When faced with the crossroads of their journey, where gifted adults can decide whether to embark on a path of self-discovery and empowerment or remain stagnant, a significant majority choose to refrain from this opportunity.
What distinguishes those who take the leap from those who hesitate?
In my professional experience working with gifted adults from diverse backgrounds worldwide, I have encountered several individuals who did not embark on the journey of self-discovery and empowerment of their giftedness. It’s crucial to emphasize that I don’t judge this choice since their decision is often deeply rooted in the innermost layers of their being, arising from a complex of energies that inhibits them from unleashing their full potential and even attempting to commence this transformative journey.
Regrettably, it’s like confining the swiftest racehorse within a cramped stable without training or opportunities to compete; the gifted adults (especially women) stay within their limitations, forced by society.
“Like the still waters, a gifted child runs deep. His danger lies not only in deviating from the norm, however favorable this may appear to be, but even more so in that inner polarity which predisposes the conflict.” – Carl Gustav Jung, The Development of Personality, pages 142 – 145.
Jung’s wisdom is a strong reminder that a gifted child’s (later adult’s) journey is a multifaceted odyssey of self-discovery, deep healing, embracing (and not rejecting) giftedness, societal integration, and the complex interplay of nature and nurture. Their cognitive and emotional landscape, characterized by heightened sensitivities and profound insights, often becomes a crucible of internal tensions. By recognizing and embracing these complexities, we cannot only create an enriching environment that enables gifted children to flourish while navigating the profound depths of their inner world but also help them keep their inner strength and become empowered by their self-worth.
It starts at the beginning.
The young developing brain is a wonder, ever-evolving in response to its environment and experiences. Each developmental stage brings its unique challenges. Nature, genetics, and temperament shape growing children. However, nurture, the environment, and early life experiences also significantly determine who they become.
Many gifted children can adapt reasonably well to stress and hardship if they receive dedicated care during infancy. However, some gifted are genetically more sensitive to their environment and require additional parental support to cope with heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Alice Miller identified a group of emotionally gifted children who, from an early age, adapt to the needs of their parents and family by suppressing their own needs and feelings.
They excel at assuming adult roles, often taking on responsibilities beyond their years while sacrificing their emotional well-being. The well-being, development, and pursuit of a fulfilling purpose in life often end up at the bottom of the priority list for such burdened children.
Some of the gifted individuals I assist, who are tortured by these robust defense mechanisms, harbor a deep-seated sense that something incredibly precious was stripped from them during their early years. This loss has left them with depleted self-esteem, a lack of self-worth, and a scarcity of recognition for their contributions.
Furthermore, they find themselves relentlessly pursuing more knowledge, rewards, and certifications, all attempting to fill the void left by the absence of acknowledgment of their true value.
Paradoxically, this constant chase resembles a hamster wheel, a perpetual cycle with no other purpose than to keep the person in a state of stagnation, impeding their evolution and transformation, all while appearing outwardly busy.
When are we good enough?
Donald Winnicott introduced the concept of a ‘good-enough mother’ in 1953, emphasizing that manageable shortcomings in parenting teach children to navigate an imperfect world. This concept does not condone child abuse or neglect but focuses on occasional, tolerable disappointments that help children develop frustration-coping skills.
However, when a child lacks sufficient experiences of unconditional love and acceptance, their compass for trust and connection becomes compromised.
Moreover, an overwhelming fear of being revealed as fundamentally flawed and inadequate can instill feelings of unworthiness, unlovability, and disconnection (Kaufman, 1974). Consequently, the capacity for self-empathy diminishes.
Furthermore, the concepts of the ‘true self’ and the ‘false self’ introduced by Donald Winnicott even deepen the inability to prosper as a gifted adult. The ‘true self’ embodies an individual’s authentic, spontaneous self-perception from early infancy. It is firmly rooted in the awareness of tangible aspects of life, such as one’s own existence and vitality.
In contrast, the ‘false self’ represents a defensive façade constructed as a protective mechanism. It is pronounced when a child is compelled to provide emotional attunement to their parents rather than receiving it themselves. In such instances, the child’s recognition of the parent or caregiver is impersonal and devoid of genuine spontaneity.
This false self can manifest in extreme cases, leading to a discordant and superficial external persona that conceals a sense of inner emptiness and inconsistency. The result is an outward appearance of competence and authenticity, masking an inner void.
Yet, the ‘false self’ serves in childhood as a vital function by shielding the child from the potential devastation of exposing their true self to a world that may not understand or appreciate it.
This anchor becomes exceedingly weighty in adulthood, depriving the gifted adult of a connection to the most authentic aspect of themselves—their giftedness.
The gifted are not mere recipients of knowledge. They are torch-bearers illuminating the path for themselves and others. Therefore, I strongly advise them to courageously start to navigate the intricate labyrinth of their inner complexities and potential, shaping their future with each step, preferably with a professional.
Katja Ujčič, Founder & CEO of GeniusX, Institute for Research and Development of Giftedness, is an Expert in guiding and mentoring gifted individuals across all life spans.