How to Charm Gifted Adults into Admitting Giftedness: Their Own and Somebody Else’s

By Willem Kuipers.

In my current experience and view, the biggest “social issue of the gifted” is the painful misfit between implicit beliefs about giftedness by the non-gifted and the gifted alike and the actual or perceived reality of very many gifted adults.

That misfit leads to utter loneliness: It impedes the sharing of one’s deep feelings and experiences related to giftedness with others because of the belief that these have nothing to do with being gifted. It also leads to avoiding calling oneself gifted – even if the direct question is asked – because of strong inner convictions about not qualifying for that seemingly outstanding state of being. I feel this is strongly connected to the dominant belief that for adults their giftedness is defined by actual eminent achievement, with the tacit assumption that only something like a Nobel Prize will be sufficient proof of eminence. This belief leaves little room for differentiation between “what other people perceive you do” and “who you are” and obscures the relevance of well-established information about special personality characteristics of highly intelligent people, also called their “gifted identity.”

In the course of this article I will expand on some aspects of this gifted identity. The importance of being actively aware of such identity is explained in an article by Andrew Mahoney (1998), “In Search of the Gifted Identity.” In his article “identity” encompasses the complexity of all aspects of “who I am.”

In the summary of his article Mahoney states:

Knowing one’s giftedness and having a well-developed sense of identity as a gifted person are crucial for the development of the self. Many gifted people struggle with their giftedness, what it means to be gifted and how to develop that potential because there are few models available to assist in the identity development and counseling of gifted people (p.222).

In other words, it is essential for gifted people to be aware of their identity, of “who they are.” Additionally, their giftedness influences their identity; positive awareness of this influence is crucial for the development of their potential.

Mahoney introduces four constructs that influence the development of a gifted identity as a part of the whole self. They are:

1. Validation, an acknowledgement that one’s giftedness exists as corroborated by others and oneself.

2. Affirmation, the continual reinforcement of the nuances of an individual’s giftedness from learning, experiences, and environment through an interactive process between self and the world.

3. Affiliation, an alliance or association with others of similar intensities, passions, desires, and abilities.

4. Affinity, the attraction towards that which nourishes and resembles yourself, a mating of souls, spirit, and philosophy—not a yearning, but a calling.

He combines each of the four constructs with twelve “systems” (e.g., Self, Family, Family of Origin, Cultural, Vocational, Environmental, Educational, Social, Psychological, Political, Organic-Physiological, and Developmental) to illustrate the complexity of gifted identity and the identity formation process. Each combination of construct and system can be a topic of an assessment or a counseling intervention on how the client’s giftedness influences the expression and development of identity. Each combination can be a trigger to get a closer look on that aspect of identity, if that is relevant to the current situation. As Mahoney remarks: “… development and integration of one’s giftedness must be accounted for as a variable in the healthy development of the self’s identity across the life span.”

It is one thing to struggle with your giftedness and the development of your gifted identity when you have incomplete knowledge of the impact of your giftedness on your identity. But what about the effects of being convinced that you are NOT gifted, when you actually are?

Such gifted people will definitely not search for guidance on developing their gifted identity, and, indeed, guidance may not always be needed. However, in terms of Mahoney’s constructs, they may miss something: The absence of Validation and Affirmation, or the caricature of it (“of course I am not gifted, because…”) creates a missing link in the consistent explanation of their daily activities and experiences. Experiencing Affiliation and Affinity, while shying away from their intensity (because they have often been called too demanding, too sensitive, never satisfied, etcetera) offers them a life at half speed. Of course, these gifted adults do get somewhere, even at half speed, but feelings