BEING EMOTIONALLY GIFTED
Perhaps you have always been aware of your ability in certain areas— for instance; you may have the capacity for strong, accurate gut instincts about people and events. Or maybe you are able to observe others to gather information from your surroundings highly accurately and astutely—but you have never called these abilities ‘gifts’.
Unfortunately, we live in a world that glorifies rational, ‘head’ intelligence such as intellectual capacity or reasoning ability, and values it higher than ‘personal intelligence’ or the more intangible, heart-based wisdom, including heightened capacities for empathy, justice, moral sensitivity, reflectiveness, self-knowledge and a drive towards personal growth.
An emotionally intense individual might also be intellectually gifted, or have talents and abilities in other areas of their life. However, the majority of them excel in other specific kinds of intelligence. One such example is having high ‘intra-personal intelligence’. This means you have a rich inner world, and are very insightful and perceptive beyond your years. It means being self- critical and evaluative.
Many of emotionally intense individuals also possess a high level of spiritual intelligence. They are more able than most to experience moments of awe, of beauty, of a sense of deep connection with the rest of humanity. When they are moved to tears by a piece of music, art, or natural scenery, they are having a moment of spiritual connection. (See below)
Unlike intellectual intelligence that can be picked up in an IQ test, body-kinesthetic intelligence which can be manifested on the sports ground, or musical talent that shows from an early age, your form of intelligence might be a quiet one. It is hidden and expresses itself such that you appear to be a deep and sophisticated thinker, or seem wiser than your years. But there is no official metric to measure your form of intelligen. It is also not something that people talk about.
Many emotionally intense individuals do not fully see or celebrate their gift because it is not lauded by society. Teachers are not trained to notice it, and parents are not told that their insightful child may be gifted. Thus, these children are left to struggle on their own. They can sense that they are somehow different from others, but no one has told them why or how to manage their uniqueness. Inevitably, many begin to believe that there is something wrong with them. Many grow up to be adults who have not learned to see or value their unique abilities, but instead carry the labels of ‘thinking too much,’ ‘feeling too much’, ‘too much in my head’.
Being ‘gifted’ does not mean you are superior, it may just mean that you are wired differently. It is essential that you recognise your giftedness to live authentically and do not beat yourself up when you find that you express yourself differently or possess specific needs that the majority of people don’t share or understand.
The following are some forms of under-acknowledged gifts that are commonly found amongst intense individuals.
DIFFERENT KINDS OF EMOTIONAL GIFTEDNESS
From an early age, children with high interpersonal intelligence show instances of empathy, unselfishness and consideration for others. These highly empathic and perceptive children feel and appear more mature because of their sensitivity, responsiveness, and insight into other family members’ pain. They seem like ‘old souls,’ aware of the suffering, hypocrisies, and complexities of the relational dynamic around them. This quality may result in children with high interpersonal intelligence falling into the role of confidant, counsellor, or even saviour within the family. They may even experience a kind of ‘role reversal’ with their parents, and feel overly-responsible for the afflictions of others. When they fail to heal the distress experienced by their parents and siblings, they may feel guilty and helpless.
This capacity for deep empathy and insight into others’ inner state may also bring about a kind of moral sensitivity that is beyond their years. These children tend to care about others, want to relieve pain and suffering or show an advanced ability to think about global ideas like justice and fairness. These unusually compassionate children are intensely aware of world issues and the feelings of others. However, being so sensitive may also make them vulnerable to feeling overwhelmed.
This specific trait is about a heightened capacity to be introspective. This kind of intelligence is essential for attaining a mature sense of self and a high level of inner wisdom. Introspective individuals are keenly and accurately aware of themselves, and they have a higher-than-normal level of self-knowledge. Gardner (1983, p. 252) describes the intrapersonally gifted individual as someone who engages in constant and continued development where he strives to become increasingly autonomous, integrated, or self-actualised. The end goal of these developmental processes is a self that is “highly developed and fully differentiated from others.”
It is in their intensified ways of experiencing, examining, and analysing themselves that the gifted grow in an expedited manner. These individuals constantly experience, in their whole being, the painful split between who they want to be and who they are now; this experience propels radical action and positive changes. These inner forces also often generate overstimulation, conflict, and psychic pain that are misinterpreted as pathologies.
It is precisely this ability to be the ‘self aware’ segment of the self—to go through sometimes painful self-examination—that enables these individuals to realise multidimensional development towards higher levels. In other words, the intense emotions that these individuals experience on a consistent basis are actually the impetus for tremendous growth. It is their tendency towards and the courage to constantly engage in such processes that makes them uniquely gifted.
Existential intelligence is defined by “a concern with ultimate life issues.” The core ability of this intelligence is the capacity to associate oneself with the existential features of the human condition, such as the significance of life, the meaning of death, the ultimate fate of the physical and psychological worlds, love of another person, or total immersion in a work of art (Gardner, 1999, p. 60).
Someone who possesses a high level of existential intelligence is constantly asking the questions: “Who are we?” “What’s it all about?” “Is there meaning in life?” And so forth.
As children, the existentially gifted may have a difficult time fitting in with those around them who are unable to comprehend their concerns and may dismiss them. Their teachers and parents may also fail to answer their questions about major, elusive topics.
Moreover, the existentially gifted are also more likely to experience a high degree of existential angst. Being aware of the finite quality of life and their own potential, they constantly feel propelled to move forward. This can manifest as constant restlessness, anxiety, insecurity, and other unpleasant sentiments.
Many existentially gifted individuals are idealists, able to consider the limitless possibilities of how things can be. It may pain them to see how the world is falling short. They may challenge existing values and traditions as well as any inconsistencies and absurdities they see in the world around them. They are on a constant quest to connect with something larger than themselves and seek answers about life’s obligations, opportunities and mysteries.
Unfortunately, when the existentially gifted person tries to share these concerns with others, especially when they are young, they are met with responses that range from apathy to dismissal to hostility. They soon realise that most people are more concerned with the mundane, thus they feel internally isolated and end up keeping their thoughts and feelings private until they find a community that shares their humanitarian concerns or a space that celebrates their particular interests and values.
Although we are all capable of and can work towards spiritual awakening, some people are more innately spiritually gifted.
Communion with the spiritual dimension can manifest itself in various ways. It may be through distinct changes felt in the body, infusion with a sense of strength that is beyond oneself, a strong sense of “pulsating energy with all living things” (Pieschowski p.257), or the feeling of being in harmony with the universe. Spiritual experiences among the spiritually gifted generally fall within these themes: unity, oneness, ecstasy, timelessness, and the interconnection of everything (Piechoski; Robinson and Hoffman; Lovecky, 1998).
Children with spiritual gifts often have the ability to induce heightened consciousness through meditation or fantasy play, show wisdom that seems beyond their years, and feel strongly connected to the world around them, their inner self, other people and God (or however a higher source is defined) (Piechowski, 2003).
Many individuals may not necessarily recognise or name their spiritual experience as such, but this doesn’t take away from the fact that they are more likely than others to have these experiences. They may encounter frequent moments of awe or deep appreciation of beauty in the arts or nature. These individuals are drawn to these experiences and are more likely to make room in their lives for them rather than to drown in the mundane. It is precisely their ability to enter these states more readily than others that makes them gifted.
Sadly, more often than not, spiritual aptitude creates more difficulty than ecstasy for the spiritually gifted child. Usually, when the child tells an adult about intense spiritual thoughts, the adult tells the child it’s wrong to have such ‘ideas’. The stricken child is then led to devaluing her experiences, instincts, and perceptions. In the worse cases, she begins to believe that she is ‘crazy’ and internalises shame that she carries into adulthood.
RECLAIMING YOUR TRUE IDENTITY
“Man has to pick up his functions as he goes along.”
– E.M Foster
I hope you have reconsidered what it means to be gifted.
Do you identify with some of these gifts or traits? While analysing your life’s course, did you demonstrate some traits of giftedness, especially in the domain of interpersonal/intrapersonal intelligence?
You may feel unable to reclaim your identity as a gifted person because of the social stereotype that the gifted are somehow above everyone. That is not the case; owning your giftedness is not about arrogance, but rather the need to be congruent with your capabilities, values, and place in this world.
Yes, being gifted means you have certain high abilities, but that comes with very specific needs that if ignored, will create physical and mental illness. Being able to honour your reverence for authenticity is essential to your growth and wellbeing. If you are indeed gifted but fail to recognise it as such, you may fail to respect your own need for solitude, reflection, agency, and autonomy. You may shame yourself for being different, for not being able to conform.
It is precisely your sensitivity and intensity that underpin your potential excellence. Thus, for the sake of your own growth and for those around you to benefit from your gifts, it is essential that you embrace your true identity in order to reframe your unique qualities as assets rather than liabilities.