Monday, January 15, 2024

Gifted impatience: Is it a thing?

One of the most baffling traits shared by some gifted folks is their impatience. They grapple with a world that makes no sense and endure constant reminders that their intentions are misunderstood. They fume about others' foibles, despair over job snafus, and sometimes abandon friendships when values differ.

Yet, the gifted also typically possess heightened sensitivity and empathy. So how does that translate into a low tolerance for others' (or their own) mistakes?

A gifted individual's sensitivity and empathy, their astute awareness, and their complex minds all blend with their high expectations when forming perceptions of people or events. This fuels impatience when others (or when they, themselves) fail to live up to these expectations. 

Impatience starts in childhood and continues well into adulthood

Impatience with others starts early. You see it in young gifted children. They become enraged when their friends don't understand the boardgame rules or can't appreciate their passion for cataloging geological eras. They become bossy or demanding or run home crying in despair when their friends don't get them. Later, they learn to suppress outward signs of frustration, but are furious inside. Worse yet, they quickly realize how much they differ from others, assume they'll never find their niche, and may start to withdraw. 

Adolescence compounds the problem. An awareness of their differentness amplifies the usual teen angst related to peer pressure and dissillusionment with authority. Gifted teens often feel betrayed by cultural, religious, and family values that no longer make sense, and may experience an existential crisis. They see their peers making impractical choices they would never consider, such as risky sexual behaviors or excessive drug and alcohol use, and don't understand why some kids seem to hate learning. They feel like old souls in a child's body, and realize how they just don't fit in with mainstream society. 

Some gifted teens place undue demands on themselves. They are impatient and unforgiving when they make a mistake, striving to achieve unattainable expectations. Other gifted teens may be perceived as opinionated and arrogant, or at the very least, unapproachable. Their cynicism and snarky rebuttals create barriers that interfere with relationships. They become frustrated with their peers' slower pace or seemingly simplistic grasp of the facts, and may lose respect for teachers or other authority figures whom they deem lacking in complexity. 

As adults, gifted folks may feel alienated from family members and even old friends whom they no longer respect. They endure frustration at work when colleagues seem disengaged or lack a strong work ethic or (once again) cannot grasp information as quickly. Rote tasks, arbitrary rules, and small talk can become unbearable. Tolerating company directives they view as pointless leaves them demoralized. Many gifted folks feel their ideas are "correct;" yet, that is small comfort when they feel so misunderstood and alone.

What can an impatient gifted person do in a world that makes no sense?

1. First, recognize your grief. Your gift for seeing the world clearly and with depth and complexity creates a dilemma that sometimes leaves you on the outside looking in. Most classmates, neighbors, or coworkers are not going to understand or agree. You may need to grieve this reality and reach out to those few trusted friends or family, or even a therapist, who can understand and validate your perspective. They don't need to agree with every point; they just need to acknowledge the sadness and despair underneath your frustration. Let them in. Let them support and comfort you.

2. Secondly, consider that you may not always be "right." We are always growing and learning. What seems like an absolute may change over time. Consider that what seems like truth may be infused with your unique perspective formed through personal experiences, cultural values, family influences, or the limitations of your education. There is so much you don't know

3. Enlist your powerful empathy. You may have boundless compassion for those less fortunate, yet bristle when your coworker cannot complete assignments on time. Enlist your astute radar for what others are feeling and remind yourself that many people you encounter are trying their best and may not have the same privilege as you. 

4. Okay, but empathy and compassion have their limits. In fact, you might not want to remain in untenable situations for too long. This could mean leaving your job, changing careers, or disengaging from some friendships. Finding more meaningful, stimulating, and engaging connections may seem impossible at first, given the limited number of gifted folks out there. And of course, not every gifted person you meet is going to agree with you! But searching for meaning and intellectual challenge is vital to your own well-being; don't ignore this mandate.


5. Commit to self-regulation and to cultivating a self-care practice so you can more easily manage the frustrations that inevitably arise. This might include some of the basics, such as sound nutrition, regular exercise, and a consistent sleep schedule. It can also include a calming practice (such as meditation, yoga, or even prayer), creative outlets, meaningful volunteer work, and joyful time with loved ones. You may feel things intensely; that doesn't mean intensity must be debilitating. Find the self-care strategies that work best and commit to using them. 

6. Find connection and support. Yes, you can enlist logic and critical thinking and rely on yourself to figure things out. But battling frustrations on your own keeps you isolated. Join activities where like-minded peers converge. Find a support group for gifted folks. Express your frustrations through creative outlets, exercise, or venting to friends. Reach out to loved ones. Consider therapy if your feelings of despair or frustration become overwhelming. 

Your impatience is a warning sign that something is amiss. You have choices in how you digest and interpret information and in how you approach each person or situation. Developing resilience and coping strategies for frustrating encounters and disappointments are essential. The serenity prayer used in almost all 12-step programs is a great reminder to recognize what you can and cannot change and to develop the wisdom to know the difference. Enlist your immense capacity for logic and critical thinking when evaluating what you can do going forward, but don't let expectations or a desire for perfection (in yourself or others) limit you. And reach out to others for support; you don't have be endure your emotions in isolation.


“Simplicity, patience, compassion; these three are your greatest treasures.” - Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher


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