Gifted people often find themselves in lose-lose situations: When they show themselves authentically and seek to meet their needs (e.g. asking critical questions, being assertive, not holding back their knowledge), they risk being rejected. If they hide their skills and needs, they avoid rejection, but at the same time, they deny themselves and thus risk boredom, under-exertion and frustration.
A gifted individual is often left to decide between these two alternatives. However, due to socialization and parenting processes, the decision-making process is often automatic and unconscious. Again and again, this results in inner tension, because neither of these two alternatives is satisfying. Some gifted people have become so used to this inner tension that they hardly notice it anymore, or perceive it as normal.
In my opinion, this so-called ambivalence dilemma cannot be completely dissolved, but it can be reduced.
In my practice, the following methods have proven helpful:
- Since many processes happen automatically, it is useful to question whether the fear of rejection is actually valid, or whether it is based on generalizations (and beliefs) from the past. For example: In the past, a partner left the gifted person, because of their giftedness. Now, however, they actually have friends who tolerate and appreciate this trait.
- By creating awareness for the ambivalence dilemma, you are able to weigh the pros and cons, and consciously decide what is more important in the situation at hand. Conscious decision making, as opposed to automatic decision-making, lets you regain control, reduces the feeling of helplessness and being at the mercy of something you don’t understand. You can create your life actively and according to your needs.
- High intellectual skills tend to be perceived as a threat and create envy, or feelings of inferiority in others, which is often the reason for rejection and dismissal. Sometimes, other people become competitive, without you intending to enter in a competition, or feeling like you are competing yourself. These, seemingly negative emotions and behaviors are actually healthy and have their roots and reasons in evolution: The more superior you are to others, the lower they descend in social hierarchy and the more likely it becomes for them to be denied vital resources, which, ultimately, could lead to death. Therefore, it is helpful to signal to the other that you are not a threat, do not intend to be perceived as a threat and do not see yourself as superior to the other. The more the other person feels appreciated, seen and treated as an equal – meaning, the better your relationship – the more you can authentically show yourself without effecting processes of invalidation and marginalization.
- It is also helpful to signal to the other that you are not superior to them in all areas of life and that you do not feel like “something better” than them. This could be expressing when you are unable to do something and ask the other for help, and/or expressing and appreciating what the other is better at than you. It helps when the other person realizes that they actually benefit from giftedness. You could, for example, take over the research from your colleague, because you enjoy it more, help your classmate during an exam (teachers need to come up with something different... :-)), or help the person who is struggling with their computer program. I would like to point out that this is not about denying or subordinating yourself, but rather about demonstrating: “Intelligence is just one trait of many. I am capable of a lot and you are capable of a lot. We support each other and we are a good team.” In the end, it is about an appreciative attitude towards people in general, which a gifted person sometimes needs to show deliberately, in order to appease the naturally arising fear and prejudice of others.
© Frauke Niehues