Understanding Resiliency

Simply defined, resiliency is the ability to bounce back from adversity. It involves several components, including the following:

  • Mastery
  • Connections
  • Emotional Intensity

Gifted individuals, both children and adults, are hardwired in ways that present unique challenges to overall resiliency. And while these posts will take a look at some of the inherent problems facing the GT population, I do not want any reader to interpret this to mean that GT individuals are MORE prone to resiliency challenges. I would actually argue that the very nature of giftedness may serve as a well of internal resources helping improve resiliency for most. 

MASTERY

Mastery specifically refers to a person’s ability to understand and analyze the cause/effect relationship between effort and results. It involves how a child views his or her individual ability to master the environment; whether or not he or she believes that working hard will, in fact, lead to improved outcomes.

Mastery involves the attributes of optimism (the ability to see the glass as half-full and feel positive about the future), adaptability (the ability to change and adapt to environmental/situational changes), and self-efficacy (different from self-esteem, this specifically relates to a person’s belief that he or she has the ability to perform successfully in a given situation).

As seen from the definition above, there are several areas in which gifted kids may struggle related to the very nature of giftedness. Some of the more typical challenges may include the following:

Optimism –

  • Feelings of inadequacy due to a mismatch between ability and previous achievements
  • 2E situations
  • Perfectionism and the belief that making errors means you are not gifted
  • Fear of failing resulting in poor risk taking
  • All or nothing belief structure (“I either know it all, or don’t know anything”)

Self-efficacy

  • The belief that teachers/parents have unrealistically high expectations for performance
  • Same rigidity, perfectionism, and fear of failure discussed above
Adaptability:
  • Inflexible in thinking processes
  • Intensities (you will see this come up a lot)
  • Resistance to accepting help
  • Resistance to change
As you can see, there are a lot of potential problems facing our gifted children related to the very nature of giftedness.
 
So what do we do to help? I think the answer is two-fold (as always). First, as parents and/or educators, we need to accept our own difficulties in these areas. Identify them, and work to consciously correct our inaccurate thinking. Reframe “normal” for ourselves. Then we need to help our children do the same. Talk with them about their feeling related to this domain – help them see where their thinking may be not only counterproductive, but just plan incorrect. Help them learn to recognize the times and ways in which their thoughts are inaccurate.
 
By doing this – by understanding mastery and the ways it can adversely impact kids, you are positioning yourself to act as an “emotional” coach for them – something that I believe will lead to improved outcomes.
CONNECTIONS
Connections refers to the ability to make meaningful relationships with peers and adults, and to derive support from these relationships. In short, it refers to the feeling of having people in your corner who “get you” and “have your back”. Although it is important for children to have actual support, the research is clear that perceived support is far more important with regards to this aspect of resiliency and protection factors.
—Building and having positive connections typically involves the attributes of trust (trusting that the people in your life will not abandon you), support (feeling that those most trusted in your life are supportive of you and your issues/endeavors), comfort (feeling comfortable around people and with your peers and adults), and tolerance (being accepting of others and their unique styles, thought processes and needs).Obviously, GT kids may run into a few barriers in these areas related to the basic characteristics of giftedness, including some of the following:

—Building Connections:
  • —Like minded peers vs. typically developing peers
  • Difficulties developing relationships in general related to giftedness
  • Introverts vs extroverts
Imposter Syndrome and its impact
  • —Perceived Support vs Real Support
  • Rigid and narrow definitions of friendship, support, and/or expectations
  • Adaptability issues like those discussed under Mastery
Tolerance
  • OEs (intensities)
  • —Rigid thinking (yes, this does keep coming up!)
  • —Resistance to change
 
As you can see, this is another aspect of resiliency that can pose unique problems. So, how do we help? Like mastery, I think the answer starts with parents and/or educators understanding their own challenges with regards to building connections and Imposter Syndrome. We must reframe our difficulties, paying attention to any challenges we have with rigid thinking. As we do this for ourselves, we learn how to help our children do the same. Furthermore, by regularly looking inward at our own perceptions and behaviors, we cultivate an environment conducive to self-reflection and analysis. This environment, then, provides a risk free way for our children to do the same.
 
EMOTIONAL REACTIVITY

Emotional reactivity refers to how a child reacts emotionally to adversity or problems. We already know that Gifted Kids are highly intense. But this emotional reactivity, while actually a good thing, does bring with it the potential for difficulties in the area of resiliency. Some factors that impact a person’s overall emotional reactivity is the depth of their intensities, the time it takes them to emotionally bounce back from a set back, and the level of impairment the emotional intensity may cause.

Gifted children, being more intense than their non-gifted counterparts, have some unique challenges when it comes to emotional reactivity and intensity, including:

  • Extreme Intensity
  • Rigid thinking that makes recovery difficulty
  • Lack of emotional tools
Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to help your child learn to manage their emotional intensities and reactions to events in their lives. Some of these include:
  • Build an emotional tool bank
  • Teach your child an emotional vocabulary to discuss feelings, and then discuss them regularly
  • Discuss perfectionism and imposter syndrome issues openly and often
  • Discuss and work through fear of failure concerns
As you can see, the beginnings of working on managing intensities starts with open and honest communications in this area – something that can be hard and scary for most parents and kids. 
Understanding the workings of resiliency is the first step toward assisting our children in developing this part of themselves.
What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Understanding Resiliency

  1. R

    This is an amazing post. I don’t understand where the rigidity comes from if there is in fact a more complex view of the world?

  2. Sara Elliott

    Thanks for this post. It’s a relief to see someone discuss the relationship between giftedness and emotional intensity. If you know of any good books or websites that offer specific tools, activities, suggestions for helping gifted kids develop resiliency, I would love to hear about them.

    1. R

      So I went to a regular therapist to discuss my daughter’s problem with rigidity leading to frustration and outbursts. He said to tell her she was not allowed to think this way (?!) I thought that really wouldn’t work on my kid! Way to shut down communication. So the whole family is working on being “flexible.” She is in charge and we all recount our moments of flexibility (could be coping well with setback or whatever the problem is) from the day and she decides how many stickers we get. Oh, and we are each allowed to yell in frustration once a day so we don’t try to be perfectionists about our flexibility. She is 9. We also have stones we put in a bowl at mealtime to recount happy and sad moments from the day so we get it out and don’t ruminate on it later.
      We will soon be visiting a therapist for the gifted who specializes in rigid thinking and perfectionism. I got her name from the Summit Center but I think we are doing better since we started these practices I described above.

  3. Sara Elliott

    We had a similar experience with an unhelpful therapist. I love the strategies you guys came up with, though. Thanks for sharing them.

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