Since I last posted I’ve had emails from two highly sensitive gifted people who knew they were highly sensitive, but hadn’t yet identified their giftedness.
One was from a new friend I met this Fall. She had read the New Year’s post on humility and asked if I was using the terms gifted and highly sensitive interchangably. The answer is no, I’m not. But more on that further down.
She then commented that while she had come to understand she was highly sensitive, she did not consider herself gifted. Hmm, to me she feels gifted.
The other email was from an INTP who couldn’t fit both the logic piece and the sensitivity piece into one conceptual whole. It sounded familiar. A few years ago I could have written the email myself. I didn’t know anything about giftedness until 2003. Without some frame of reference, the mix of logic and sensitivity (which allegedly shouldn’t coexist in the same person) is crazy-making.
For those unfamiliar with the INTP personality, one of its defining traits is a gift for logic. In our culture, people who thrive on logic are supposed to fit the profile of the fictional character of Spock in Star Trek. However, some highly logical people are also a bit akin to the empath character, Deanna Troy. And we have no grid for that.
(I apologize to those who have never been exposed to Star Trek and have no idea what I’m talking about. Hang in there; we’re done now with the Star Trek analogies. And no, I’m not a trekkie.)
One last comment on INTP’s for the benefit of my many fellow gifted INTP’s out there. If you have a full dose of logic and also a full dose of emotional sensitivity, you’re probably gifted. Giftedness isn’t just about IQ. There are intelligent INTP’s and there are intelligent, highly sensitive, gifted INTP’s. You are in the second group. (Yes, there likely are intelligent, gifted, not highly sensitive INTP’s also, but that doesn’t have bearing on this conversation.) The main point here is that if you are an INTP who is highly sensitive, this sensitivity is usually a flag that giftedness is present.
This might prompt the question, “So, what is giftedness?” It’s a good question that no one can definitively answer, because no one actually agrees on a definition. But some definitions are more helpful than others. The description that has been most useful to me and the gifted people around me is:
Giftedness involves intelligence and creativity, bridged together with emotional intensity.1
As I’ve worked with different gifted people, it feels like God stuffed too many kinds of different things into one person that don’t seem to go together – things that people think shouldn’t belong in the same person at all. Like, in this case, logic and emotional sensitivity.
So, while most people are one thing or another, the gifted tend to be the one thing and the other and the something else and more.
When a person has no understanding of giftedness, it’s common for them to wonder what’s wrong with them. I’ve even heard some wonder if they have multiple personalities pulling them in competing, mutually exclusive directions. The answer is, no they don’t. They are gifted. And gifted people by definition have diverse, rich inner lives.
Characteristics of Gifted Learners
The following list touches briefly on some characteristics of gifted learners. This is just a small piece of gifted theory, but it might give you a bit more of a sense of classic giftedness.
- Learns rapidly and easily.
- Has an extraordinary memory and a vivid imagination.
- Is good at abstract reasoning and problem-solving.
- Curious and persistent, and is interested in cause and effect.
- Has a wide range of interests and often develops one or more interests to a considerable depth.
- Uses a large vocabulary.
- Is an independent, self-directed learner.
- Inventive, original, and often gives unusual responses.
- Capable of sustained concentration on topics or activities of interest to them.
- Easily bored with routine.
- Sets high standards for self and may be perfectionistic.
- Shows initiative, originality, and flexibility in thinking; considers problems from a number of viewpoints.
- Generates many ideas.
- Possesses a keen sense of humor.
- May be highly sensitive and possess a strong sense of justice.2
So Why Am I Talking About Giftedness on a Highly Sensitive Blog?
While not all highly sensitive persons are gifted, a portion of them are. Several sources say that an estimated 3-5% of the general population is gifted. And Elaine Aron says that approximately 15-20% of the population is highly sensitive.
Some theorists claim that all gifted people are highly sensitive. Personally I think that’s a dangerous assumption to make. Any time someone throws the “all” word around concerning a group of people, I balk. I tend to think God is far too busy creatively breaking molds for this to be true.
Besides, I know some highly gifted people who are certainly not highly sensitive. (No, I’m not speculating; we’ve had conversations about it.)
What I would feel comfortable saying is that lots of gifted people are highly sensitive.
I have found no Christian resources addressing the Christian gifted adult. If you know of any, please let me know. But if you’re not averse to getting fed by picking out the good food and passing on the questionable stuff, I can make a few recommendations.
For information on giftedness, you can download the pdf by Francis Heylighen on Gifted People and their Problems. It is quite informative. Additionally, if you search, there is much more information online.
As far as books go, I haven’t found any that I’ve been willing to recommend. Much more useful information is available online.
For the Clinician
If you are a therapist, counsellor, or other clinician, I highly recommend the clinical book Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children and Adults: ADHD, Bipolar, OCD, Asperger’s, Depression, and Other Disorders, (Webb, et al.). I cannot say enough good things about this book. It is sure to be extremely helpful in your work with any gifted clients.
The sad fact is that I made it through my Master’s program, which prepared me to work as a psychotherapist, without hearing either the word giftedness or the term highly sensitive person. And this was after Elaine Aron had published her groundbreaking book on high sensitivity.
The truth is that standard psychology and psychiatry pathologize both the sensitive and the gifted. While some gifted persons do struggle with mental illness, many other gifted persons are wrongly diagnosed with mental illness when they are merely displaying the well-documented traits of giftedness. Dr. Webb and his colleagues will help you distinguish between normal giftedness and mental illness.
The journey of becoming free to be who God created you to be is often difficult. It can be especially so the further your design is from the cultural norm. For the gifted, understanding giftedness and sensitivity can be a great help in providing vision along the way.
And remember, you do have a very helpful Holy Spirit who knows you deeply, loves you passionately, understands you thoroughly, and desires to lead you on this journey.
By the way, please keep the emails and comments coming. They encourage me.
1I’ve lost the exact quote, but have been carrying the concept around in my head since I first studied giftedness in 2003. I read it on a website that no longer exists and I don’t know whose it was. But it succinctly represents what several experts are saying about giftedness in other sources. If you have the original quote or the source, please send it to me and I’ll update this and give proper credit.
2Selected from the list on the Florida Gifted Network. By the way, I changed the last line a bit. It said “overly sensitive”, and I changed it appropriately to “highly sensitive”.