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.
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.
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.
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.
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?