It has taken years for me to start to understand the kind of social stress that comes with a "gifted" brain. Aside from having a possible biological difficulty with anxiety, gifted individuals can have a social stress that comes from a combination of being hyper-observant and having a developed forecasting talent. These are in addition to an amazing memory-- a detailed mental file on past social failures along with a catalog of general information. It makes what could or should be an enjoyable chat with a group of acquaintances a potential metaphorical landmine. If the social interaction does end up successful, then it probably required a lot of energy. For the introvert, this one interaction may be enough to send her home for the day. And, there's a chance that everyone walked away from the chat thinking how delightful the person is, but she goes home and analyzes the conversation word for word and determines that there could have been better responses. By go home and analyze, I mean that it just happens... not on purpose. As I understand it, with Dabrowski's Intellectual Overexcitabliltiy, there is sometimes a  "loop" of both quantitative and qualitative analysis running under one's thoughts in a quest for truth. It's a process by which an individual analyzes observations, expanding one's schema to understand one's world. In a social situation, it'd be like having your performance self-graded with each word: The score would move up and down based on your interpretation of the others' subtle responses. The conversation becomes an evaluation of the individual's ability to analyze and correct, arriving at a deeper understanding of the people involved and the way people interact. Accordingly, there are few situations in which the gifted individual who struggles with this kind of social stress actually feels comfortable enough to naturally let conversation flow. This results in feelings of isolation if one cannot find "a tribe." Or, perhaps, the individual gives up in trying to manage the process and gives up trying to "be appropriate," taking on the role of the eccentric. While people with autism have social anxiety because they know they cannot read people, some gifted individuals have social anxiety because they read people too well. (All this is apart from any wrong conclusions drawn from observations which leads to a different set of difficulties).
    Imagine two movies side by side: One has a relatively bright individual walking alone through the woods on a sunny day. There may be some caution, but there is also a whole lot of enjoyment. Imagine the serene look on his face as he casually observes his surroundings and continues along his path. On the other side, imagine an individual who has a catalog of information looped in the back of his mind about poison ivy, venomous snakes, on hiking as the third most dangerous outdoor activity, as well as a vivid picture of every horror movie set in the woods. Now, this individual is quite capable of pushing that catalog of information to the back of his mind, but it takes effort. Then, he certainly can enjoy the woods, but not without some mild anxiety as he watches for signs of trouble. The same "If...then..."  logical thinking that makes someone quite formidable in academic situations can be her undoing in social/emotional situations. This kind of thinking may be seen as pathological by some, and, perhaps, it may become so without proper guidance for the gifted student. However, research indicates that gifted individuals may be quite emotionally healthy despite the extra sensitivities and extreme reactions.
     As parents and teachers of gifted students, we must realize the potential complexity of social interactions for observant children and help them manage the "loop." If we understand how observant and how fast a child is with social information, then we can mentor him/her through managing social stress:

    1. Teach children about themselves. If they are sensitive, teach them to weigh what people say and guard their                 feelings with an intellectual filter. Teach them to deflect hurtful words, misdirected anger, and insensitive humor instead of         internalizing it. However, teach them to trust their intuition and to not excuse bad behavior/abusive behavior because they         know that they are too sensitive. If they are extreme, teach them to recognize and moderate their reactions until they have a     chance to express themselves without restraint in an appropriate environment. Teach them to ask themselves if they are in     an extreme situation or just having an extreme response. If they are keenly observant, remind them that there are many         reasons for people's reactions and that they cannot read minds.

    2. Teach children that people are flawed. Teach them that the black and white thinking that works in the physical             world (on/off) and lower level mathematics does not apply to social situations. Teach them that no one really knows what to     do all the time. Teach them to be forgiving of others and themselves. Model mercy AND proper boundaries.

    3. Give children a list of appropriate responses to say in awkward situations. Explicitly teach children about different     responses in different situations: how to get off the phone, how to disagree, how to acknowledge a faux pas, etc. Offer them     a menu of things to say when they don't know what to say, but avoid cliches.

    4. Teach children how to offer and accept an apology.

    5. Teach children to look for a compassion point and to focus on others. This helps combat the need to be right and     self-consciousness.

    6. Teach children to NOT model what's on "tweenie" shows or adult humor. Observant children will easily model             behavior that "gets a laugh" in order to get a laugh from others or break social tension. Hence, one negative manifestation of     gifted behavior is being rude to adults. We have to explicitly teach them that television behaviors are not acceptable for             real life. Example: Being sassy to your parent or teacher is disrespectful. They won't laugh. Moreover, adult humor like             sarcasm isn't funny out of a child's mouth.

    7. Teach global/divergent thinkers to acknowledge the transition. Often in conversation, a global/divergent thinker is         inspired by something someone says. The global thinker speaks his idea out loud, and it sounds inapropos, making the         speaker seem odd or rude for changing the subject abruptly. Simply acknowledging what was said and that it inspired               another line of thinking is all it takes.

    8. Explicitly teach boundaries. Allow children to have their own feelings but to express them appropriately, respecting         both themselves and others. Teach them that boundaries are flexible based on trust and different for different situations.             Model boundaries and talk about social situations in terms of boundaries.

    Above all, respect your child's energy limits in social situations and help her to understand that feelings of isolation do not mean that she is, indeed, alone in the world.



07/24/2013 5:10am

The article on the stress and the gifted brain was a great read. The tips to be a goof parent, discussed on the page are too good. I found this site very much helpful and have bookmarked the page for future use. Keep up the flow.

01/04/2014 1:31am

nice post thanks for sharing this

01/04/2014 1:33am

thanks for sharing this

02/23/2014 5:59pm

As one of those highly sensitive gifted kids, let me add... We are not all introverts!!! There is a whole other can of worms for gifted kids who are energized by others and crave community but are trapped by peers who think they are "weird" or "brainy." It's one thing for an introvert to not fit in who is just as content alone with their far-above-grade-level book, but for an extrovert, not having anyone to discuss their books and ideas with is torture. Not fitting in is hard for any kid, but for the highly sensitive gifted extrovert, having advanced classes and gifted programs is crucial to their social and emotional development. It's a very lonely personality to have - being a people person who just doesn't think the way their peers do... And often rejected by them for the very qualities adults praise them for.


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