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:  http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_adults.htm.

Image may contain: text


  1. Wonderful post, Gail. I love the way you explain the transition from childhood to adulthood with each of these traits. Love the "boredom-avoidance plan." I bring a book everywhere I go, just in case!

    1. Thanks, Paula. Boredom is certainly the bane of existence for many gifted children... and adults.

  2. Thank you very much. I find this very affirming, as so many points resonate with my experience as a gifted adult!

  3. Excellent ideas and smooth writing.

  4. Thank you for writing this. I have only recently been identified as gifted and it explains so much of the intense anguish and deep urge to 'do' that has plagued my life. I so desperately wish to just be 'normal'. I want what so many others have, but I also cannot embrace or 'buy into' the pathways that lead to those goals. It's such torture. Thank you for writing a piece that gave me some reprieve and validation.

    1. Thank you for your comments. I hope that you find some additional peace and comfort with who you are and discover a path that feels like the right fit. Best wishes.