Letting Your Giftedness Out of the Closet

I recently became acquainted with Lisa Erickson, a local (you know, the old fashioned geographic way) counselor who has specialized in helping people who designate themselves or have been designated by others as "gifted." She told me about the publication of her article, Coming Out Gifted. I suspect I, as a psychiatrist, have lots of company in struggling with the idea that what might be wrong with someone is that there is too much right with them. How can one have trouble with superiority to the rest of us schmucks?

Lisa admits that her analogy falls short of perfection and lists a few ways in which "coming out" as gay differs from coming out or facing the ugly fact that one's intelligence or other capacities exceed those of others. I'll add a few, while admitting that I consider myself straight as an arrow, so what do I know?  Gay doesn't come by degree. Giftedness probably does. You either have a sexual attraction to the same sex or you do not. Even bisexuality seems pretty black and white. (Speaking of black and white, perhaps race might serve up a better analogy in the sense that one can be of or from any of a number of races to a differing degrees depending on ancestry.)

But not only does giftedness occur on a continuum, but where it starts is arbitrary, a judgment call. Even if you can substantiate your claim with results of an intelligence test or star status, there will always be the question of where to draw the line. However, by the very act of "coming out" as gifted, one would seem to be drawing a bright line, saying, "I am different from you." which others may hear as, "I am better than you." And unlike gay, there exists no moral or religious condemnation of smart or talented, no matter the degree.

Of most interest to me as a psychiatrist is the notion that we might mistake attributes of giftedness as evidence of a mental disorder like attention deficit disorder or bipolar disorder. While I accept the notion that individuals with extraordinary talent or intelligence may benefit from help in adjusting to their differences, we should arguably never view their superior abilities as illness. This is where the concept of "over-excitability" starts to excite me. I'm still looking for a rigorous definition, but what I've seen makes me think psychiatrists might easily confuse gifted individuals with those who have ADD or bipolar disorder. Not that we should think giftedness renders immunity to any mental illness. But most of the attributes associated with giftedness, even over-excitability(?), can occur in individuals who are not gifted.


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