I'm about to bring up some controversial topics, challenge some ideas, and share some deeply personal stuff, too. You might want to grab some tissues in case you start to cry like I did writing this. Forgive me any typos. This was not easy for me to write.
I recently became keenly aware that all of my clients are exceptionally "gifted" and talented in some way - for example, intelligence, sensory sensitivity, pattern recognition, music, creativity, inventiveness, improvisational aptitude, writing, singing, and more. Almost all of them were singled out in school as having exceptional potential and abilities. They are outliers. They are not average. They are neurodiverse.
Many have ADHD or wonder if they do. Nearly ALL have chronic disorganization, productivity and self-worth / self-advocacy challenges. This is NO mere coincidence. I've been researching the literature on gifted adults and discovered some life changing insights. I'm rethinking everything I thought I knew. And finding a whole new level of understanding human behavior,procrastination and motivation in the process.
In the world of ADD there is a lot of debate about whether or not ADHD is a "gift" or a "defect" or a "disorder."
What if it is not a "yes" or "no" question? What if people who are gifted just happen to share a lot of the same traits as people who are ADHD?
The answer may be more like this: a lot of people with ADD also happen to be intellectually gifted and/or exceptionally talented in one or more of the Multiple Intelligences described by Harvard Psychologist Howard Gardner.
Or perhaps the real answer is that people who are gifted are also often diagnosed or mis-diagnosed as having ADHD and at least 2 or more other "disorders" as well. Sadly, it is a FACT that the majority of gifted adults also have multiple diagnoses.
In the worlds of neurodiversity, ADHD and Giftedness, there is a growing community of researchers noticing that there is a set of traits that are commonly grouped together in various configurations - some of which are labeled "disorders" and some of which are called personality traits, types or styles. In other words, people with any of these labels have a LOT in common even though they are also different.
- ADD / ADHD
- Existential depression
- Reactive depression
- Compulsive Hoarders
- Chronically Disorganized
- xNxP Personality Types
- Highly Creative
- Highly Intense
- Highly Sensitive
- Highly Technical
- Highly Task Oriented
- "Addicted to Insight" (Refers to people who can't stop learning, seeking discovering. I first read about this in a paper by researcher Chris Brown. Not an easy read, but I actually burst into tears when I understood what he was saying. Talk about feeling like someone managed to get inside your brain and understand you better than you understood yourself. Blew me away for days. In fact I was inspired to start an experimental blog just to explore this concept further: Addicted to Insight)
People with any one of these labels are HIGHLY likely to also have 3 or more or even ALL of these labels!
Does this bother you like it does me?
See Misdiagnosis And Dual Diagnoses Of Gifted Children and Adults by James T. Webb
Many of the people diagnosed are ALSO highly functional and quite capable of contributing to society. A few years ago, I wrote about the nearly 100% overlap in ADHD and creative personality type here. And now, I've found a body of research on the traits of "gifted" people that, you guessed it, also has significant overlap with ADHD traits.
This latest research is adding even more depth and validation to the work I've been doing teaching deep self-acceptance, emotional literacy and emotional processing skills (I don't like the words "regulation" or "mastery" applied to emotions,) such as: self-encouraging, comforting, and motivating; coping skills, meta-cognitive skills and more. (without using jargon like that of course) I didn't start out as a coach intending to teach these skills, but it quickly became clear that like myself, gifted people with ADDish traits need to learn emotional literacy skills as a prerequisite to self-acceptance, making peace with themselves and designing their own unique organizing and productivity systems that work for them.
Developing emotional skills are foundational - a necessary part of learning to "value" and "enjoy" organizing enough to actually spend time doing it. This is not traditional therapy, I suppose you could call it "educational" therapy.
What I've learned in my work is that most of the "dysfunction" and "disorganization" in the lives of people with neurodiverse traits is not actually caused by the physical aspects of their neurodiversity. The dysfunction is a result of contextual factors that include:
1) being emotionally traumatized by growing up DIFFERENT and not being respected. Constantly feeling misunderstood. Constantly "corrected". Constantly "invalidated" and called "too intense" "too emotional" "too distracted" "too sensitive" "too perfectionist" TOO EVERYTHING.
2) over attachment to external things as a result of relationship traumas such as abuse, neglect, loss or death of significant others, abandonment, invalidation of emotional needs, consistently not being listened to and not having one's emotional needs met in relationships with authority or parental figures
3) repeatedly trying but not being able to follow other people's instructions, organizing systems, and approaches to doing things like cleaning or homework because they don't fit the way we think, believe, or function. For example, many of my clients were repeatedly and sometimes brutally punished for organization difficulties like not cleaning room, losing homework, being late, daydreaming etc.because they truly were not able to follow the instructions given.
4) Not having access to the kind of learning needed to "learn" to enjoy doing something you do not inherently find enjoyable, interesting, or intriguing. Like learning how to find the intriguing elements in getting potentially boring stuff done.
But I digress, back to what causes "gifted" people to commonly receive all those diagnoses and labels. Growing up different is really hard. It's hard on the people around us as well. They have no idea what to do with us. Sometimes (okay, often) they lash out at us, get frustrated with us, and avoid us.
They may treasure our strengths and promote us, etc., but not without frequently pointing out what they feel makes us "difficult" for them. Like the fact that we "challenge" a lot of mainstream values, rules and ideas. Or are late, or don't follow instructions without asking questions. We don't (can't) conform without feeling a bit like we are dying inside. Our emotional and motivational needs are very different, even opposite, from the norm.
The difference between "happy" and "miserable" for "gifted" people is often a matter of whether or not they were accepted -- allowed to be different without being negatively labeled. What kind of schools they went too make a big difference too. Of course, whether or not they were abused or grew up with addicts, or took on the family role of "responsible" one is also a big part of it.
So here's an interesting thing. Many "gifted" people would rather be called ADHD than be called "gifted!" Myself included.
I rejected that label as a teenager because I didn't want to be singled out that way. I refused to be placed in an academy for "gifted" kids because I could not stomach the "elitist" attitudes that came with the crowd of people who LIKE being called gifted.
So instead I was put in a foster home (this is another long story I'm not going to tell here) and dropped out of high school. By dropping out, I was lucky enough to be offered to attend an "alternative" high school in Brockton, Mass in 1974.
Those were the glory days of education. The year I spent there changed my life. I was allowed to participate democratically in my own education. I got to choose my classes, define my own homework assignments and projects and basically be treated with respect for the first time in all my years of school. (I also was allowed to configure a "custom" Master's Degree combining business, education, and technology, but that's another story.)
Still, I rejected the idea of being gifted. The whole notion of that word still makes my skin crawl and makes me feel kinda, I don't know - slimy? arrogant?
Well, imagine my shock at finding out that many other people feel the EXACT same way I do. AND, many of them have the same traits and similar history - growing up poor, growing up with abuse, addictions, depression, highly creative, high technical aptitude and/or intelligence, achieving a lot - but feeling like an underachiever anyway.
Our sense of self-worth was so distorted we could not truly value our talents -
our flaws cancelled them out, right?
Kinda like a math problem.
1 (smart) - 1 (inconsistent) - 1
(talks too much) - 1 (doesn't follow the rules) = a Big Less than Zero
It so easy to make us feel unworthy, isn't it?
Is it any wonder one of the best predictors for LOW financial achievement is high intelligence?
Here is an excerpt from an article which describes the impact (damage) that denying your "giftedness" can have on the way you develop socially and emotionally. It also defines 5 characteristics of people with "extra" intelligence. [My notes are in brackets]
eXtra intelligence (Xi) is marked by five characteristics, as follows:
- Intellectually able: grasps complicated issues relatively easily, takes leaps in the thinking process, has a low tolerance for stupidities, and may become careless when asked to do simple tasks.
[Sounds like ADD to me, difficulties performing daily boring routines and tasks: Check!]
- Incurably inquisitive: always curious about what’s beyond the horizon, fascinated as long as something is new, easily pursuing manifold interests. Has a low tolerance for boredom and may be slow in bringing an already-solved problem to a conclusion.
[High need for Novelty, easily bored: Check! Plus, as I've written about before we have a tendency to write things on To Do lists and then "feel like" they are already done. We did it in our heads so now it "feels" complete. Check!]
- Need for autonomy: Can work on one’s own and prefers to schedule tasks oneself. Will respond aversely to absolute power and formalities, and react allergically to bosses or others who exercise tight control. Will utilize fight or flight when autonomy is threatened.
[Check, check, check!!]
- Excessive zeal in pursuit of interests: Can be inexhaustible and keyed-up as long as a problem is interesting and still unsolved. But will drop it readily when the specific curiosity has been satisfied. Can put too much energy into the wrong projects. Does not like others to perform according to low standards.
[Can you say hyperactive brain, hyperfocusing, then dropping that project like a hot potato when the research phase is done and the novelty becomes routine? Goes well with the "addicted to insight" theory.]
- Emotionally insecure, intellectually self-confident: Knows in the head that he or she is right, but fears in the stomach that he or she will not win the case. This can easily lead to perfectionism, fear of failing, or escalating know-it-all-ness and arrogance to mask the uncertainty. Is vulnerable to a stupid or blunt display of power.
[OMG!!! Sound familiar to you too?]
|Title: How to Charm Gifted Adults into Admitting Giftedness: Their Own and Somebody Else’s||Citation: Originally published in Advanced Development: A Journal On Adult Giftedness, Volume11, 2007, pp 9-25. Reprinted with permission.|
|Author: Willem Kuipers|
Maybe someday, we'll find words to describe ourselves using words that are more neutral than either "gifted" or "disordered." I happen to love the term neurodiverse. Seems like the most accurate, and does not have all the uncomfortable connotations of "gifted" or "ADD"
If you suspect you might be "neurodiverse" or have ADD or that you might be a "gifted" person who isn't living up their potential, you will find some fascinating articles I strongly recommend on a website called "SENG" here: http://sengifted.org/articles_adults/index.shtml
Okay, enough mindblowing for today!
Unless of course you feel like checking out my latest Agile Life Design and Productivity programs designed for neurodiverse gifted adults with this fascinating set of traits. If you are interested in upcoming programs, be sure to get on my mailing list and receive my Agile Life Design Toolkit. : )
p.s. For More Interesting Books on Giftedness CLICK HERE