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The Gifted Interior

Thoughts About Therapy, the Gifted Experience, and Other Curiosities

Managing Overwhelming Emotions

ship-1366926_1280This past month has been an emotional roller coaster in my world.  After two long years of missing them deeply, I travelled back home to visit family,  reconnected nostalgically with the city & beloveds of my youth, and bore witness the pain of my amazing cousin who lost her love to foolishness and lies. All this while joyfully attending to the germinating  seeds of a possible new love of my own; I’m still trying to catch my breath!

Life happens, sometimes overwhelmingly so, and when it does it can seem almost impossible to sort through and manage all of the emotions that come.  Whether the joyful threads of creating new love stories, the bittersweet stitches of crafting memories with loved ones you will soon have to miss, or the painful loss of cutting deep threads of relationships you don’t want to lose; it can feel almost impossible to cope.

For most of us reading (or writing) this post, the feelings we experience during many of our emotional life events are intensified by our overexcitabilities.  The excited hello after a long goodbye, the tentative first kiss, the angry words said in haste, the inexplicable actions of someone we thought we knew… each of these can sear into our souls like a brand, leaving an opening  we cannot escape even for a moment, and ultimately a scar that has the power to reawaken too powerfully even after most might have forgotten its strength.

How can we cope with our emotions when they become so overwhelming that we might fear we could lose all control?

  1. Separating emotions, thoughts and behaviors:
    I find it helpful to think about my internal experiences as three separate and independent (though interdependent) parts of myself:

    • Emotions are automatically created, outside of our control, real experiences that on one hand provide us with useful information and make life beautiful & profound but also may make it difficult for us to make healthy choices or manage our worlds when they are intense. I personally believe that emotions are always true and valid; experiences we ideally seek to understand and accept even when they are unpleasant.
    • Thoughts are usually automatically created and outside of our control but, while they are lived experiences that shape our reality and world, they are not necessarily true or valid.  Ideally we can learn to find space in our minds between the birth and acceptance of a thought so that we can evaluate it for truthfulness, usefulness, and validity before accepting it; mindfulness training is very helpful for this skill.
    • Behaviors are actions that are committed in response to our feelings and thoughts.  We may often engage in automatic behaviors (and in some cases, like driving, this is desirable) but we always have the power to choose to not engage in automatic behavior if we find that it is not helpful.
  2. Accepting
    • Emotions
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      It is a battle already lost to attempt to fight against or escape our emotions.  Others may tell us we “shouldn’t” feel as we do, we may tell ourselves we “shouldn’t” feel as we do, and still… we will feel exactly how our limbic system decides we are going to feel.  Our emotional states are the product of chemical substances outside of our control.  Even if, as many of us do, we choose to try and change our emotional experiences with other chemicals like alcohol or other drugs the truth is that we will have to come back and face them once the artificial chemicals wear off.  And these are rebellious little buggers! The more we deny them, fight them, and tell them to shove off the more insistent they become.  They will not be ignored; if you try to bury them in a hole they will dig out through another (less pleasant) one.Feelings are things that must be worked through, not around. There are no shortcuts but you can take the fastest route; acceptance.  Look at your feeling, identify it as it is (sadness, pain, fear, anxiety, depression, excitement, joy…), accept that you not only feel this way but you are feeling exactly as you “should” feel given your situation.  The truth is that if anyone on the planet really was you they would also feel exactly the same way.  You can be sure of that because you just so happen to be you and it is how you are feeling!You don’t need to like how you feel, love how you feel, or want to stay in this feeling.  All you need to do right now is know how you feel and give yourself permission to experience your emotions.
    • Thoughts
      When overwhelmed with intense emotions our thoughts can have a tendency to become completely out of control. Automatic thoughts are not chosen and we can’t control our initial experiences of them but we do have more choice once we can recognize that we are having a particular thought.  If, for instance, I recognize that I’m having a pleasant thought about hugging my sweetheart I can choose to dive into that imagining and prolong it for as long as I prefer.  Or, if I am having an unpleasant thought about an argument I had with a loved one I can choose to distract myself with a chore or a question I’m working on instead.  Accepting our thoughts is a different thing than accepting our feelings; we want to accept that we have thoughts we can’t control (and not feel bad for doing so) but also give ourselves the responsibility of directing our thoughts in ways that serve us instead of hurting us.I’ve had awful thoughts before, maybe you have too, thoughts of committing actions I would never dream of actually doing– even violent thoughts at times. Sometimes, when I was younger, I worried that I was a bad person because some horrifying image would pop into my head.  I’d give you an example but I’d rather choose not to think such things :).  When we think horrible things it’s our job to accept that we will have such thoughts.  Our brains like to seek out novel connections when not otherwise occupied and sometimes those connections might make a horror writer blush.  Accept your mind; it is vast and wonderful but it also might have a bit of a gremlin in there to keep you on your toes. If you don’t like a thought you certainly don’t have to keep it.
    • Behaviors
      Everything you’ve done up until this moment I dare you to accept– and I hope you can do so without judging yourself about it!The past is gone and you cannot change it– no matter how much you beat yourself up about whatever it is you have done.  Yes, remember your actions and remember the consequences they created.  Acceptance of your behaviors (and the you who you were when you acted in whichever way) might first begin with accepting that the person who you were in the moment that you created the behavior really thought it was the right thing for you to do.  Maybe you suspected it would turn out badly,  maybe other people told you it was a wrong choice, and maybe deep down you knew you shouldn’t do what you did.  In the end, though, for whatever reason (even if it was simply because you couldn’t stop yourself) you thought you needed to do what you did or maybe that you had to do whatever it was.  Lucky you, you are no longer that person! You are now a person who knows what happens when you do that thing and you know it didn’t work out well.  That also means, lucky you, that when faced with the opportunity to do that same thing (in that same situation) again you can arm yourself with your hard-earned experience and choose another dish from the option smorgasbord.
  3. Expressing
    Once we have tackled the sometimes immense task of understanding and accepting the intense emotions of an emotional overwhelm it is time to combine the forces of our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in order to use our fervent energy in a way which is helpful and healthy instead of wandering into actions we might regret. If we stop at the first step and don’t find some outlet for our emotional energies it can keep us trapped in a state of stress that is not only uncomfortable but is also very hard on our bodies.Happily, we have choices about how we will use and express our emotions and if we are lucky and mindful we can choose healthy ways of expressing what we feel. The emotional expression that will work best for each of us is different.  If you haven’t yet discovered what expressive outlets can help you deal with your feelings then you might look for ideas within your own unique combination of skills, talents, and overexcitabilities.If you enjoy artistic pursuits then you might see if trying to visually capture your emotional state through drawing, painting, or collage is helpful. If you are more verbal then perhaps it would be effective to write a short story or creative essay about what happened.  If you are musically inclined it might be helpful to write a song that captures the essence of your feelings or give yourself space to play improvisationally through the collected threads of feelings you have swirling inside.

    If you are more physically oriented you might find that going for a run, a hike in a wild natural place, or boxing with a bag or hitting a pillow with a bat or racket may be just what you need. Long bubble baths with soothing music work well for me when I’m feeling anxious or sad.

    If you are primarily intellectually oriented it might be helpful to use your emotionally intense experiences as inspiration for creating solutions that can help you (and maybe even others) work through or avoid similar experiences in the future.  There are at least 7.4 billion ways (as of August 2016) to use intense emotional energies healthily.  I’d love to hear what works for you in the comments section!

  4. reframing
    When we get emotionally overwhelmed we usually are experiencing multiple threads of emotion.  Yes, I did say that we should work to accept our emotions as true and valid but at the same time we also get to harness the power of our thoughts and behaviors to reframe our experiences and redirect our emotional response system to a path that we prefer to experience.Our thoughts are the driving force of our feelings and we do have some control over what we choose to think.  When we experience intense emotions we react with intense (and often negative) thoughts about ourselves.  When we experience a terrible breakup of a relationship we may blame ourselves for “being” stupid, weak, naive, or crazy.  When we feel afraid we might tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough, capable, or worthy.  Even when we are trying to open up to the loveliness of loving another person we may tell ourselves that we are not ready to love, not lovable, or that we are going to make a fool of ourselves.  This is where we have the power to drive instead of being driven.When we find ourselves having these negative automatic thoughts in response to our emotions we can choose to evaluate those thoughts and change them.  Is it true that you are stupid?  I’d guess, especially if you’re reading my blog, that you are not.  Are you weak?  Nope, you’ve survived long enough to read this so you must be one tough cookie.  Are you naive?  Maybe sometimes but you won’t make this particular mistake again.  Are you crazy?  Probably not, or you wouldn’t be asking yourself if you are.  Are you unworthy? Incapable? Unlovable?  No! You are totally worthy, capable, and lovable!  I may not know you but I’m certain this is true!  You are a lovely, unique, interesting, and compelling human being who deserves to live a rich and full life with love, satisfaction, and happiness.  It doesn’t matter who you’ve been or what you have done in the past.  You are, indeed, a special snowflake.   If that doesn’t feel true for you today I dare you to make the choice to find that unique youness that is the genesis of your personal beauty and to spend the rest of your life showing yourself how awesome you are!

    For all of the choices you have made up to this very moment there is more than one way to understand them.  If you called your ex 100 times in an hour and drove them away with your neediness you can look at it as “crazy” or you can look at it as persistent.  Now, I’m not saying that using your persistence in that way will serve you well or is a good idea but, wow, you have some fierce determination in you!  If you didn’t show up for your first day of work, or a job interview, because you were paralyzed by your anxiety then you could tell yourself it is a weakness inside of you or you can recognize that you were doing a very good job of protecting yourself from whatever you were afraid of.  No, that’s not an effective way of reaching your life goals, and it would be a great idea to find more helpful ways of taking care of yourself, but give yourself credit for being able to protect yourself in the meantime.

    When you give yourself the opportunity to see the positive attributes that are driving even the most negative of your choices (which is what reframing really is) you are giving yourself two gifts: first, you are giving yourself the gift of increased self-awareness by recognizing a fuller picture of who you are and what you are doing, and second you are giving yourself the gift of being able to use that increased self-awareness to choose more effective behaviors next time.  Instead of using your persistence to call too many times you might choose to crochet your sweetheart a blanket or train for a marathon that supports a cause you (or both of you) feel strongly about.  Instead of skipping an interview or first day of work you might use your ability to take care of yourself to take steps to calm your anxiety such as getting a massage, taking a bubble bath, or visualizing the best that might happen instead of the worst.

    If you need help finding a positive reframe, shoot me an email or post in the comments and I’d be happy to share my thoughts about the good sides of your feelings, thoughts, or actions.

    Our feelings can often seem like they are our worst enemies, especially when we are overwhelmed and not quite able to make the choices we would prefer.  Being intense and sensitive, having overexcitabilities, and really living life is sure to lead us to weave patterns into the grand adventures of our lives which are confusing, painful, and maybe even hard to survive.  No, there is no magic wand to ease you through the stress of change, the fear of new paths, or the pain of loss.  There really is no way but through and you can get through.  You have a mind that gives you the chance to dream never before dreamed dreams, a heart that can experience the richest depths of joy and pain achievable, and a life that is your own personal masterpiece that you can sculpt according to the dreams you choose to believe.

    Thank you for reading and I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

For more articles regarding Emotional Intelligence, check out Hoagies Gifted page!

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Julie E. Creech is a Marriage and Family Therapist registered intern in the State of California #IMF93192 with a growing practice, specializing in therapy for gifted and creative adults and teens, at the Process Therapy Institute in Campbell CA.

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How Do We Become Impostors?

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I once knew a nine year-old boy, let’s call him William, who would excitedly theorize about the evolutionary advantage of imagination, the expansion and contraction of the universe, and the artistic preferences of nature (apparently nature loves symmetry too).  The complexity of his thinking would often leave me speechless; William’s thoughts were more sophisticated, sometimes, than most people I’d meet in their 20’s. A sensitive boy, with multiple overexcitabilities, he often found himself overwhelmed by the world outside of and inside his mind; loud noises or sock seams could inspire a terrible meltdown, sunset or a beautiful harmony could make him weak at the knees, and anyone’s negative opinion could reduce him to tears for hours. Worst of all, in William’s view, was the fact that he still had potty accidents during the day and had to wear a pull-up overnight.

What does it feel like to be like William?

According to Erik Erikson, the developmental drives of a 9yo are to learn to fit in and belong in your social peer group and to achieve competence at the things which are valued by your social peers and society. For most kids in (at least) the US, including William, social peers are provided for us within the fairly strictly age-segregated groupings of the classroom at school.  How well do you think a boy like William is able to learn to belong and fit in within the average public school 4th grade classroom? When he attempts to talk about John Stuart Mills’ higher versus lower pleasures with the 9yo kid who sits next to him at lunch, how do you think that goes over? When he got invited to a sleepover party, if he ever was, how do you think he would feel about accepting if he knew he would be the only boy there in a diaper? How would he feel if he didn’t know until they were all there getting ready for bed?

William’s is an admittedly extreme case of asynchrony in a gifted child but I have personally known at least four exceptionally to profoundly gifted children who have delayed potty training completion until the age of even 10 or 11.  Even far less profound asynchrony that is common throughout the gifted population, even the essentially definitional asynchrony of having an IQ in the top 2% of the population, can make it very difficult to “fit in” with age mates and make it feel impossible to become competent at the skills those social peers find valuable. We know that this can result in social isolation and alienation; what does it FEEL like though?

If William were to openly worry about his deficiencies with his very loving and accepting parents, they would likely tell him he will eventually figure it out and, besides, he has the most amazing mind that more than makes up for it.  They would possibly tell him that really smart kids, like him, sometimes have very uneven development. They would tell him that it’s not his fault and there is nothing wrong with him. Maybe all of their assurances would serve only to convince him that the adults in his life don’t understand him either.

Because, in William’s mind, he can’t be all that smart if he can’t figure out something your average 3 year old can master. In William’s point of view, eventually figuring it out is meaningless… even a month away can feel like a lifetime. In William’s mind it might not be his fault that he can’t be like the other boys his age but it absolutely DOES mean that there is something wrong with him.  He can’t keep up with them.  He can’t do even the simplest things that they can do.  It doesn’t matter if he could run a billion laps around them in speaking french or understanding the chemistry books that (by the way) just make him even more weird; it’s quite obvious to William that there is something very, very, wrong with him and if you try to convince him otherwise then you must not understand.

If age 5-12 is when we are driven to achieve mastery and competence, is it also the time when we develop those voices about ourselves that live inside of our minds? If William developed a self-concept at age 9 that he is dumber than his peers because he can’t hold back his tears or go to bed without a pull up would that explain why, at 35, he feels like a terrible fraud who actually isn’t smart enough for his exciting job at Google? Would that silent shame of not being able to fit in, that he put on when he was a small child, just be another version of the shamefully silent suspicion that all of his workmates are better than him at their jobs and, if they really knew him, would see how incompetent he truly is? Would that voice also explain his inability to approach women who he finds fascinating and beautiful; does he settle for unsatisfying relationships because he is invisibly convinced that he’s not worthy of more?

And for the rest of us, what about the voices in our heads that might be so much the same as William’s? Did ours also come because of our own asynchrony as children? Is that the developmental stage when we, too, became impostors? And if it is, is that the child inside of ourselves that we must return to and convince that, really, we are good enough and smart enough and worthy?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you think it’s possible that asynchrony might be a cause of Impostor’s syndrome in gifted people. I’d also love to hear if this rang a bell for you or your child and how you dealt with it or any ideas you might have.  Please feel free to share in the comments or via email.

*Julie Creech is a Marriage and Family Therapist registered Intern in the state of California who practices in the South Bay of San Francisco, otherwise known as Silicon Valley.

 

 

 

 

 

Does Giftedness Matter When it Comes to Trauma?

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Her brown eyes shimmered with unshed tears of frustration as she told us her story: She had endured years of public and private abuse growing up in an impoverished neighborhood. Her life was a path littered with attempts to struggle to overcome the pain of her experiences and episodes of fighting against her internal urge to give up on the struggle. She had tried more therapists and psychiatrists than she could count in her attempts to recover the bits and pieces of herself she’d lost along her journey and none of them could figure out how to help her.  They told her that she is brilliant, that she is capable, and somehow she also received a message that she is perhaps beyond hope. And so it was, maybe her last stop of hope, that she came to the SENG conference hoping to find answers that no one had been able to give her thus far.  Answers we did not have to give her either.

The question of how giftedness impacts the experience and effects of trauma was also one of the reasons I attended the SENG conference.  I’d assumed I was somehow missing the proper search terms; surely there was SOME research about trauma in the gifted population?  And yet it seems there is not.

Does trauma affect gifted people differently? Are we more resilient? Are we more vulnerable? Do we experience PTSD, Complex Trauma, Personality disorders, and other pathology more often when exposed to traumatic experiences? Does treatment need to be modified when dealing with trauma-affected gifted persons? Are we more vulnerable to misdiagnosis when exposed to trauma?

Depending on which line of research you go down you can find studies that suggest that giftedness is a protective factor for individuals (that gifted people are better-adjusted than the general population) and other research that shows it is a risk factor for people (that gifted people have a higher incidence of mental health problems).  My understanding is that much of the difference is based on whether you look at research that is conducted on clinical populations versus those conducted on non-clinical populations which have been identified as gifted.  It seems, on the one hand, that perhaps gifted people make up 15-20% of the clinical population (people seeking help for mental health issues) although they are only 2% of the general population, I’ve even read some suggestion that they may make up a similarly large percentage of the incarcerated population, and on the other hand we are less likely to suffer mental health problems? Those seem to be mutually exclusive positions, right?

The best explanation I’ve seen is that in the non-clinical research the participants are more likely to have been identified early and have received proper accommodations (also that they are often pulled from wealthier population samples). Which may be to say that giftedness may be a protective factor if it is identified and the person’s needs are generally met.

What about the clinical samples though? Are we over-represented because we are more likely to seek assistance for our problems or because we are more likely to suffer problems? Are we more likely to suffer serious effects from trauma that we experience? Are we more likely to be diagnosed with certain diagnoses after trauma?

The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanely sensitive. To them … a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. ~Pearl S. Buck

I do, personally, suspect that trauma affects gifted people differently.  I would guess that our intensity, OEs, and sensitivity makes us more vulnerable to trauma responses;  we may be traumatized by things that others would not find traumatic and our trauma-responses might be more intense just as we tend to be more intense people. I would guess that our increased vulnerability to existential depression is exacerbated by exposure to trauma and that our moral intensity may play some role in how that plays out. I suspect that those of us who experience trauma in combination with a lack of adequate information about ourselves– without loving and supportive people teaching us that our differences are “normal” and acceptable– can be made more vulnerable by our feelings of isolation and alienation. And I strongly suspect that when unable to find mental health professionals who understand how giftedness impacts one’s psychology we may be over-diagnosed with mood disorders & personality disorders since our emotional intensity and intellectual overexcitabilities might be construed as pathological features by professionals who don’t understand our “normal” and think our “giftedness” (as some think of it) is a manifestation of grandiosity.

I hope that one day we will have answers for the woman who was so frustrated by her attempts to heal from trauma; that we will have better answers for how she has been affected and how she might be helped. For now, I’d love to hear from professionals who work with gifted people and from gifted people who have experienced trauma– what are your thoughts on the issue? Do you think there is a difference in the effects of trauma?  Do you think that treatment of trauma needs to be modified when dealing with gifted populations? What has worked best for you personally or in practice?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section or email.

*Julie Creech is a Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern in the state of California who specializes in therapy with gifted, talented, and creative adults and teens living in Silicon Valley.

 

 

Why do Gifted People Need Therapy?

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The most common question people ask when I tell them that I specialize in working with gifted, talented, and creative people is, “why do gifted people need therapy?”

There are many commonly held ideas about gifted people that probably lead to this question.  Ideas like:

  • Gifted people have an (unfair) advantage over others
  • Gifted people don’t need help
  • If they are so smart they should be able to figure it out on their own
  • Gifted people are happy, popular, and well-adjusted
  • gifted people are successful
  • gifted people don’t have disabilities…and many more.

The thing is, these ideas are myths. Maybe these myths do apply to some gifted people but probably not to most and certainly not to all.

So… why DO gifted people need therapy?

First of all, gifted people need therapy for the same reasons that anyone else needs therapy.  Gifted people experience mental illness just like every other population of people and in some cases (which I’ll talk about in a bit) more often than other groups. Gifted people experience anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, personality disorders, autism, attention deficit disorders… basically any kind of disorder you find in the diagnostic manuals (excluding developmental disorders that require low IQ for diagnosis) can be a problem for gifted people.

Even though there may be a lot of people who think “if they’re so smart they can figure it out on their own,” the truth is that no one (not even the smartest person ever born) has come into the world with an instruction manual.  No matter how smart a person is, it is overwhelming to face mental illness.  It is scary, isolating, and sometimes embarrassing or feels shameful to experience mental health problems– maybe even more if you have always been able to trust on your mind to lead you in the right direction and a lot of your identity is based on the idea that you CAN figure anything out on your own.

Second, just like everyone else, gifted people experience “problems of living” such as relationship problems, trouble adjusting to life changes, loss of loved ones, marital problems, divorce, parenting problems, loneliness, career problems, identity problems, feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction… the things we all face in the course of our lives. And, just like everyone else, some of them find enough support through friends and family or self-help books to deal with those problems, some of them avoid the problems by over-working or other means of escape, and some of them go to therapy for help.

Lastly, there ARE some problems that lead gifted people to therapy that are not very common in other populations. Most gifted people experience overexcitabilities which cause them to be extra sensitive and intense in ways that others might find weird, disturbing, and even misdiagnose as a mental illness because they are rare in the general population. Another issue that is common among gifted people, but rare among others, is asynchrony; uneven (sometimes profoundly so) development in different areas.  I have, for instance, known quite a few exceptionally gifted kids who, at eight or nine, could talk to me about the nature of consciousness or complicated math concepts that I can’t begin to comprehend but are not completely potty trained. Can you imagine what ideas you might develop about yourself if you had the comprehension and thoughts of a 20 year old, the emotional development of any kid your age, and couldn’t quite figure out the potty thing?

At the SENG conference I went to last weekend, during a talk on trauma, I saw a statistic that 80% of gifted kids experience bullying.  I don’t know the details on that statistic but I can tell you that it is very common for gifted people to experience bullying as kids and also as adults.  They often find it difficult to “fit in” with others and may have a very hard time finding people who can understand them or share their often quirky interests. This can lead to isolation and feelings of alienation that are difficult to understand or overcome and can also manifest as thoughts of the self as damaged, broken, alien, or otherwise unlovable.

Existential depression is another issue that is fairly common among gifted people but fairly rare in the general population.  In gifted people this kind of depression (a kind of despair over questions about the meaning of life, purpose, death, and the possibility of meaninglessness etc..) can strike as young as age six or seven and can often lead the person to contemplate suicide.  I haven’t seen studies on it but I would guess that there may be a higher incidence of suicidal ideation among gifted populations especially due to existential depression and alienation issues.  If you have any info on that I’d love to hear about it!

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the reasons why gifted people need therapy but I think you can get the idea.  Life is hard! And sometimes we all need a soft place to land.

My 1st SENG Conference (or Learning to Belong)

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I was nervous and excited as I walked toward the Allegheny room for my first general session. I’d been waiting for years, I don’t even know why so many years, to attend this conference and finally I was here. SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted) is an organization that represents all of the things I’ve become passionate about as a therapist, a gifted adult, and the mother of a gifted child. Yet, my anxiety was high; what if I still don’t fit in?

Ah… there it is.  That is why I’ve spent so many years on the outside of the gifted community trying to peek through the colorful windows instead of walking through the open doors.  Like so many of us, I’d spent all of my life feeling like an outsider in the world. I tried countless times to belong to a group of people, to fit in, but every time I was too different, too curious, too out-of-sync, and definitely too much of something I could never quite figure out. So here it was, my nervous attempt to enter into a group of people I kind of saw as my last hope for experiencing the feeling of belonging; should I be trying this? What if I lost that last hope instead?

It was a full room, a presentation by Stephanie Tolan who is one of the luminaries of the gifted world, and I was ready to be amazed. A few minutes after 10, one of the organizers came to inform us that the session would be rescheduled. My heart fell for a moment and then, from the back of the room, a petite blond woman stood up and offered to spend the time talking to us about Stephanie and her ideas. For  me, this ended up being the perfect introduction into the world of real-life gifted community.

The scheduled talk was called “Whole Mind” and promised to be about more than just the intellect.  What I didn’t know is that, this was about going down a road my mind has long whispered about but my “logical” self always pushed away. For the next hour Ellen Fiedler and several other friends of Stephanie talked about Stephanie’s work with the mysterious side of giftedness; children who seemed able to communicate telepathically, premonitions, exceptional empathic abilities and more.  Things the scientist in me resists considering but also things that ring true for some of the strange “coincidences” I’ve observed. Things about giftedness I’d never before heard spoken of out loud.

I’d never felt free to consider this possible side of giftedness and being able to believe or not was beside the point of what made this profound for me.  You see, being in this group of accomplished, professional, and brilliant people who were not afraid to consider these things seriously— that was what I needed to feel safe. I needed to know that it was safe to be the kind of person who is willing and excited to go down any and every path of thought and that is the gift I received.

In that hour I was freed.  For the first time in my life, I knew it was ok to think about things that “nobody” else thinks about.  I knew it was ok to talk to these people about things that in my regular life elicit blank stares and uncomfortable silences. I knew it was ok to actually be myself in all of my fullness, all of my weirdness, and all of the things that I grew up being told to hide.

It really was true. I finally found a place where I belong.

I got a lot out of the entire conference, and I highly recommend it to everyone who is gifted or has a gifted child (there is a very cool kids program during the conference as well).

So, I’m curious about you. Have you had this kind of experience of finally finding a place where you belong?  Are you still waiting? Why?

 

Who Do You Think You Are?

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Sitting in front of me, this dynamo of a woman, a woman I felt honored to be talking to, who has accomplished so much I dream of doing, who glowed with an energy and brilliance that filled the air around her, said “When I was writing this book, sometimes I still heard that little voice asking ‘who do you think you are?'”

I sighed a sigh of relief and also of defeat.  Relief that I am not alone in having this voice, maybe it’s just “normal,” and defeat because maybe you can’t be rid of it no matter how much you accomplish. Now, I’m wondering how much this voice has cost the world.  How many of us have remained small because “who do you think you are?”

How many of us have repressed our gifts because “who do you think you are?” How many of us have spent our lives living as only part of ourselves because “who do you think you are?” How many of us have sabotaged our dreams, forced ourselves into failure, never even started because “who do you think you are?”

Really? Who DO you think you are? what if the answer to that question is that you have every right to be as big as you are.  That you have the right to share all of your gifts with the world without being ashamed.  That you are allowed to be in the fullness of yourself and carry all of you out into the world. That you are worthy of living out your dreams, that you are worthy of success, that you are worthy of your potential. What if those were the answers you gave back to that voice in your head?

What if “who do you think you are” is rooted in the idea that there is only a limited amount of pie; that your greatness must somehow necessarily diminish mine? What if that idea is wrong?  What if living in our own greatness is the only way to help others recognize their own share of pie; what if we don’t have to worry about taking too much out of life?

What would that mean for you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with your own voice– or thoughts on how to help quiet it in ourselves and kids– in the comments section below. Thank you for Visiting my blog!

August hoagies bloghop image This blog post is a part of Hoagie’s Gifted Blog Hop on Social Issues. For more blog entries about social issues Click the image or follow the link below.

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

Decorator Crabs & Positive Disintegration

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I could not stop the questions: Why have I chosen to believe in my beliefs? Why have I chosen to accept that I am the things I accept about myself and the world? Why do I choose to let my history determine my reality? I questioned the truth of everything I’d just yesterday automatically accepted as true and suddenly I found each “truth” was lacking. I no longer knew if there was truth.  I no longer knew what I believed. I no longer knew who I was, who I wanted to be, or even how to go back to being the person I had been before.

I was empty. Unmasked and finally ready to create the person I am.

Scattered throughout the oceans of the world are several different species of crabs which “decorate” themselves as a way to hide and defend themselves.  These decorator crabs carefully adorn their bodies with mostly stationary animals and plants from their environment and when moved to a different environment they will change their decorations to fit in with that environment by the next day.

Like all living things, crabs must grow and, like other animals with exoskeletons, these creatures must give up their carefully adorned shells when they molt and in doing so they must survive a perilous period of vulnerability as their bodies are unprotected. Once their new shells harden the crabs are able to once again decorate their shells and go on with their regular life.

Last week a fellow therapist of mine described these crabs as a metaphor for periods of change that humans experience as we grow and adapt throughout life. I love this metaphor and the more I thought about it the more I realized that this process is really a great way to think about the process of Positive Disintegration.

All people grow and change throughout their lives.  We all face issues or events that make us question ourselves and perhaps lead us to alter our habits, beliefs, or ways of thinking about the world.  Usually this process of change is fairly linear and gradual, for instance when a person becomes a parent they usually go through a gradual shift in identity but it happens so incrementally and subtly that often the person looks up one day and realizes that they can hardly imagine being who they were before having that child.  While it can be a difficult process of change it usually doesn’t result in crisis or make the person question their reality or sanity.

Sometimes some people experience an altogether different kind of change. Instead of the smooth evolution of the river as it changes course over the years it happens quickly and completely, like a fire in a Redwood forest.  The fire consumes the structures and beliefs that once defined identity, taking most of even the hardiest of truths, and reduces them to cinders and ashes and emptiness.  It is the destruction of the forest, the annihilation of what was, that clears the way for  the new.  And so, with Positive Disintegration, does the process of deconstruction of self make it possible for us to be free to design ourselves anew as the person we are truly meant to be.

Like the decorator crab it is a perilous job to throw off the shell we spent so long adorning and perfecting.  It is perhaps one of the most dangerous times of our life.  The process of positive disintegration is terrifying and often feels like falling apart.  It might make you worry you are “going crazy” and sometimes we might fight hard enough against the process to return once again to the self we had previously been working on and the contentment of the known. Whether resulting in profound change or returning to “normal,” it is a scary ride to find yourself taking.

One big question about Positive Disintegration, I think, is “how can we support ourselves or someone else who is experiencing the disintegration that precedes the positive?” I have a few ideas and I would love it if you add to them in the comments section:

  • Reassure yourself (or the person) that you are not going crazy and you will eventually achieve identity stability again. One of the scariest parts of the process can be the fear that you will never be “normal” or ok again; keep telling yourself “this too shall pass.”
  • Reassure yourself (or them) that this is a “normal” experience of growth that happens to some people though maybe not to most. It is important to know you are not alone.
  • Reassure yourself (or them) that it is ok to give in to this process and take on the freedom of becoming the person you need to become.  Surrender to the process can reduce fear and anxiety.
  • Embrace the freedom to create yourself as the person you want to be.  When you’ve shed your previous beliefs you can be free to develop your own identity instead of growing and shaping the one that your past put together— and that’s kind of cool!

In terms of therapy, how do you know if a person is experiencing positive disintegration and what should you do? If your client is gifted, talented, creative, and/or highly sensitive then they may be more prone to experiencing positive disintegration.  Often they may tell you they feel like they are falling apart or worry that they are going crazy and it is a very scary experience, especially the first time it happens.  If you have a client who you suspect could be experiencing positive disintegration you will want to carefully investigate a few specific areas and watch out for periods of acute crisis:

  • Assess your client for depressive symptoms and suicidality.  This can be a hard time to handle and some people may find themselves feeling like they are “better off dead” than having to deal with the instability (that they may fear is permanent).
  • Assess your client for psychotic symptoms. While your client might describe themselves as “going crazy,” “falling apart,” or “losing touch with reality,” the process of positive disintegration should not produce psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, disorganized thinking, delusions, etc…
  • Assess your client’s support system.  This is a tough process and it can sometimes be made even tougher when the person’s support system doesn’t know how to help and/or actively tries to keep the person from changing.
  • Educate the client about the process. Knowledge about what is happening and what it means can be very helpful and reassuring to the person.

 

Have you ever experienced a period of positive disintegration? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this experience, how you coped, how you changed, and how you think others could have supported you during the process.

What Happens in Therapy?

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Have you ever wondered what happens in therapy? I’ve talked to some people who have some hesitation about therapy because they aren’t sure what to expect, don’t want to waste their money in case they don’t like it, are afraid it will be weird, and many other reasons.  There isn’t a single way of doing therapy so it’s a bit difficult to predict for certain what your therapy session might be like but I will try to describe what you might encounter in an “average” therapy session during beginning, middle, and ending stages of therapy.

The first time you meet with a therapist is a bit different from later sessions. Going into the first session you might feel a little anxious about it, wonder how you are supposed to act, if you will like the therapist and if they will like you, if you will say the right thing, and maybe even worry that the therapist could judge you.  All of these thoughts and feelings are “normal” and common.  I’ll tell you a secret: The therapist also might be a little nervous!

Once you’ve arrived at the therapist’s office you will either check in with the receptionist if there is one or have a seat in the lobby area until your therapist comes to meet you. They may have you start working on filling out the initial paperwork there, they may have sent it to you in advance so you’ve already filled it out, or they may fill it out with you during the first session.  Once your therapist takes you to the therapy room they will probably introduce themselves and then will pretty quickly get into some administrative stuff.  They will talk to you about their practice policies, cancellation policy, privacy, mandated reporting issues, fees (which you probably agreed upon before the first visit), and maybe a little bit about their therapy philosophy.  Once all of the paperwork is signed and you understand the policies the therapist will likely ask you what brought you to therapy, what your therapy goals are, if you have ever been diagnosed with a mental illness, all of these questions (and more) are the start of taking your history and starting to build an idea of who you are, what you want, and what kind of assistance you require.  Some therapists will ask you a lot or a little about your past, your family, your childhood etc.. other therapists will focus more on what is going on in your life right now and not ask very much about your past.  This is largely determined by the therapist’s modality (the type of therapy philosophy they work with IE:Cognitive Behavioral Therapy).

For the therapist, the primary goals of the first therapy session are to start building a relationship with you (called joining) and to start being able to build a clinical picture of you.  The process of joining, getting to know each other, and creating a full clinical picture might take up most of the first 3-5 sessions and since you don’t know the therapist well you may be reluctant to open up enough to really get into “the hard work” of  what brought you to therapy so it’s possible that you will talk more about what is going on in your life and your past during this time.

For some kinds of therapists there is an organic unmarked transition from beginning therapy into middle stage while for others the transition might be clearly defined by something like the therapist presenting you with their idea for a treatment plan and a schedule or structure they propose to follow.  There is no one way that is right but there might be a right way for you.  If you do have a preference about structure, this is something you may want to talk about before or during the first session.

Middle stage therapy is where the “real work” is done.  You have established a relationship with your therapist, you know what to expect, you trust them, and all of these things open you up to the process of healing that you came in search of. Sessions during this time vary a lot between therapists but on average it will start with a “check in” where you talk about what has happened in the last week.  After that you or the therapist will guide the conversation into whatever work you will do. At the end of each session your therapist will probably have some way to help you compose yourself if you became upset and otherwise bring the session to a conclusion.  Some therapists think of therapy as being a “container” for your work and if they share that belief they may have some regular ritual or other way to bring you back to your regular life and leave your work at the therapy office. Whatever type of therapist, if you become upset during therapy you have the right to stay at the office until you calm down enough to safely make it home.  Hopefully your therapist will have ways to help you calm down and regain your composure.

At the ending stages of therapy the session format will likely be similar to middle therapy but it will additionally start to include conversations about the end of therapy– what needs to happen, what the process will be like, how you can take care of yourself, and whatever else you need to do to prepare for the end of therapy.

I hope this helps answer some of your questions and concerns about therapy. I welcome you to add to this with stories about your therapy experience, how you conduct sessions, and/or any questions or concerns you have about starting therapy.

Give this to your Therapist!

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Diagnostic and Therapeutic issues to consider when working with gifted and talented persons: The least you NEED to know

I would like to invite other mental health professionals and consumers to add, subtract, or expound upon anything I write here in the comment section.

For psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and other mental health professionals it is vitally important that you learn about how giftedness and exceptional talent can impact diagnosis and treatment. There are countless numbers of child and adult consumers of mental health care who every day who are misdiagnosed and receive improper treatment because the education of mental health professionals (at every level) fails to include important information about the differences in development, neurological and psychological functioning, and experience that are “normal” and appropriate for gifted and talented people but can be pathological for the “general population.”

It is important for all of us to recognize the characteristics and signs of people who are gifted/talented because many in this population do not identify themselves as such, have never been identified, and may not be particularly willing to accept a label or diagnosis as being a part of this group. However, no matter how it is defined, if they experience the collection of traits that combine to produce the qualitatively different experience of life that is common to this population it is important that they be identified and that diagnosis and treatment be modified to reflect their differences in order to respect their unique needs and experiences as a vulnerable population.

If you haven’t yet worked with clients from this population I can pretty nearly assure you that you will at some point encounter at least one of them in your work as a mental health professional. While this population accounts for less than 5% of the general population they likely make up a much larger portion of mental health consumers because many normal and normative characteristics they experience are pathologized and potentially detrimental to their ability to cope with the issues of life.

Gifted Individuals: Identification and special considerations
Individuals may come to you identified as gifted but more often they will be brought in for mental health services without being identified. These people may be obviously “bright” in many cases, though not all, and may be difficult cases to figure out or treat. Gifted people are often asynchronous (especially as children). This means that their development is uneven and there may be dramatic lags between different areas of development; their mental,intellectual, and moral age can be profoundly advanced while their physical, emotional, social, and/or self-regulation development is normal or even far below what would normally be expected for a person of their age. The amount and distribution of asynchrony is variable, though it is thought to increase according to degree of giftedness, and it is believed to be a universal experience for (at least) gifted children to one degree or another. Asynchrony can increase a child’s vulnerability to unrealistic expectations and abuse from adults who may expect emotional and social development to match intellectual development. Asynchrony also increases the child’s vulnerability to pathological perfectionism, low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations of self, adjustment problems in school and social situations, fear of failure, underachievement etc…  All of this can and often does lead to issues that are helpful for adults who come to therapy to explore, process, and heal.

If a child with asynchrony issues is brought for mental health care they are vulnerable to misdiagnosis of many types including diagnosis with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Attachment disorders, developmental disorders, Autism Spectrum disorders, socialization related disorders, and many others. Clinicians must be careful to remember that this uneven, even profoundly so, developmental trajectory is very normal and normative in this population and that diagnosis & treatment of this asynchrony as pathological will negatively impact the person’s developmental and psychological outcome– it is important to be very conservative when working to distinguish the normal effects of asynchrony from possible mental illness that could also be present. Educating parents (and adult clients with this experience) about the normal asynchrony of gifted children is helpful and will assist in reducing pressures to misdiagnose or pathologize the child’s normal developmental progress.

Gifted people will usually experience extra-intense energy, sensitivity, and awareness (called overexcitabilities… OEs) in 5 areas:

  1. Psychomotor OEs refer to extra physical energy, need for movement, problems getting to sleep due to inability to quiet mind, increased use of gestures, decreased need for sleep, and trouble sitting still. People with psychomotor OEs are at increased risk of being misdiagnosed with ADHD and Bipolar disorders.
  2. Sensate OEs refer to heightened awareness and sensitivity to sensual (of the senses) stimuli. These people may display extra-intense discomfort to physical stimulus such as tags on clothing, bright lights, loud noises, crowds, strong smells, busy environments etc… They may also display acute awareness and sensitivity to their senses; enhanced distinctions between textures & physical sensations, reduced pain tolerance, enhanced ability to distinguish between colors & shapes, sensitive palates and “pickiness” about the taste and texture of foods, exceptional hearing and/or development of other senses, intense emotional reactions to sensate experiences, and sophisticated or precocious development or ability to understand and appreciate aesthetic, musical, tactile, spatial, humor, or emotional input. People with Sensate OEs are vulnerable to misdiagnosis with sensory integration disorder, mood disorders, anxiety disorders, adjustment disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder. It is a normal developmental experience for these children to take longer to learn how to self-regulate in over-stimulating environments and their guage of over-stimulating can be very different from what would normally be expected. Sensate OEs can also increase the person’s’s vulnerability to problems with parents and peers as their sensitivities can hamper their ability to function in various contexts. Mental health professionals can be very helpful in assisting with development of self-regulation skills, positive coping tools, and normalization. Mindfulness practice and cognitive behavioral techniques may be especially useful.
  3. Imaginational OEs refer to gifted people with heightened or exceptionally developed imaginational experiences. These people may have very complex and detailed fantasy lives/worlds, imaginary friend(s), believe in magical creatures and phenomena, take longer to let go of fictional characters like Santa, the tooth fairy etc.. and may be especially drawn to books, games, and movies that appeal to their sensitive and sophisticated imaginative faculties. These persons are vulnerable to social adjustment and acceptance issues because they may be viewed as strange or different due to imaginational OEs. They are vulnerable to misdiagnosis of disorders that include psychotic or delusional features. Parents and other adults may be concerned with the longevity and complexity of imaginational development in children with this OE but it is normal for heightened imaginational development/expression to last into adulthood in this population.
  4. Intellectual OEs refer to the qualities that most people think of when they think about gifted people. This is the exceptional curiosity, love of learning, speed of processing, comprehension, information retention, associative thinking, divergent thinking, intuitive knowing, and sometimes incredible intellectual complexity that can be found in even very young gifted children. Intellectual OEs can cause gifted people to suffer from social isolation, bullying, and alienation because their mental age may be far older than that of their peers and peers may not understand the language they use, the games they want to play, or their thoughts or ideas. Intellectual OEs can also contribute to the development of “existential depression” in children as young as 6 (possibly even younger in extreme cases) as their intellectual abilities allow them to comprehend situations and events that they are not yet emotionally capable of managing– concepts like death, meaninglessness, freedom, evil, and their own powerlessness to effect change that they see as necessary can cause them to become very despondent and even suicidal. Children with intellectual OEs can be very argumentative and require explanation at ages when this is normally not thought to be possible. Their intellectual independence and precociousness can lead to misdiagnosis with Oppositional Defiant Disorders or other dx related to intractability.
  5. Emotional OEs refer to an unusually sensitive and intense awareness and experience of emotions. Emotional OEs cause gifted people to feel emotions very intensely, often very dramatically, and they are prone to becoming emotionally overwhelmed by events that might seem somewhat insignificant to most people. They often experience a very broad range of emotions and may make distinctions between emotions that seem unusual or difficult to understand. They can be exceptionally emotionally intuitive and may feel others’ pain as much as or more than their own. They may become inconsolable if witness to cruelty, injustice, or maltreatment of people or animals and they may be quite traumatised by emotional experiences that most people would not see as “legitimate trauma.” Emotional OEs can cause social isolation and bullying because these people may not be able to control emotional outbursts and reactions. They are vulnerable to misdiagnosis with mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and other emotionally related disorders. Mental health professionals can help these people by providing tools for emotional regulation, normalization and validation of their emotional experiences; the use of mindfulness and cognitive behavioral techniques may be especially useful.

Gifted people can present with “symptoms” of many kinds that result from their idiosyncratic combination of OEs and asynchrony. It can be exceptionally difficult to differentiate between normative traits and those that might indicate the development of mental illness. In most cases it will be prudent to hold off on diagnosis or seek consultation with a mental health professional who is experienced in working with gifted populations if the situation is unclear. In all cases involving gifted individuals it will be useful to provide psychoeducation about what is “normal” for gifted people, how they differ from other populations, and information about tools and methods that may help them as they adjust to the changes they will encounter in their unique developmental trajectory– this information is vital to adults as well as children and their parents.

Parents may require individual counseling sessions as they process information about their child’s giftedness– it can trigger unresolved issues, traumas, negative attitudes, and feelings of loss or grief related to their own childhood, giftedness, or the hopes/expectations they previously held about the child. As giftedness has been shown to be at least partially hereditary, there is a good chance that one or both parents and also any siblings will also be gifted.

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