Giftedness & Intensity/Complexity

A Broader idea of “Giftedness”

You may have been identified as Talented or Gifted ~OR~ 

You may be Gifted and not realize it.

The way the terms “Gifted” and “Intelligence” have been used can be overly exclusionary and limiting. 


There’s no doubt that the terms help some people, but they also abandon, or overlook many.  They can leave some people stigmatized, with an uncomfortable label. Or, they can lead others to focus on work in areas they excel in, but that perhaps don’t match their true natures.

Older assessments of giftedness were based on narrower definitions of intelligence.
Typically, the measurements were culturally and socioeconomically biased and relegated to the types of abilities valued by Western intellectual & artistic pursuits. Because of this, typical assessment is woefully inadequate. It is not designed to identify the range and areas of giftedness, high intelligence & ability in widely varied populations. This leads to failure in helping many children develop their talents. Equally problematic is the way these terms become inherently interwoven with societal values and ideas around specialness and worth. Which leaves many unidentified gifted children feeling that they are not smart or talented and therefore “less-than.”

Luckily modern psychologists continue to expand ideas about what constitutes giftedness & intelligence and the areas of ability in which talent can be found.
These include areas that traditional scholastic and intelligence tests do not gauge. This opens possibility not only for contemporary children to get support for fully developing their potential, but also for adults who either never validated, or developed, their areas of innate talent. It also offers a new perspective to gifted adults who feel the need to explore the extensive range of their talents for balance and fulfillment. Perhaps most importantly, it increases the possibility for struggling adults to receive therapy appropriately catered to common distresses experienced by gifted individuals.

With all of that said, even though the term “Gifted” is problematic, I persist in using it for two reasons:

First, it still functions, for me, as a critically important shorthand helping to identify a certain group of individuals and their psychotherapeutic needs.

Whether or not their talents were recognized in childhood, both groups share characteristics and traits that may impede the full development of their gifts, creating an inner yearning and a sense that something is missing. This often leads to frustration, anxiety, depression and general dissatisfaction with their lives. The lack of fulfillment can be a sense that accompanies a person throughout their life and/or becomes particularly exaggerated and insistent in mid-life or during other significant life transitions.

And secondly:

When it is stripped down to its essential meaning, the word “gift” conveys what our unique talents deliver, both to ourselves and to the world: an offering that springs from the depths of our singular expression of SELF.

Self-Awareness Counseling for Intensity/Complexity & Giftedness

veeterzy-60203-unsplashSensitivity, creativity, imagination, Intensity, depth, complexity and high-ability are characteristics often found in individuals identified as gifted. One of my specializations is in working with the overlap of traits inherent in the terms used to define“ The Highly Sensitive Person”, “Empaths”, “Creatives”, “Spirited”,“Talented” and “Gifted”.

The people who identify with any of these categories exhibit a wide variety of characteristics. Even more so when all are grouped together. However:

There are some psychological traits and needs, as well as developmental experiences, that many of these individuals will share. When these are overlooked, negated, denied or invalidated the “gifts” can turn into “curses” and leave an individual feeling isolated, misunderstood, anxiety-laden, depressed, immobilized or unfulfilled.

In my work, I bring together contemporary research and theories from the educational, psychological, counseling and neurobiological fields to understand the various ways that an individual might demonstrate uncommon or unique ability.
Working with a broader spectrum of giftedness allows me to help individuals understand their own particular talents, passions and learning styles, so they can find their own distinctive paths to creative fulfillment.

Because my work is not concerned with the measuring of talent or ability, I am free to work with the personality traits, psychological and emotional characteristics and conditions that these individuals will often have in common. This enables me to help clients with their own relationship to, and development of, their gifts. Which in turn helps with satisfying the strong inner drive many gifted individuals feel towards fulfilling their potential.

The work may look very different from individual to individual depending on their age, history, factors contributing to their current mental health, and issues they carry around their giftedness.
Sometimes it may focus on helping them reclaim their gifts. At other times, it is important to explore and reframe their childhood experiences (or in children–their current experiences) in terms of the level of support, opportunities and or pressure they either may have, or had, growing up. Then we determine the appropriate support and/or treatment, at this juncture, to facilitate their development both personally and of their abilities. Click here for more information about the Self-Awareness Counseling Approach .

Common struggles and experiences


While those who were not identified as talented or gifted as children will have important differences from those who went through school in advanced placement tracks, or Talented & Gifted programs or schools, you will probably see some of your experiences in both categories.

If your gifts were identified in childhood

You may have grown up with some of both the burdens, and advantages, of this label. For example you may have skipped grades and graduated early, but struggle socially with always being the youngest in groups or in other ways. You may get many accolades but feel self-conscious about it. Or, maybe you feel that because of expectations to always excel, you can never take a break . You may go deeply into detail and produce projects way above and beyond those of your peers or you may suffer with an intense drive to create, that doesn’t let you go, to name just a few.

If your gifts were not identified in school or in childhood

You may have suffered in different ways. The following are just a few examples:
You may have experienced the lack opportunity for development of your talents early in life. You may have lived in a family that actively put down academics or art and so pushed those desires away.  Depending on many factors, other than your intelligence, you may have failed tests or thought you were “stupid”. You may have skipped school or let your mind wander because you were bored with the classes.

Identified or not, there are many reasons why people may not have fully developed the potential of their talents.

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Here are just a few:

test/performance anxiety, social or general anxiety, panic attacks, other emotional or mental health issues, traumatic or unsupportive family life, learning disabilities paired with high intelligence/giftedness, intense shyness, lack of family resources, family responsibilities, English as a second language, conflicting cultural, social or religious values, expectations or pressures, bullying or social ostracizing, addictions, trauma, and many other non-conducive situations.

As you can see, there are many conditions, resources, opportunities needed to develop your gifts. We are who we are, whether these abilities are developed or not, whether we identify them or not. Identifying and developing our gifts is a lifelong journey and it is never too late to begin to value them.

Common Characteristics

You may find you relate just a few of these very intensely, or many. You may also find that you used to relate to some or many of these that you now have problems with. This is because, when prolonged anxiety, frustration, depression and hopelessness set in you can develop blocks, intense resistance, apathy and shut down in any of these areas.

  • Intensity/passion
  • Strong inner drive to create, learn, figure-out, or follow a passion
  • Holding high standards—“perfectionistic” or detail-oriented
  • Sensitivity–emotional or high preferences in any of the senses.
  • Perceptivity—Observant, highly nuanced sensory perception—in any of the senses
  • Empathy
  • Depth of Processing
  • Complexity (cognitive, emotional or psychomotor)
  • Innate skills in any of Gardner’s 9 areas of intelligence.
  • Creativity
  • Visionary–Inventive, Imaginative
  • Discomfort with change
  • Easily Overwhelmed
  • Persistence, Tenacity
  • Intense Curiosity & Questioning

Self-Awareness Counseling & Existential Crisis in Gifted Individuals

jorge-reyna-384359-unsplashMany of these individuals struggle at some point or another with “existential crisis”.
These are dark periods of psychological and emotional (sometimes spiritual) crisis where a person’s understanding of the world, and their place in it, is shaken. This results in a deep questioning of purpose, life’s meaning, and death. These junctures can be so extreme and fraught with anxiety and panic that a person might fear they are “losing their minds”. These periods can be triggered by any major transition or disruption of one’s life. It can leave the person feeling disconnected from the world, estranged from others, unmoored, lost, directionless and sometimes panic-stricken or hopeless. I have worked with people reporting these feelings and thoughts as early as 10 years old, with hints from their earlier childhood history that they could be prone to this level of existential contemplation.

Western culture in general, is very fearful and avoidant about sadness, anxiety, deep focus on life’s meaning, purpose and death. It is quick to identify these states as symptoms of mental illness. Yet, it is widely accepted in the Giftedness research that for those who exhibit talents or intensities in any of the realms of human ability, these crisis periods are likely, and even necessary, for their development.

jed-adan-5784-unsplashWhen supported, validated, and worked through fittingly, these periods of crisis can prove to be pivotal periods that move the individual forward in developing their innate potential.
The work at Self-Awareness Counseling helps tease apart developmental/existential crisis periods from entrenched and prolonged patterns of suffering that may truly be, or have become, a mental disorder. This enables the issues to be treated appropriately.

For More Information:

Click on the images below  (or on the right), or see the pages under the “Specializations” and “About Counseling” menus.

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