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If I am actually gifted, why do I discount my giftedness? (Counselling Articles)

Gifted adults frequently present reasons why they couldn’t possibly be gifted after I tell them that they are. They realize they are ‘different,’ but don’t recognize that the ways they are different are typical for the gifted.

I have listed several examples of the kind of arguments my clients present to explain that they could not possibly be gifted, as well as my responses.

1. Sometimes a client will tell me they haven’t accomplished very much. They may cite a history of leaving school and leaving home at a young age.

My response is often to tell the gifted individual that they have accomplished a great deal, given the home they came from.  I will share that the single most important protective factor they had as a child was the intelligence to be able to think their way through difficult situations, and to challenge what was done to them so that they emerged at least physically intact.

2. Sometimes a client will tell me they couldn’t possibly be gifted because they got through grade school and high school without much effort, but didn’t do particularly well in university.

My response is to suggest that they may have struggled in university because they did not develop good study skills in high school where they found the work to be easy. This lack of skills left them unprepared for the challenging workload they faced when they reached university . Others, who learned to study in high school, already possessed the skills and therefore performed better at university .

3. Gifted individuals, struggling to accept that they are gifted, will often tell me their children, spouse, or friends are gifted,  but will reject the label for themselves.

I often explain that we tend to marry and socialize with individuals of similar intelligence to our own. I will share that their offspring’s intelligence is statistically the mathematical average of their own intelligence and their spouse’s intelligence. We will discuss their children’s accomplishments, and they will smile, because it is easier to recognize their children’s mental abilities before their own.

4. Gifted individuals, especially women, will insist they are “not” gifted, as though this refusal is sufficient to stop my insisting that they are.

I will list their accomplishments and ask them to refute my claim that they are gifted. For example, I recently told a friend, playfully, “That’s right, Susan (not her real name). People of average intelligence frequently take a job in a developing country at the age of 61 to try to change the world… Travel around the continent for three years… Come home at 65 and take their master gardener’s examinations at 67… join the board of an international aid agency during retirement… and have a son completing a graduate degree… I must be wrong about your being gifted.”

5. Sometimes a gifted client will tell me they are not good at math, are a slow reader, or don’t read a lot of books as evidence that they are not gifted.

These refrains can be addressed one by one. First, I explain, the person who struggles with math or the slow reader may have a learning disability, which means they may function at a significantly lower level in one area of intelligence, and may have a jaundiced view of their global abilities based on their very real experience of struggling. Second, I explain that they may not read a lot of books because they never learned to love books, possibly because there were no books in the home they came from.

6.  Sometimes, a gifted client will tell me that they can’t be gifted because they have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. They will explain that nothing holds their attention.

My response to this claim will usually be to explore whether they meet criteria for a diagnosis of ADHD. Sometimes this proves to be the case, but does not mean they are not gifted. Frequently, “nothing holding their attention” will mean that they are under-challenged in their job rather than that they have ADHD. They may be required to perform under-stimulating, repetitive tasks that do not challenge their abilities, which causes their minds to wander, especially if they did not complete a higher education program.

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Dr. Patricia Turner, Registered Psychologist, Calgary, Alberta

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