Gifted children are often thought to grow up and be highly successful adults. However, this is not always the case. Gifted adults may not be as successful or well-rounded as one might think.
A small percentage of the population is gifted, but most adolescents feel disconnected from society and depressed. While it’s not clear if gifted adults are more likely to be depressed, not providing proper care to gifted adolescents can lead to depression later in life.
To fully understand this, we need to understand:
- What does it mean to be gifted and depressed?
- Gifted Trauma (the gifted child’s experience and the gifted adult’s life)
- Therapy as a gifted adult
Redefining the Loaded Terms “Gifted” and “Depression”
It is important that we are clear about the meanings of the words “gifted” and “depression” because they have been misunderstood and preconceived by society and even psychiatry for many years.
“Gifted” is mostly an administrative term as far as academics are concerned. There is no one definitive way to identify gifted individuals, but there are some guidelines. Most of the time, giftedness is based on the idea of having a high IQ, being good at learning or achieving, or being talented. However, this definition is out of date and rather limited. Psychologists and psychiatrists are increasingly realizing that being gifted must also include having high levels of emotional intelligence and/or spiritual intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is subdivided into intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence. Intrapersonal intelligence allows individuals to be self-aware and to monitor their emotions, reactions and motivations. Interpersonal intelligence, on the other hand, deals with the ability to understand and interact effectively with the emotions, reactions and motivations of others. Furthermore, the text mentions that spiritual intelligence is difficult to define, but it is often associated with intuition, existential thinking, life’s purpose and the development of personal meaning.
We need to expand our definition of “gifted” to include different types of intelligence that can’t be measured by IQ, but are still valuable ways of acquiring and applying information.
There are many different types of depression, each of which requires its own unique clinical and social approach. Some of the more common stereotypes surrounding depression (tired all the time, lazy, unhappy, weepy, ghosting plans all the time, chronically canceling plans, guilt) are harmful and do not accurately represent the entire picture.
Signs of existential depression may differ from those of major depression, gifted people may exhibit different mental health issues than “normal” people
Being Emotionally, Energetically Gifted
Although gifted people are often very intuitive and observant, they can also be easily overwhelmed by all the sensitivity and intensity are two common traits of gifted people. They are often more aware of subtleties and their brain processes information more deeply. This can be a good thing, as it makes them very perceptive, however it can also be overwhelming as they are constantly bombarded with social nuances and others’ emotional energy.
Different people have different brains. Studies have found that some people are born with brain characteristics that make them more likely to be emotionally or intellectually intense, sensitive, and responsive to outside stimuli than most people. This includes people who are gifted, although their situation is often not recognized.
You may still have concerns about using the word “gifted.” Here, “gifted” does not simply refer to someone with a high IQ, but rather to a different way of being. This is a form of neurodiversity. “Gifted” in this context does not just mean being “talented.”
-Since gifted people think and feel more, they often reach their limits quicker -Gifted people are more emotionally and energetically sensitive, which can make them seem ‘too much’ to people who don’t understand
The developmental differences between gifted people and others become apparent at around 18 months old. Gifted people can sense that the way they experience the world is different from others and feel like they are outsiders. This feeling of not belonging can be unsettling for gifted people.
Many gifted and sensitive people have internalized the belief that there is something wrong with them because of the lack of awareness and understanding in the world. They may feel like they are “too much” or even “toxic.”
The Wounds of “Being Too Much”
Many challenges that gifted adults face stem from their childhood, when they were seen as ‘being too much.’ This isolation can be compounded by other factors.
The biggest potential source of wounding for emotionally, intellectually or spiritually gifted people often comes from their families.
You might have been born with emotional sensitivity, strengths, and empathic abilities that are more than what anyone in your family can imagine. You may have a sense of how you are different but are not able to put a name to it. But if you were born with an old soul, the ability to see hidden dynamics and generate penetrative insights, the wound of being “too much” can follow.
Subtly Rejected for ‘Being Too Much’
Gifted people experience the first layer of wounds from their parents’ implicit rejection of them. Your parents may feel intimidated by your penetrative insights. In one way or the other, they have a felt sense that you can see through them— their vulnerabilities, hypocrisies, mistakes, and weaknesses… everything they would normally hide from their children.
Your parents might have felt threatened by your abilities even when you were a child. To protect themselves, they might have put up a wall and pulled back from you. As a child, this could have made you feel rejected and abandoned. You might have felt unsafe and helpless in your own home. These feelings can follow you into adulthood.
If you confront your parents with something they don’t want to hear, they may respond defensively, angrily, or coldly instead of giving you the support you need. This is more likely to happen if your parent is not emotionally mature.
When you were younger, it may have felt like you “lost” the parent who was supposed to be there for you. Emotionally, you have been like a metaphorically orphaned.
Gifted People are Often Parentified
Gifted children are often expected to fulfill the emotional needs of their caregivers Gifted children are often expected by their caregivers to fulfill emotional needs in addition to their own.
Since you have always been good at taking care of things and helping your parents when they needed it, you have probably been parentified. This might have been in the form of physical help, like with technology or language, but it could also have been more subtle, like having to watch your parents be sad and vulnerable a lot and feeling like you needed to protect or comfort them.
They sense your empathy and emotional strengths and rely on you to be their support, which can feel like a burden. If you were parentified, you may still have a strong sense of responsibility for others today.
If you are a gifted person, it is likely that your siblings also see you as more like a parent than your actual parents. If your parents were emotionally unstable or abusive, you may have had to take on the role of protector for your siblings and speak up on their behalf when you saw injustice. Your parents may then have labeled you as the ‘difficult one’, reinforcing the role of scapegoat or ‘black sheep’ that you had to play in the family.
Becoming the person everyone relies on in times of crisis is a big responsibility. Your empathy and sensitivity might make you the perfect candidate for the role of ‘family therapist.’ Even today, people turn to you when they are in distress.
You may find it difficult to change the pattern of taking care of your family member even when you are a grown-up.
Gifted Adult Therapy
Even if you had therapy as a gifted child, it’s nothing to be ashamed or guilty about if you need it as a gifted adult. It’s never because of something lacking in you. You’re a whole, worthy person who just needs someone to coach you on a personal level.
Therapy for gifted adults should be different than therapy for more median folk. A gifted adult will most likely be knowledgeable about their issues and able to discuss them on a more complex level than a therapist is used to having. This may lull some into thinking that their gifted client doesn’t have mental health issues. However, just because a gifted adult understands their mental health condition does not mean they are thriving through it. A gifted adult client may know they are gifted, and so are struggling with understanding the cause, or perhaps exacerbating the presented symptoms.
The therapy for gifted adults might include multiple therapists or changing therapists. This might be caused by the differences in the giftedness or they might be trying to personalize their treatment plan.
Mental health issues can look different in gifted adults, which can make diagnosis difficult. For example, somebody might have clinical or major depression, when in fact they are experiencing existential depression. This is also true for positive disintegration as clients go through healing and self-actualization.
There may also be gifted trauma involved, which is trauma that is specific to gifted individuals. Gifted trauma may originate from childhood experiences of feeling like an outsider because of one’s intellectual abilities. Bullying, being deprived of mental stimulation, attending a school that does not fit one’s needs, and other issues faced by gifted children can contribute to both the main mental health issue and gift-specific trauma.
Gifted clients usually need a highly personalized approach to therapy, so using multiple therapeutic approaches is key to success for both the client and the therapist. For example, a bullying issue in the past could be addressed with cognitive reframing, but depression could be treated with Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation.
There is a lack of information and resources available about gifted adults and therapy, and navigating gifted therapy is a newer discipline. We encourage you to reach out to support groups and take seminars to expand your knowledge and support network, either as a patient or as a therapist.
If you are a gifted individual, it is likely that you have experienced some mental health issues at some point in your life. Some of these may be due to experiences related to your giftedness, while others may be a result of your giftedness itself. However, all of these issues are treatable and should not be seen as invalidating your identity as a gifted individual.