So I'm gifted...Now what?
So what if I’m gifted? Will others expect more from me? Will I be seen as different? What if I don’t want to be gifted anymore?
When children, adolescents, or even adults, learn they are gifted, they can be flooded with a range of emotions. Initially there may be excitement and pride. Eventually, discomfort, anxiety and embarrassment may creep in. And a range of questions usually arise. What does this all mean? How will it affect my friendships, school work, or future career? What will my family and friends expect from me? Will this be more of a burden than a benefit?
In reality, identification of giftedness, following rigorous psychoeducational screening, serves to validate what most gifted individuals and their families already know. Screening is usually provided to determine whether mandated enriched/accelerated academic services are necessary; otherwise, it rarely would be offered. But in addition to opening doors to educational opportunity, the label itself carries substantial weight, and signifies a shift in self-perception. The validation and recognition may be a relief; the presumed additional expectations may seem a burden.
What are some of the questions and concerns that accompany gifted identification?
In childhood: Children may not understand what being gifted means. They already sense that they are different, learn more quickly than their peers, or become easily bored in class. They may worry that this new label will isolate them from friends, force them to tackle extra busy work, or get bullied if they are seen as too smart. They may feel superior about their abilities and the ease with which they learn, but also feel confused and guilty about their pride. Since gifted children often possess a strong sense of morality, it may seem unfair that others lack the talents that they naturally possess. When family or teachers convey high expectations, gifted children might feel overly pressured to achieve, become anxious and self-critical of even minor mistakes, or give up altogether. Even without external pressure, those gifted children who are already high achievers may interpret their gifted status as a mandate to aim for success, regardless of the costs.
In adolescence: Teens struggle with ambivalence about being gifted. At a time when friendships are paramount, many would rather ignore academics and focus instead on having fun. They may worry that being gifted will exclude them from the desired peer group and make them seem “nerdy” and unattractive. Girls, in particular, may hide their talents to remain appealing to boys. Teens also may react to real or perceived pressure from parents or teachers to “live up to their potential.” While some rise to the challenge, others may become anxious and strive for perfection. Still others may rebel, perform poorly, and distance themselves from any association with their academic abilities. As high school graduation approaches, gifted teens struggle with how to choose a career path that will satisfy the expectations of others, yet meet their personal goals. In short, many gifted adolescents are acutely aware of the abilities they possess, and feel conflicted about how to fulfill their potential without either alienating or disappointing others.
In adulthood: Many gifted adults’ abilities were overlooked when they were children. They may have suspected their differences all along, but never received validation that their self-perception was accurate. Often, recognition of giftedness occurs without formal testing, and follows instead from an awareness that their complex thinking skills, innovative and creative solutions, or unusually quick grasp of difficult material outpaces their peers. Many gifted adults only suspect that they are gifted when their own gifted children show signs of exceptional ability and are undergoing evaluation. Recognition of their abilities enables acceptance of how their interests, drives and passions may have felt out of sync with many of their peers. It also helps them appreciate that some of their behaviors that contribute to personal distress or interpersonal conflict are actually emotional and behavioral characteristics associated with giftedness, such as emotional intensity, overexcitabilities, impatience, non-conformity, introversion or perfectionism.
Acceptance of what it means to be gifted takes time. It is an individual process, and carries different implications for everyone. Parents and teachers need to appreciate that conflicting emotions can accompany the label of “gifted.” Recognizing these concerns, fears and misperceptions is the first step toward overcoming roadblocks to their academic, social and personal goals.