Monday, May 14, 2018

Giftedness and mental health

While gifted children and adults are not necessarily more prone to mental health problems, they still experience emotional and interpersonal challenges as a result of their heightened sensitivities, overactive minds, and differences from many of their peers. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I am including some blog posts that I have written about mental health related topics and giftedness.

Stress, conflicts, quirks, and differences: Some difficulties gifted children, teens and adults face

Gifted overthinkers: What makes them tick?

Is your gifted teen socially isolated?

Why do smart girls develop eating disorders?

Are gifted individuals really perfectionists?

Gifted women, gifted girls, and mental health

Choices exclude: The existential burden of multipotentiality

When is it more than giftedness? A psychologist's perspective

Gifted adults and relationships: Ten sources of conflict

When school has an impact

How parents can understand and offer support to their gifted child

Supporting your emotionally excitable gifted child

Tips for helping your socially isolated gifted teen

How to discipline your gifted child

Tips for taming test anxiety (because even gifted kids get anxious)

Tune in to your gifted child's needs

Get your gifted boy through middle school

Sending your gifted child to college: Providing support when fears arise

When you or your child need therapy

A gifted person's guide to therapy

Gifted children and adults: When is therapy helpful?

Five misconceptions about therapists

When does therapy benefit gifted adolescents?

Everyone experiences rough times, mood swings, and stress. Most of the time we can muddle through with the support of family and friends. However, mental health issues need to be taken seriously. Any changes in mood, appetite or sleeping patterns; complaints about depression, sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, apathy, loss of interest in typically enjoyable activities; an increase in angry outbursts or irritability; impulsive behaviors or alcohol or substance abuse; and any evidence of self-harm or suicidal thoughts should be addressed through acknowledgement, support and evaluation with a licensed mental health professional.

Monday, May 7, 2018

When is it more than giftedness? A psychologist's perspective

Sometimes it's not about giftedness.

Let me explain...

Many of you reading this are already aware of the misdiagnosis initiative, and know that many gifted children - and adults - are misdiagnosed as a result of their gifted traits. Asynchrony, hyperfocus, overthinking, social awkwardness, to name a few, may lead those lacking an understanding of giftedness to overpathologize and frame these traits as diagnostic of a mental health, developmental or behavioral problem. ADHD, OCD, and "on the spectrum" are some of the labels these children receive, when in fact, their behaviors may be manifestations of their giftedness.

But what about when the diagnoses are valid?

As a clinical psychologist, I have encountered situations where teens or adults have been misdiagnosed, and when problem behaviors resulted from social/emotional traits associated with giftedness, or the social ramifications of being gifted. I have also seen individuals who are gifted, but have co-occurring mental health concerns.

These diagnostic questions also arise in my work as a coach, where I consult with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. Although coaching is quite different from psychotherapy, my perspective as a psychologist remains an integral part of what I do. I still think like a clinician and take a history and listen through the "ears" of a psychologist.

Over the years, I have noticed a trend where some gifted adults or parents of gifted children, well-versed in the gifted literature, assume that their troubles are exclusively due to giftedness. And while gifted intelligence and social/emotional issues can provoke their own set of unique troubles, sometimes... sometimes... the issue is a mental health problem.

Yet, some gifted adults and families understandably hope that giftedness is the culprit. They dismiss others' warnings and comments - or their own nagging doubts. Perhaps, they needed psychotherapy years ago, or their child is more distressed than they had imagined. It's just Dabrowski's overexcitabilities - not depression - right? He just overthinks everything - he'll get over the anxiety eventually - won't he? They had hoped the problems were less serious. After all, who wouldn't want this to be true?

Remaining attuned to your child's intellectual abilities, emotional and social functioning, and interpersonal needs is much easier said than done, of course. Children have different needs depending on their developmental phase, interests, abilities, family dynamics, and unique personality. As parents, we often are vulnerable to the opinions of others - family, friends, social media, self-help authors, pediatricians, teachers, spiritual leaders. You or your child may be mislabeled, misdiagnosed, or not appropriately identified as gifted. Your child's or your own giftedness may be pathologized, or conversely, used to explain away more serious levels of distress that warrant treatment.

Take it seriously

We need to remind ourselves that children's and adult's emotional struggles must be taken seriously. We don't want to "overpathologize" and ignore how giftedness contributes to social and emotional functioning, but symptoms of distress should not be dismissed as "just a part of being gifted" or "a phase" that will pass. Unlike what you may read in online forums or hear from well-meaning acquaintances, not every ADHD diagnosis springs from corrupt physicians in bed with "big pharma." Not every diagnosis of social anxiety disorder ignores the role of giftedness in your child's heightened sensitivities. Depression needs to be treated and not just dismissed as the existential angst so many gifted teens experience.

Get help when it's needed

Trust your instincts. Listen to your gut. If that nagging voice inside tells you that something more is going on, that you or your child are more distressed, or that additional support will help you navigate a difficult period in time, get some help. Gifted social/emotional traits may shape your child's or your own interests, sensitivities, passions, and quirks, but when these cross the line into distress and psychological symptoms, please seek the support of a licensed mental health professional.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Gifted adults: Embracing complexity

Gifted adults may be surprised to realize that they have not outrun their childhood difficulties. In some ways, we all carry our middle schools selves around with us. But gifted adults often assume they have jettisoned that frustration and grief-filled childhood baggage along with way.

Not so fast.

Gifted adults often face the same challenges in their social, emotional and work lives that created stress during childhood. However, as adults, they possess the resources, maturity and wisdom to manage and overcome these difficulties. They even can learn to embrace and enjoy their complexity! Here are a few examples:


Just like when they were children, gifted adults are prone to boredom. They crave intellectual/creative/emotionally fulfilling and meaningful engagement with the world. Performing rote tasks, or languishing in a dreary job can feel like torture. While it is not always possible to avoid boring situations, learning to manage your reactions, entertaining yourself while bored, and developing more patience and endurance will help. Creating a boredom-avoidance plan is useful. Through this, you identify ahead of time what situations/interactions/tasks evoke the strongest reactions, and strive to avoid them or at least plan for how to endure them.


Gifted people can be impatient when others fail to grasp information as quickly or with as much depth and complexity. While most adults have learned to curb the outbursts of frustration that were directed toward childhood friends and siblings, they still may feel annoyed and respond with impatience, especially in family or work situations. Even if you have developed the skills to hide your frustration with others, developing greater compassion, tolerance and acceptance of others' differences will not only help in those adult relationships, but reduce that nagging irritation that you are working so hard to suppress.

Social isolation 

It is difficult for gifted children to find like-minded peers. Many question whether to remain true to their inquisitive, intellectual nature, or dumb themselves down to fit in. Gifted adults often struggle with similar concerns. Heightened sensitivities, introversion, off-beat interests, and a desire for in-depth conversation are not the makings of a party animal. Insecurity, low self-esteem and emotional scars also may be residue from outlier status or possible bullying during childhood. These scars can interfere with finding and maintaining relationshipsGifted adults need to appreciate that their unique, creative, quirky and complex nature is attractive and intriguing, and their challenge is not to hide these qualities, but to allow themselves to shine. Ultimately, finding friends and a partner with compatible interests and a similar approach to life will provide greater fulfillment and validation. 


Gifted people tend to overthink, obsess, and dissect the fine points of their interactions with others. While an attention to detail, striving for excellence, and critical thinking are all worthwhile goals, gifted overthinkers can take it to extremes. As a result, obsessive worrying, anxiety, perfectionism, and heightened criticism of self and others can become problems. As a gifted adult, you need not repeat these childhood struggles. Instead, you can embrace the positive qualities inherent in your complex mind, and learn to let go of the obsessive torment. This can be accomplished through the use of calming strategies, mindfulness, challenging irrational thinking, confronting your fears, and psychotherapy.

Heightened sensitivity

Gifted children and adults are often not only sensitive to their own emotions, but to the injustice in the world at large. Labeled as having emotional overexcitabilities, now sometimes referred to as "openness to experience," gifted children and adults are not only sensitive to emotions, but to sensory input, intellectual ideas, and their imagination. While feeling for others is commendable, it can be emotionally exhausting unless you learn to pace yourself and limit your exposure to others' traumatic experiences. Gifted adults may need to retreat and recharge since all of that absorbing and feeling can be too much.


Many gifted adults have multiple talents and interests. While multipotentiality may seem like a blessing in young children, who can careen from one endeavor to the next, it may feel like a curse to adults who struggle with choosing only one career path that ultimately excludes their other interests and talents. Rather than bemoaning these choices, gifted adults need to discover how to remain involved with their many interests, by either including them into their career, or pursuing them outside of work.

Gifted adults may have masked their intensity and complexity as children so they would feel accepted by peers. Finally relieved of these pressures, they are now free to fully embrace their creativity, curiosity, depth and complexity, and allow their intellect and emotions free range. In fact, most eventually learn to appreciate their differences and adapt to adult life. For example, in a longitudinal study that followed mathematically precocious youths into adulthood, Benbow and Lubinski found that most gifted adults described themselves as both happy and successful. As a gifted adult, it is time to let yourself fully appreciate your abilities, accept your unique interests, and allow yourself to shine.

This blog is part of Hoagie's Gifted Education Page blog hop on Gifted Adults. To read more blogs, click on:

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