great Definition of ‘Gifted’

In this blog posting, I found a great description of ‘gifted’ and a great description of where it is found: I DON’T brag about my gifted kid.

First the author describes where giftedness, as used in developmental and educational psychology, lies: “GIFTED.IS.WIRING. It is who a person is, not what a person accomplishes.”

The author then goes on to quote Linda Silverman (Ph.D educational psychology, author of a number books and articles and head of the The Gifted Development Center) on what giftedness is:

“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Every sentence in her description is exquisite and deserves to be considered by those who deal with those who are ‘gifted’ in the sense of having high intelligence and multi-potentiality (another shorthand description of giftedness).

Several years ago I put together a series of blog posting on what giftedness means for someone who has trusted in Christ and believes in the Bible as the wholly inspired and inerrant Word of God. While there are things I would expand upon in the following postings, I stand by what I’ve written. Here is the full listing:

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Gifted, Talented . . . and Christian: Pastors and the Gifted

Updated!


Pastoral Care of the Gifted

In my personal journal from a number of years ago I discovered an entry on the pastoral care that I should have received. During my mid to late twenties and early thirties, there was a pastor or two who attempted to mentor me and some who may even have thought or said to others that they were ‘counseling’ me. Though I did not at the time regard these sessions as genuine ‘counseling’ sessions, I believe that they may have been represented as such to some third parties.

Much of what I heard during these times I have found in later years to be inadequate. Some probably did have genuinely good intentions, but the best that can be said of several others is that they showed pretty mixed emotions towards me as a person. The entry in my journal was taken from the perspective of how I would have dealt with someone like myself after I had put several years in the pastorate. It is not intended to be critical or judgmental, but as a guide to those who deal as pastor with others. I do plan on revising this section as time goes by, but here is what I have for the present.

  • It must be Biblical in content and manner. I received some ‘counsel’ based on some claims of God’s leading, but these were repetitions of things I had once said with ‘God says’ attached, or ‘God says’ attached to what they might have heard from others. Other ‘counsel’ appears to have been to try to fit me into the expectations of absent third parties. Still other ‘counsel’ appears to have come from the perception that the I was simply an inferior copy of the pastor, and needed him to make me over into his image. The first qualifies as false prophecy, the second as being a party to rumor and gossip and the third as domineering egomania. None of these were Biblical in manner or content. The Bible itself is the standard by which everyone is equipped for ‘every good work’ (II Timothy 3:16-17).
  • It must be private and confidential. This means no divulging of information to third parties nor acceptance of information from third parties without hearing the side from the GT adult also. This is a normal standard for pastoral care and counseling but it does bear repeating, since someone in the church may either feel threatened by the GT adult, or be envious and develop a vendetta against the GT adult. Protection of the unity of the church through refusal of gossip applies where a GT adult is concerned also.
  • It must be loving and honest. ‘Speaking the truth in love is the Biblical standard. Some of those who attempted to ‘counsel’ me had deep envy and malicious feelings toward me by their own admission. The content and manner of their dealing with me was in accord with what was in their hearts. Rather, offer no counsel if it cannot be in accord with I Corinthians 13. No claims of loving intentions do not excuse any harsh and angry actions.
  • It must be respectful of their adulthood. GT adults often show an exuberance, playfulness and even physical youthfulness beyond their years. Sometimes pastors in their forties and beyond begin to take on an overly parental manner with younger adults, especially if they are near the same age range as the pastor’s children. Any apparent immaturity of the GT adult and an overly parental manner on the part of a pastor can result in a series of directions to the adult which are simply inappropriate to give to another adult. The standard of pastoral care and counseling is that it is not to be domineering or patronizing (I Peter 5:3). The pastor is to be a spiritual leader using the Word of God to direct, not a self appointed surrogate parent. Remember that God has put the pastor into the place of parental authority only over his own children, not the children of anyone else.
  • It must be respectful of God’s purpose in the life of the GT adult. As part of the purpose of salvation, God has prepared beforehand that the GT adult should live out his or her faith in good deeds (Ephesians 2:10). The role of the pastor is to be a partner with the GT adult in finding out and following how this should work out in his or her life. That will not be a one-sided declaration of pastoral authority pressed beyond scriptural boundaries but a mutual, scripturally sound leading of the Holy Spirit.
  • Any correction must be done in gentleness and humility (Galatians 6:1). This goes with what scripture already says about the standard of communication being ‘speaking the truth in love.’ Rather, it is a reinforcement of this command.

In short, there is nothing about the GT adult that permits a deviation from Biblically centered counsel and Christlike conduct toward the GT adult. For any pastor dealing with a GT adult, if there are feelings of envy, anger, or any other such motivations welling up, I encourage you to deal with your own heart first. A serious red flag would be any desire to use this relationship to crush or humiliate the GT adult. Please remember that pastoral position and authority is given not to tear anyone down (II Corinthians 13:10) but to build up fellow believers, including any GT adults, into the image of Christ. Pray and deal with your own heart according to the scriptures as long as it takes.

Here is also a short notification as to what does notwork with the gifted.

  • What does not work is the amateur diagnosis of gifted characteristics as any kind of mental illness or neurological problems in themselves. Several articles on the SENG(Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) site explain this kind of misdiagnosis. The gifted person is different in the way that he or she thinks, feels and processes information.

    Many times the gifted person is more sensitive than the average person and may react to hurts and difficulties that may seem to be overreactions to others (and it is in those times that they need may need our love and patience a little more — but someone who is in genuine fellowship with Christ has access to a more than sufficient source — Ephesians 3:16-19). It is easy, though, for someone else to take an exaggeration of a misunderstanding to extreme levels.

    Case in point: when I was in my mid twenties, I had simply one difficult day. I came home, rested, prayed and things were back in perspective on that evening. One person, though, simply saw me feeling down, and told some others that I was on the verge of a psychological breakdown. I worked it out with that person later that evening, but unfortunately some others who heard that seemed to have persisted in that misunderstanding. The upshot is that the gifted, as much as any other believer, must receive understanding when he or she comes into problems in this world, such as the bad days and misfortunes that happen to us all. Each person in this world will then suffer and hurt according to the way that God has made that person, not according to someone else’s idea of how that person ‘should’ feel at that time.

    Nevertheless, sometimes giftedness does come intertwined with some kinds of mental illness or neurological problems. This is not the same, though, as someone being different, or diverging from a simplistic image of what it is to be ‘normal.’ If you suspect that this might be the case, it is best to work with trained medical and psychological experts who are experienced in distinguishing the characteristics of giftedness, mental illness and neurological problems. Nevertheless, avoid giving the gifted person the impression that their abilities and differences mean that anything is ‘wrong’ with that person. It is simply the way that that person was born, or rather, the characteristics which God has given to him or her. It is sheer presumption to confuse our ideas of what is ‘normal’ for God’s will and purposes in the life of another individual. In fact, God himself takes responsibility for the ways in which many people are not ‘normal’: “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4:11).

     

  • What does not work is the attempt to impose blue collar class survival rules or social norms on a gifted person. (This generally is out of place with anyone, since these are not really Biblical in themselves.) It is at best insensitive and at worst abusive to tell a gifted person that he or she must become ‘tough’ instead of sensitive, ‘show no weakness’ instead of live with the awareness of his or her human imperfections, or ‘hard work and discipline’ is what counts instead of inspiration and artistry.

Pastors Who Qualify as Gifted

The description here is not applied to a spiritual gift as a pastor or to the position, but to those who are pastors who are GT by the definitions provided.

  • Understand that your real power and sufficiency in ministry comes from Christ and not your giftedness (II Corinthians 3:4-6).
  • Understand that your leadership is to be with the servanthood attitude of Christ (Luke 22:24-25, Philippians 2:1-11).
  • Understand that any scorn or ridicule that you have experienced because of your giftedness can be a source of compassionate ministry to others (II Corinthians 1:3-5).
  • Understand that your glorying is to be in the Lord above all (Jeremiah 9:23-24), and not in your intelligence or accomplishments.

All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

The Epidemic of Narcissism

A few days ago I saw Jean Twenge, author of the Epidemic of Narcissism and The Narcissism Blog on CSPAN/ BookTV. I haven’t read her book yet – it’s still out on loan at the local library.

Here is the link to the Book TV program replay on the Epidemic of Narcissism:
http://www.booktv.org/Program/10487/The+Narcissism+Epidemic+Living+in+the+Age+of+Entitlement.aspx

Here is a link to the Google Books preview of the Epidemic of Narcissism. It has most the essential research summarized in the chapters which are quoted: http://books.google.com/books?id=m3YndShMSUUC&printsec=frontcover

Here’s what struck me from what she said:

  • In the World War II generation, there was a small percentage of clinically identified narcissists — about 1.5 to 1.75% identifiable narcissists. Now, if Jean Twenge’s stats are anywhere near accurate, and I believe they are, the proportion would be much larger in the twentysomethings — 10% narcissists.
  • Narcissism seems not to be biologically based. Rather, Twenge traces the rise of narcissism to parenting which is overly praising, under correcting and overly permissive — and the narcissistic behavioral patterns (thinking and acting) are therefore primarily learned. The self esteem movement had a large part to do with this, since it took an unvalidated remedy for low self esteem as a symptom of a small minority of abused and neglected children, and applied it to the population as a whole. It’s interesting that she notes that the usual self affirmations that are used as the remedy usually produce the opposite effect in this small minority.
  • According to Twenge, the bills for this epidemic should be coming due in 10 to 20 years, since that’s the age at which reality starts to hit most narcissists.

Here’s the definition of narcissism from Wikipedia:

Narcissism describes the trait of excessive self-love, based on self-image or ego.

The term is derived from the Greek mythology of Narcissus. Narcissus was a handsome Greek youth who rejected the desperate advances of the nymph Echo. As punishment, he was doomed to fall in love with his own reflection in a pool of water. Unable to consummate his love, Narcissus pined away and changed into a flower that bears his name, the narcissus.

In psychology and psychiatry, excessive narcissism is recognized as a severe personality dysfunction or personality disorder. The terms narcissism, narcissistic, and narcissist are often used as pejoratives, denoting vanity, conceit, egotism or simple selfishness.

Here is the definition of Narcissistic Personality Disorder from Wikipedia:

Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) is a personality disorder defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the diagnostic classification system used in the United States, as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and a lack of empathy.” [1]

The narcissist is described as turning inward for gratification rather than depending on others, and as being excessively preoccupied with issues of personal adequacy, power, and prestige.[2] Narcissistic personality disorder is closely linked to self-centeredness. It is also colloquially referred to as “the god complex“.

Here are the generally accepted criteria, also from Wikipedia:

“A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following:[1]

  1. has a grandiose sense of self-importance
  2. is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
  3. believes that he or she is “special” and can only be understood by, or should associate with, people (or institutions) who are also “special” or of high status.
  4. requires excessive admiration
  5. has a sense of entitlement
  6. is interpersonally exploitative
  7. lacks empathy
  8. is often envious of others or believes others are envious of him or her
  9. shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes”

Here is a summary of what is in Sandy Hotchkiss, Why Is It Always about You? The Seven Deadly Sins of Narcissism.

The sins:

  • Shamelessness: The narcissist seems to have a cool indifference at times, and almost seems to be amoral, but in fact has an extreme shame sensitivity, and has extreme reactions to minor incidents.
  • Magical thinking: The narcissist keeps himself or herself pumped up inside with a great deal of distortion, illusion, projection (shame-dumping), and exploitative idealization of others.
  • Arrogance: The narcissist wears the mask of a superiority complex. He or she competes with and degrades and diminishes others to pump himself or herself up and gain the craved admiration from others. Nothing is acceptable about being ordinary or average.
  • Envy: Contempt and disdain for others is constant.
  • Entitlement: There is no mutuality and reciprocity in a relationship with a narcissist. For the narcissist, others exist to meet MY needs, to agree with, flatter, obey and comfort ME. Denial of this by others leads to resentment and rage. The narcissist  additionally harbors unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment and automatic compliance from others apart from any real demonstrations of competence and trustworthiness and actual accomplishments.
  • Exploitation: The narcissist demonstrates no empathy or compassion for others. There is no capacity to identify with or recognize the feelings and needs of others, and the narcissist deceives and manipulates others without regard to their feelings or interests.
  • Bad boundaries: The narcissist constantly violates the boundaries of others, and is extremely intrusive and interfering.

I’m a member of Mensa myself, and those who are Gifted and Talented (GTs) may seem to some to be equivalent to narcissists. Certainly some GTs may be narcissists as well. There are some strong differences, though.

  • Many GTs are unaware of being GT, and do not consider themselves to be superior to others, entitled to special treatment, etc.
  • Many, if not most GTs, can be extraordinarily compassionate, and are more the objects of envy than those who envy.
  • Many, if not most GTs, do not seek excessive admiration but may in fact be quite modest about their accomplishments and shun the limelight.
  • Narcissists often seek to exploit GTs as much as possible. They often seek to take credit for the accomplishments of the GTs, while disdaining and belittling the GTs and their accomplishments, and emulate them in a sickening fashion. They often seek to monitor everything the GTs say and do, and if in a position of authority, brutally micromanage them.
  • Many GTs are nevertheless targeted relentlessly by narcissists even while the narcissists are trying to exploit them, because they threaten the grandiose self assessment and sense of superiority of the narcissists. This targeting is even more relentless and brutal if the GTs either refuse to be exploited or expose the narcissist. The formula: GTs running, narcissists gunning.
  • GTs also tend to be in reality what narcissists believe they are in terms of abilities and accomplishments.
  • Being GT seems to have nothing to do with a parenting style, but rather GTs seem to be born to parents with all varieties of parenting styles.
  • As a proportion of the population, identifiable GTs seem to have remained constant at about 2%, while Jean Twenge’s statistics show about an eight fold increase in narcissists as a proportion of their age group.
  • Narcissists will try to claim to be or try to ‘fake’ being GT, but GTs can be reluctant to identify themselves as GT until after being identified as such on a standard intelligence test.

The implications for the preaching, teaching and counseling ministry of the church, though, are profound. It is surely no accident that this documented increase in clinically identified narcissists also coincides with the lack of preaching and teaching in the church on pride, envy, and arrogance as sins, and the preaching of self esteem by a number of prominent evangelical pastors and leaders.

Gifted, Talented . . . and Christian: The GT Adult And the Evangelical Church

Updated!

If a ‘GT’ person is active in an evangelical church, there are two wrong reactions that can happen:

  • Within the church character defects may be wrongly attributed to the independence and curiosity of the gifted. An ‘I told you so’ answer to genuine questions is often unsatisfying to the gifted.

  • If the gifted are automatically seen as ‘arrogant’, or others are threatened by them, even otherwise outstanding believers and leaders may take a ‘teach them humility through humiliation’ strategy with them. Unfortunately, this unscriptural and abusive approach ultimately alienates the gifted — who may in fact have a sense of incredible humility, submission and servanthood before God and his/her brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s an obvious point, but the one thing that the ‘walking wounded’ don’t need is more wounding from others.

Here are some basic guidelines for the pursuit of a godly life in the evangelical church:

  • Develop a Biblically based faith of scripturally supported convictions. Do not be afraid of nor let anyone discourage you from reverent questioning and exploration of the truth of God’s Word. Remember that Jesus Christ himself was always open to an honest question.

  • Develop intellectually strong corroborations for your Biblically based beliefs.

  • Develop as a well rounded disciple of Jesus Christ in Christlike character.

  • Use your gifts, both spiritual and natural, as a servant to others after the example of Christ.

  • Develop in fellowship with a Bible believing church and pastor. Understand that one or two churches or several professed evangelical believers do not reflect the true character and nature of Christ or represent the views and practices of all evangelical churches and believers.


Ministry Opportunities to the Gifted

The gifted can be a challenge for ministry and perceived to be a problem if others insist that we are no different than anyone else. But, if our actual differences are understood and taken into account, the same gospel and Lord Jesus will meet our needs in the same ways.

  • Many of the gifted are in fact tremendously open spiritually — but unfortunately may find New Age or cultish teaching, or even aggressive atheism more appealing. The church simply has to share the same gospel, but be open to intellectual questions and possibly even initial rejection from people who may have never received very much love or concern from others in their lives, and may not recognize or understand it when they first see it. The answer to the gifted needs to be the same Christ who loves and accepts them as they are. He is the answer who not only provides intellectual satisfaction but a heart satisfaction that they have in fact been unknowingly longing for their entire lives. The key is not to be threatened by raw brainpower or immense talent but to see through to the needs of the heart.

  • People in the church are human enough to be threatened by others who are different, and tragically enough often give the gifted person the same kind of abusive treatment as the world apart from Christ. I myself can attest to this with sadness, though I’d rather not go beyond this. The usual scriptural injunctions against envy, verbal abuse, lies, gossip and judgmentalism are sufficient to show that there is no justification for this behavior before God. In addition, the scriptural commands to be content with what you have (this applies to God’s gifts financially, materially, intellectually, emotionally, socially and physically as well as spiritually) apply here also.

  • The gifted may need special prayer support to find and stay on their mission for the Lord — and this may take in fact many twists, turns, stumbles, and sidetracks. I think that is actually the way things happen for most of us; the single minded mission for many years on the same task makes for great Christian biographies, but is probably far from the truth for most of us. Again, one of the dangers with this can also be false prophecy from other believers, if they attach a ‘thus says the Lord’ to their own thoughts and expectations — Jeremiah 23:26, 30.


All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

Gifted, Talented . . . and Christian: The Discovery of Giftedness

In November, 2003, I made a momentous discovery about myself. I discovered that I qualify as a ‘gifted and talented’ adult. My own realization came through coming across a description of giftedness in adults on the Internet that I thought sounded very much like myself.

I then went over my elementary school report cards, and found that every one of my teachers felt I had very high learning potential. Finally, I went over some of the books from psychologists who deal especially with adults who come into an awareness of being ‘gifted’ later in life, and joined Mensa and an Internet support group, so that I could better understand my own experiences, and have an insight and perhaps a potential into ministry to some very hurting people like myself. I then went over my elementary school report cards, and found that every one of my teachers felt I had very high learning potential. Finally, I went over some of the books from psychologists who deal especially with adults who come into an awareness of being ‘gifted’ later in life, and joined Mensa and an Internet support group, so that I could better understand my own experiences, and have an insight and perhaps a potential into ministry to some very hurting people.

For me, primarily the experience has been a deeper awareness of the depth and breadth of the gifts I’ve been given, as well as a sudden insight into the nature of many of the experiences I’ve had through life. One of the tremendous values of this list to me has been the validation of these experiences with the sharing of and with others here — sort of “I’m not crazy! Other gifted people have the same kinds of feelings and experiences!”

It wasn’t a lack of understanding of having intelligence; rather, it was a lack of understanding of the extent and of how it shaped my perceptions, feelings and experiences over the years, and what it meant to be GT. For many years it was a sense of being different than others around me, and having others perceive me as different, but not understanding how much being GT was the source of it. For me, realizing what it meant to be GT and learning the experiences of others who are GT adults has filled in many, many gaps of understanding of my experiences over the years. It’s meant working to put my past into perspective and carry these lessons forward for the next forty to fifty years.

The discovery really was overwhelming in its intensity and relief. The expression I would use to describe it is ‘an earthquake of the soul.’ But for myself, it’s better to know that I’m GT and all that that involves, than otherwise. For myself, as a GT adult who was living without understanding what it is to be GT, it was like trying to make my way through a city with an out of date road map. Some things were as expected, but a number of things weren’t.

Many of you reading this may not be gifted, though some of you may be. If you’re going to be dealing with someone who is GT in your life, you can be pretty much be assured of these kinds of things:

  • You are dealing with a person whose motivations, perceptions and interests are very different than yours.

  • You are dealing with someone who is different enough from the others that you know that any insights culled from your own autobiography or any other stereotypes will not fit that person.

  • You are dealing with someone who may well have had very different social experiences with others over the course of his or her lifetime, and who may entirely unintentionally well bring out both the best and the worst in the others around him or her.

  • You are dealing with someone who has feelings, bad days and good days, goals, desires, loves, prejudices, achievements, disappointments, blind spots and hidden heartbreaks like anyone else.

  • You are dealing with someone who is worth getting to know and trying to understand as much as possible, and to make your friend.

  • You are dealing with someone who is often willing to share his or her knowledge and experience with others, and who does enjoy an intellectual challenge and inquiry that is meaningful to him or her. This same person may not enjoy other people who attempt to throw trite or contrived challenges or brainteasers at him or her or attempt to compete in areas in which the competitor clearly does even not have a basic knowledge of the field.

  • You are dealing with someone who may be extremely frustrating at times, extremely annoying at times, astonishingly brilliant at times, and even seemingly average at times.

  • You are dealing with someone who may have strong intellectual and artistic interest and pursuits, but with whom you may find common ground in many other areas. For instance, GTs also may follow and cheer on the local sports teams, work out at a gym or go running for exercise, enjoy both cooking and consuming a good meal, enjoy other more ‘hands on’ activities like woodworking, home crafts or working on a car.

My personal belief is that giftedness is intended by God to be a blessing both to the gifted and to those around the gifted person. Sometimes it’s not the case, though. Please read on with the further posts, and let me explain why.