Intellect as an illusionary salve for the shame felt by the gifted

In exploring giftedness, much attention is given to the cognitive aspects—such as high IQ scores, exceptional problem-solving abilities, and advanced academic achievement. However, equally crucial is the emotional dimension of gifted individuals, which often receives less scrutiny. One significant emotional aspect that impacts many gifted individuals is shame. A deep-seated feeling of not being good, smart, and capable enough can paradoxically coexist with external indicators of high achievement. Let’s explore how intellect, a defining attribute of the gifted, can serve as both a bridge over and a builder of this void.

The shame in gifted individuals

Shame is characterized by an internal narrative of inadequacy and unworthiness despite success and competence. This phenomenon is common among the gifted, where the external validation of their intellectual contrasts with their internal self-worth experiences. For many gifted individuals, their intellectual achievements become a façade behind which they hide their perceived deficiencies.

The additional layer of devastation at unrecognized gifted

The emotional impact of the shame is even more devastating when giftedness goes unrecognized. This lack of recognition can be a killer, leading to a profound sense of isolation and misunderstanding. Gifted individuals who do not receive adequate support or acknowledgment for their abilities often struggle with heightened feelings of shame and an intensified sense of being different or alienated. This can lead to further emotional withdrawal and a significant decrease in self-esteem, as their most defining traits remain unvalidated and unappreciated.

Intellectual achievement as a mask

Intellectual achievement often serves as a mask for gifted individuals. This persona can protect them from the deep-seated shame and fears that they do not truly deserve love, attention, or respect just for their inherent qualities, independent of their achievements. And also from the fear that they would be recognized as fraud, someone whose shadow represents the opposite side of intelligence – being retarded. Therefore, the psyche constantly sends subtle messages from the shadow that the intellectually gifted are trying to repress even further by being as intellectual as possible. In this sense, intellect can temporarily fill the void created by shame, offering a false sense of being valued, recognized, and important.

The double-edged sword of intellect

However, reliance on intellect as an illusionary for emotional wounds is a double-edged sword. On one hand, intellectual engagement and accomplishments can provide a legitimate source of self-esteem and identity. On the other hand, over-reliance on intellectual achievement to counterbalance emotional deficits can lead to burnout, anxiety, and even depression. Ann, even more, leads to the complete annihilation of the gifted Self. Overemphasis on intellect creates a precarious balance where self-worth is contingent on performance and external achievements rather than a stable sense of Self.

Moving beyond intellectualization

The path forward for gifted individuals dealing with shame involves integrating their intellectual and emotional lives. Emotional intelligence must be cultivated with the same vigor as cognitive intelligence. This integration can begin with mindfulness practices, therapeutic interventions aimed at uncovering and addressing the roots of shame, and fostering educational and familial environments that emphasize holistic development (Daniels & Piechowski, 2009).


In conclusion, while intellect can temporarily fill the emotional voids felt by gifted individuals, it is not a sustainable solution for the well-being of a gifted person and for the development of talents. A more holistic approach that includes emotional nurturing and support is essential for true fulfillment and happiness. Only through such balanced nurturing can we help gifted individuals fully realize their potential without the shadow of the shame void.


Daniels, S., & Piechowski, M. M. (2009). Living with Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.


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