Effectively Managing Family Interactions when Family Members Have Different Overexcitabilities.

By Debbie Michels, MS ED, MA and Teresa Rowlison, Ph.D.

Full title: Getting Over Overexcitabilities: Effectively Managing Family Interactions when Family Members Have Different Overexcitabilities.

According to Silverman (2008), overexcitabilities (OEs) are an innate tendency to respond to things in an intensified manner. Dabrowski’s concept of OEs was first published in 1937. OEs have been found to be good indicators of giftedness and creativity. Gilman (2008) states, “Dabrowski believed that such intensity and sensitivity enhance the self-actualization process and play a role in developing potential” (p. 258). The OEs are:


· Emotional – experiencing things deeply


· Imaginational – capacity to visualize, invent, and create


· Intellectual – inquisitive and reflective


· Psychomotor – a surplus of energy


· Sensual (Sensory) – intense responsiveness to sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell


Silverman (2008) states, “The various permutations and strengths of OEs at least partially account for the wide range of individual differences within the gifted population” (p. 161). Within families, these individual differences can mean that each family member has different OEs, and these OEs may actually conflict and result in very challenging family dynamics. According to Rivero (2010), “Learning how to use one’s sensual excitability for self-nurture without being self destructive is an important skill for them to master” (p. 60). In this case, “them” refers to all family members!


The authors have experienced such challenging family dynamics and wanted to offer recommendations to other families where OEs are involved. The first author is twice exceptional and so is her daughter. They both exhibit different OEs in all five areas. The second author is twice exceptional and her husband and daughter are both gifted. All three exhibit different OEs in all five areas. The authors have developed ten recommendations and provide research to support each of the recommendations. The recommendations can be used individually or in combination based on their effectiveness within a given family.


Research-Based Recommendations

The authors provide the following research based recommendations for effectively managing family interactions when OEs are involved:


1. Advocacy: Making sure your gifted children are receiving appropriate educational services at school has a strong impact on what happens at home. The more parents understand about giftedness and OEs, the better they can advocate for their children and make sure that their needs are being appropriately met, decreasing their frustration level.


It is important that gifted students receive appropriate educational services, because, if they do not, it will likely increase the distress at home (Mills, Reiss, & Dombeck, 2008). According to Rivero (2010), “you can offer a home environment that encourages work and diligence for the sake of personal satisfaction” (p. 110). Gilman (2008) emphasizes the need for gifted students to receive appropriate services as follows:


To normalize their experience in school…these options are needed to teach them new material daily, make them stretch, present them with hard enough problems that they must develop strategies to solve them (not melt down), teach them organizational skills that they won’t learn if the work is too easy, help them develop a reasonable work ethic, prevent them from being the “smartest kid in the class” who earns A’s but never has to work hard, allow them access to other students whose ideas they respect, and generally maintain their love of learning. (p. 325)


It is important to differentiate between talented and gifted in order to advocate appropriately for gifted children. Talent being something one has while gifted is something one experiences. According to Rivero (2010), talent can be used or be dormant, whereas giftedness “is not used or developed as much as it is experienced” (p. 30). Rivero goes on to say: Being on our children’s side requires great stores of personal resources such as creativity, patience, energy, and trust:


· Creativity to allow us to see our children’s needs as unique and to be flexible in our responses to those needs


· Patience to keep our eye on the long-term, lifelong process of learning to live in the world


· Personal energy to handle the emotional challenges of adolescence without sacrificing our own needs or internalizing our children’s struggles


· Trust not only that our children can learn to handle life’s ups and downs with confidence and even occasional grace, but that we can be there for our children, regardless of how painful or difficult the obstacles (p. 70).


From the authors’ perspectives these personal resources may be very difficult to provide our children but parents should strive to provide them as much as p