The “Up” Side to Being Intense

I do a lot of presentations and book chats around Southern California and the rest of the country. Within every chat I do, a similar question or comment always comes up:

What’s so good about being intense?

It is a question that speaks to something every gifted adult and child deals with or has dealt with at some point – finding the positive in a life that at times feels cursed. We already know how hard it is to be intense. We know the heartache from living with emotions that run from happy to sad faster than we can keep up. We know the angst of living – and parenting – in a world where we (or our children) feel misunderstood more often than not. We know the difficulties of, as my friend says, painting the world in bolds when the rest of the planet is content to paint in pastels.

We know.

But, is there an up side to this?

For me, the answer is a resounding YES. Over the next few posts I will take some of the more typical aspects of giftedness – the ones that tend to be more problematic like perfectionism, bossyness, stubbornness, rigidity, and excessive worrying – and show the other side of the traits.

The Up-Side.

For today’s post, let’s look at perfectionism, continual worry, and stubbornness. I chose these three particular traits not only because they cause so many of the difficulties Gifted individuals face, but always because they are often interrelated, occurring together most of the time.

PERFECTIONISM -

Every gifted person I’ve met has had some familiarity with perfectionism, that drive to excel and be “perfect”. It is a trait of giftedness that can prevent us from accomplishing our goals by preventing us from ever finishing tasks. In school, it can keep that gifted child from turning in work, or keep them up late as they try to decipher what the teacher “really” meant with the instructions. In its most intense form, it can make us ill and paralyze us as we grapple with our own version of  “death”, of being “less than”.

But, that is only one side of perfectionism. In its best form, perfectionism is actually task commitment – the drive to see something through to the bitter end, to the vision we hold for it. It is the trait that enables us push through our failures, push through the attempts we make and stick to something until we reach a type of perfection with the task.

I know for me, my perfectionism is both a curse and my biggest asset. It is my perfectionism that drives me to continually improve – in my personal life, in my professional life, and in my artistic life. It is also my perfectionism that creates existential angst as I attempt to manage my tendency to second guess myself. Definitely a two-edged sword, and one I have accepted as a natural part of who I am.

CONTINUAL WORRY – 

Ah, yes….Anxiety. We have all felt it. And with gifted individuals, the anxiety can take one a whole new form. Part of it relates to our ability to see situations from so many angles, allowing us to really know and appreciate some of the problems and more negative aspects of life. Our perfectionism, stubbornness, and even our rigidity can feed the anxieties we feel, turning them into seemingly insurmountable problems. Our anxiety can cause us to shrink away from life, looking for a place to hide and feel safe.

But that is only one aspect of anxiety.

Anxiety, or rather heightened emotions, can also serve to alert us to ourselves, letting us know when some of our other traits (like perfectionism) are running amuck. It can alert us to potential danger and help us steer clear of problems others may never notice. And, more than anything, it can ignite our empathy, enable us to see the world from another’s perspective. These are qualities needed in today’s world.

For me, anxiety and worry are my internal signals to take a moment and breathe. They are the signs that I am not staying in touch with my other intensities. The emotions are also something that enable me to connect with humanity in very profound ways.

STUBBORNNESS

Few people on the planet are as stubborn as GT people. When we think we are right, WE KNOW we are. When someone says they will do something, we EXPECT them to. And we hold ourselves to that same level. Our stubbornness can often lead to others thinking of us as know-it-alls, bossy, or rigid. And in truth, we are to some degree.

But, that is only one side of the trait. The stubbornness, especially when working with our perfectionism, enables us to stick to tasks in the face of difficulty. We don’t tend to give up easily, and we are steadfast in our approach. The rigidity, in its more mature form, is commitment – to tasks, to people, to the pursuit of our dreams.

For me, being stubborn has enabled me to stick with projects and search for solutions to obstacles that stand between me and my goals. It has kept me from giving up, and forced me to work through problems instead of running from them. Even in my marriage to my also intense husband, we joke that it is our stubbornness that got us through the rocky parts of our marriage, neither of us willing to be the one that walked away first. And thank goodness! My relationship to him is one of the best things in my life for reasons I can’t even begin to explain – but I had to get to this point by sticking with it and working through the hard times.

So there you go, a new way of looking at just a few of the more problematic aspects of giftedness. What do you think? Any positive aspects of these traits I’ve left off?

 

 

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21 thoughts on “The “Up” Side to Being Intense

  1. Love this post! Thanks.

  2. Awesome (and very timely) post – thanks :).

  3. Wow, thanks. that really helped. I think I will share it with my son also. You know, it’s nice to see there are others out there like me. It’s encouraging to know I’m not alone. I appreciate your positive spin on the characteristics in myself that I’ve always seen as negative.

  4. One of the things I often share with parents is that the same traits that drive you up the wall when they’re kids are the same traits that they can leverage into tremendous strengths as adults. Part of the “growing up” process is precisely that, learning to understand who you really are, how to cope with the down sides of it, and how to use the up sides of it well.

  5. That was nice. Can you rewrite that at a 4th grade level for my daughter? Or did you in your other book? That’s what I need.

    I’m reading a lot about this topic in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. Highly recommend it.

  6. thank you so much for this!

  7. I’d buy that book!

  8. This is really good. Thank-you!!!

  9. My gifted 9 yr old is extremely stubborn & acts like a “know it all”. Real battles getting her up in the morning for school & to sleep at night (why is her motor more cranked up at night?) Battles to get her to do the class book report projects…she screeches it is boring & is critical of her work so she won’t do it…this has never happened before…she was always one to jump right into homework.
    I am trying to be optimistic and hoping these “negative” things will turn around this summer…we are dealing with trich & anxiety/stress…I continue to hold onto that word “hope”.

  10. That really resonates with me…. And I think I’d add emotional sensitivity? I love being me ( very intense….often) and I love my kids – even, especially? when they are having emotional moments, sometimes clashing, sometimes directed elsewhere. But emotional intensity is also a double edged blade as it means the house turns into a roller coaster of emotions…frequently. it also poses issues for friends and those looking in. Still who said life should be easy?

  11. THis is wonderful. My oldest is 10 and classified as a “gifted learner” — and he struggles with worry and anxiety. It breaks my heart, really. Love your thoughts on these issues as well as the ways you manage to spin some of them optimistically. Very refreshing:)

  12. My daughter exhibits all of the above traits. Although irritating to me at times, I never regarded these traits as negative. She is who she is. She discovered her athletic “gift” at age 5, and is an exceptional swimmer. (she is now 11). The swimming perfection seems to balance out the school perfection, and is a good outlet for her. I truly believe that gifted children need an outet, other than academic. They need to use the above traits to be the best at something else, musical athletic etc. It’s our job as parents to try to discover and balance the “gifts” that our children have.

  13. The great thing about being intense is you get to sleep in sleeping bags!

  14. We’re going through an intense emotional period now. Dear daughter (17 yrs old), whose is normally reticent to make friends – definitely introverted – made a couple of friendship connections with her much older college peers – she gets along well with older students – and they are graduating and moving on…not a happy time at the moment in our home. Her older college peers welcomed her with open arms. She is inconsolable. We live in a global economy and people are transient. 1 in 10 people are lonely. Do you have any suggestions for how to deal with this sort of thing? I’ve tried logic and am falling short at making my point that life is full of highs and lows. The resilient ones will get up again and move forward.

    • Is she away at school? I had a period of loneliness at school when my friends graduated ahead of me too, but I did make new friends, though never as close as the ones ahead of me. One thing I do for myself and tell my daughter to do is make different sets of friends (church, Brownies, school, old friends) so that when some friendships are not going well, we have the others to turn to. When I moved, it took almost 5 years to build up a new network of friends for myself so I always had someone to turn to when I felt like chatting. Yet still, some of my best friends are still “telephone friends,” which is great for introverts actually. We talk on the phone as we take care of chores and overanalyze everything that happened in each of our days and how we felt about it and then we validate each other’s feelings. Ha!

      For myself (40) most of my current friends are 80 because…I think because they have time for me! Either that or I am really mature. Ha.

      Sorry if I rambled there. Hope that gives some ideas for your daughter

      • Thank you for your excellent advice, Robin. My daughter commutes to college. I will pass on the advice you offered regarding the cultivation of different types of friends at various venues. Maybe my daughter needs to cultivate much older friends, also, as they are probably less transient. To earn a friendship takes an investment of time and effort. Sometimes one’s heart gets broken, as people are wont to move on for employment or education reasons. Possibly, the time to get over a friend that moves on geographically is commensurate with the time it took to cultivate her/him in the first place. My fear is that I’m not supplying her with the right coping skills. Terrible stuff happens to people all of the time. We can’t escape our lumps. But, how one deals with the terrible hand they’re dealt is key to coming out the other side intact and hopefully wiser than before the dip. Thank you, again, for your suggestions.

  15. The problem I have is that my anxiety and perfectionism sometimes paralyze me, making it impossible to fill out simple forms like applications while I decipher what information they REALLY want, (Does this mean this or could it mean that?) thus keeping me from doing what I excel at. My daughters characteristics have added tourettes to the mix.

  16. Pingback: The “Up” Side to Being Intense | Mermaids and Mermen

  17. Pingback: The Ten Commandments of Perfectionism « power of language blog: partnering with reality by JR Fibonacci

  18. Thanks, this took my night from okay to okay but in an entirely different way.

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