On the Naming and Describing of Giftedness

If you’re not a professional in gifted education, you may not be aware of the fight over the term “gifted” that’s being waged between two factions with competing educational ideologies.  On one side we have academics who want to shift the focus to a product-centered talent development model; on the other are those who prefer to focus on child-centered personal growth, according to two of my favorite voices in the gifted community, Stephanie Tolan and Michael Piechowski, in their chapter in Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child (2013).  They’re responding to a monograph by Rena F. Subotnik, Paula Olszewski-Kubilius, and Frank C. Worrell, in which the authors assert that giftedness must necessarily be connected to adult eminence; otherwise, an adult has no claim to talk about “giftedness.”

I confess I’ve not yet dissected the entire monograph, so I’ll limit my comments to their definition and and how it relates to the reasons I talk about giftedness (though I have concerns that run deeper than what I’ll post today).  But it strikes me that redefining “gifted” to mean “eminent” seems to mean that, more than ever, labeling a kid as gifted would officially mean “more likely than the other kids to be eminent some day, but a failure if they haven’t lived up to this by age 24 or so.”  Again, I haven’t read the full monograph and am sharing my first-blush response, but hey, first-blush responses are important.  Here is the background from the monograph:

In 2003, Subotnik commented on the surprise she had felt a decade before at realizing that graduates of an elite program for high-IQ children had not made unique contributions to society beyond what might be expected from their family SES and the high-quality education they received (see Subotnik, Kassan, et al., 1993), and posed the following question to readers: “Can gifted children grown up claim to be gifted adults without displaying markers of distinction associated with their abilities?” (Subotnik, 2003, p. 14). Several years later, Subotnik and Rickoff (2010) contended that the answer is no: (a) Gifted children need to become eminent producers to be labeled gifted as adults. (Subotnik, Olszewski-Kubilius, and Worrell, 2011, p. 23).

Subotnik et al also disregard the idea that the experience of those labeled gifted is at all different, which further suggests that there’s no need to pay attention to adults who have ever been given this label.  On this note, I’m with noted gifted educator Annemarie Roeper, and Stephanie Tolan and Michael Piechowski, and Paula Prober, whose counseling practice focuses on the unique experiences of gifted adults and who coined the term “rainforest mind,” and all those others who have observed directly and repeatedly that there is something different here worth naming and talking about.  It is close to indisputable to me that there is a real lived experience shared by many people who are so labeled.  To be sure, the gifted are a diverse population, and it would be interesting to dig into the various subgroups from among all those who score high on IQ tests.  But my discovery of the “rainforest mind” concept has most definitely helped me make sense of and overcome challenges in my life—not merely as a child, but as an adult.  And I’m far from the only one.


And I for one certainly have no claim to the eminence that Ms. Subotnik thought her gifted students ought to achieve.  So I’m concerned that, if this new definition takes hold, it’s going to be harder and harder to talk about the experiences of this group, because we non-eminent people won’t have a term we can Google to find others talking about eerily similar lived experiences.  And those who could benefit in the way I did will not.  Instead they’ll be lost, like my dad was.

I’m not a credentialed expert, but from my reading and experience, I’ve come to suspect that IQ tests are far from an ideal measure of that broad and multifaceted thing we call “intelligence”; while at the same time, IQ does seem to measure one flavor or aspect of it that is perhaps especially significant to distinguishing between the broader contingent of intelligent people and this neurodivergent subgroup, with brains are particularly adept at precisely what those early tests were able to measure, with certain implications.  I discuss that more in another post; for now, if you’re not on board, it will suffice to encourage you to glance over the variety of definitions that the experts have come up with, to see how varied “intelligence” really is.

So even if Subotnik and Friends win and we’re no longer dubbed “gifted,” the population with this sort of mental wiring still needs to be named.


Others have proposed some good synonyms: there’s Paula’s rainforest mind, as I mentioned earlier, and there’s asynchronous, which also suits a real purpose, especially for parents who are trying to describe the struggles of raising children of this sort without sounding like they’re bragging.

If someone asked me to come up with a nice neutral term that points to what I see as essential in the population I insist on naming, I’d propose the term abstract-intensive.  We are abstracters, theorizers, ideators, and connection-makers—and we do these things (and most other things) intensely, even overexcitably.  This is the source of both our strengths and our weaknesses.

And to be sure, I do agree with Subotnik and Company when they argue that being empowered to fully develop one’s potential is definitely in line with the focus on quality of life that is at the heart of the personal growth model of giftedness.  But as Tolan and Piechowski wisely point out,

It may be critical to note that among the high achievers in the past, some whose creative contributions changed the world were not recognized as talented.  They were instead seen—as children and some of them well into adulthood—as bizarre, odd, difficult, or crazy.  Only after their asynchrony produced something useful were they recognized as “genius.” (p.15)

So it seems self-evident that we need educational and social environments that allow abstract-intensive kids (and adults!) to grow and develop.  This will have the effect of both empowering those among us who will eventually make eminent contributions, and helping the vast majority who will never be eminent to still make their best contributions—and be happier all the while.  Actual astronomers will find it much easier to identify potential real supernovae than would teachers who seek to pick potential figurative supernovae from a crowd of star students, that’s for sure.  And what about the kids who aren’t identified for this program?  Are they precluded from eminence?  Certainly one need not be an abstract-intensive to be eminent!


The problem with naming this population isn’t going to be resolved with one very non-eminent blogger’s post, though, so I still have to find some way to use all these words to convey what I mean.

Which brings me to a thought that I had, based on my study of the Japanese language.  See, in Japanese, there’s this thing called keigo 敬語, or honorific language.  The expression of honor and humility are so important in Japanese society that they’ve got three levels of speech to express it: ordinary speech, honorific (sonkeigo 尊敬語) to refer to those with higher social status, and humble (kenjougo 謙譲語), to refer to yourself in a way that puts yourself on a lower plane of status.  For example, we US Pavilion Guides at the 2005 World Expo in Nagoya would use the honorific goran ni naru ご覧になる to elevate our pavilion guests as we directed them to look at an exhibit; and when we were going through passport control at the airport, the officer would lower himself by using the humble form haiken suru 拝見する even though he was actually demanding to see our passports.  Those both mean “to see/look at,” even though the ordinary form you’ll learn in your textbook for “to see/look at” is miru 見る.  Yeah, Japanese is fun.

So it struck me that when I say “weird-brained” (as I often do when I want to talk this concept), I’m using a form of humble language to lower myself like that passport officer.  Even without adding eminence to the definition, most of us already have the instinct to treat “gifted” as an honorific, and in Japanese, you’d never use sonkeigo to refer to yourself; you seem to be raising yourself up above others.  That’s why most of us are so uncomfortable applying it to ourselves, and why I and others have tried to develop alternatives.

Running further with this analogy, “rainforest mind” is a little like adding -chan (an affectionate, familiar suffix), “asynchronous” is a little like -kun (used for those who are equal or inferior to you, as with a teacher to a student), and “abstract-intensive” is just a normal polite form.

“Eminent,” of course, would only make sense for a wholly different level of person, like the suffix -sama.  Beginning Japanese learners (especially those who have watched anime with regal characters) sometimes want to use -sama for people they respect, but this generally sounds quite silly, unless you’re hanging out with the Emperor.

Which, come to think of it, isn’t wholly dissimilar from the way some are proposing to use the G-word.

President Obama hanging out with the Emperor and Empress


21 thoughts on “On the Naming and Describing of Giftedness

  1. War is peace
    Freedom is slavery
    Gifted is eminence
    But all children are gifted

    This is a classic case of people redefining a problem out of existence so they in no way have to change how they think or act. It’s like how racists say blacks must be inferior because the do badly in school and get worse jobs. It has the same perfect circular logic because the experiences of the gifted in childhood largely determine what they become as adults – whether the headline ends up reading SCIENTIST MAKES BREAKTHROUGH or MANIAC STALKS CITY. So this allows judgment to be deferred until it’s too late to do anything about it (the classic abortion clinic with a nine month waiting list). It glosses over the pervasive jealous obstruction of lesser men and when your life turns into a nightmare they can turn around and say “tough luck guess you weren’t gifted after all”. It also relies on what neurotypicals think gifted looks like and creates the impression you have to be Tony Stark – genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist – in order to be gifted. And since it’s not actually possible to be Ironman, gifted doesn’t really exist. Also why the gifted would want to rise to eminence surrounded by people who hate them in a world that disgusts them is unclear.

    That’s one half of it. The other is Subotnik is clearly a venture capitalist or Mafia Don who wants a return on her investment. She’s basically got the collective gifted tied to a chair in a shipping container in an abandoned quarry, pistol-whipping them screaming WHERE’S MY MONEY?

    I will always stand by the word gifted. It may be the first good thing a child hears about themselves.

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    1. To be fair to the authors, I don’t think they’d argue that all children are gifted. Those are two different groups. And I think the “all children” are less wrong than the “eminence” group. (To the former I’d say, “okay, so, this is a matter of definition, and when we use the word ‘gifted’ it means x, y, and z,” while to the latter I’d just say, “No. That’s wrong. And harmful in many ways.”) Though I didn’t go into all the ways it’s harmful because, as I noted, it didn’t seem fair to rip it apart when I hadn’t finished reading the paper yet. But I definitely also reacted negatively to it, perhaps more than I let on here.

      And to be clear, I am not for getting rid of the word! I would indeed keep it so as to have that honorific term for those who had only had the humbling term applied so far. In line with what you said about young people’s experiences affecting what they become (which is of course true), I’d posit that they also affect their reaction to the term gifted. If you’ve been living in a cupboard under the stairs, it does wonders to have the Hogwarts groundskeeper show up and tell you you’re a wizard. (And on that note, your life story ought to be required reading for Subotnik and Friends.) At the same time, my childhood experience made me closer to ambivalent about it (not negative–it was a Hogwarts moment for me too), as will be made clear in an upcoming post. 🙂 My present experience also relates, as I do want to be able to discuss the experience without the elite connotations, and a lot of parents and teachers would like to have such a word in their toolkit, too. So having some synonyms to choose from can be useful here…and maybe will help some kids have a more positive experience, grouped with others like them.

      I will probably read the paper at some point, so I may have more things to say about this absurd eminence idea later on.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I knew the ‘gifted is eminence’ and ‘all children are gifted’ were different but it suited the Orwellian absurdity I was going for. I also wouldn’t be surprised if someone found a way to combine both as an excuse to not do anything for the gifted.

        Describing them as ‘Subotnik and Friends’ just made me think of a Soviet Bloc spinoff of Thomas the Tank Engine.

        I have now read the whole think. “Giftedness reflects the values of society” – way to lose me on the first page dude. The sense of entitlement ot what the gifted can provide actually reminds me of Stalinist-era writing about the role of sport training and physical culture in the Soviet Union. The section on elite training institutions is very interesting though and ironically includes a Soviet science school. Even that kind of training would have been better than what we got. I would have enjoyed being selected for a government super-soldier programme. It would probably have been their only shot at securing my loyalty.

        But the true win from reading it all is discovering there is a man called Clinkenbeard. That’s a name worthy of Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson or Mervyn Peake. What would a character called Clinkenbeard be like?

        The monograph does suggest something more worrying. Subotnik was looking at graduates of gifted programmes and, assuming they got in soon enough and the programme wasn’t completely mismanaged, you’d expect to see some differences. Even if they didn’t achieve greatness you’d expect them to at least not spend their days festering in their lair, plotting their revenge on the world. It reminded me of something I commented on then promptly forgot about: http://www.jadeannrivera.com/what-it-means-to-be-gifted/ It seems the prognosis for the gifted may not be good even under ideal circumstances. I’m not sure how much we should draw attention to this as it’s not going to make getting anything for the gifted any easier. A follow on question from that thought – how much do we want gifted education to be government policy instead of a rebellious counterculture?

        I was thinking about the idea of the rescue fantasy and how often it and the idea of a place for the gifted comes up in media. As well as Hogwarts there is Xavier’s Academy from X-Men, the gifted school in The Simpsons that would have been Martin Prince’s salvation if Bart hadn’t stolen his place there, Orchestra in Believe (although portrayed as starting good and turning evil), Summerland in Legion, and the Helios Society in the Knight Rider episode ‘Chariot of Gold’. I loved Knight Rider back in the 80s but I only saw a few episodes and now I’m watching them all. I’m ambivalent about whether it would have been good to have seen that episode back then. On one hand it was about an organisation of geniuses who had an awesome mansion. On the other it perpetuated some stereotypes about the gifted, they turned out to be the villains and their plan wasn’t even any good.

        You can also see my diseased ravings on the rescue fantasy here http://crushingtallpoppies.com/2015/04/13/what-about-the-gifted-children-who-got-left-behind/#comment-46110

        I can see what it could have looked like for real so clearly. I was IQ tested so the first step actually happened. I’ll always have love for the Gifted Development Center because it reminds me so much of where I was tested. Except the place I went was ugly 1960s brutalist architecture and was a comprehensive community health centre. How many people can say they were IQ tested at an sexual health clinic? Most of the gifted organisations were formed in the late 70s and early 80s so were around when I needed them. In Britain the National Association for Gifted Children had been around since the 50s or 60s I think. Stephanie Tolan’s Guiding the Gifted Child came out in 1982. The cover of that book looks just like so many published at that time and I can see all those period details so clearly. Everybody has a different idea of what a gifted school should look like but I wouldn’t have cared. It could have looked like a high tech research lab, had magnificent gothic architecture, been a cottage with Thomas Kinkade-level cosiness, or been even more brutal brutalism. And somewhere in that school would have been a book titled Democratic Education for Gifted Children. History forks in 1986 and I live a life I can’t even imagine. I can dream.


        1. I still haven’t read the monograph so I can’t comment much further, but you do touch on an interesting point that I can ramble on about a bit — specifically, that of a successful outcome for gifted people.

          I don’t wholly object to the notion that society defines what “giftedness” is. A gift, after all, is generally agreed to be a good thing, and calling a person gifted suggests they have something that everyone else agrees is desirable or enviable. If giftedness is actually largely about misery (along the lines of “if this is a gift, can I return it?”) then it’s not really a very good “gift.” What I do object to is the notion that the group this word has traditionally pointed to isn’t somehow worth identifying and understanding. It’s a real group with some significant things in common, for better or worse, and so it deserves to be named something that is, if not positive, than at least neutral. (For the different uses of positive and neutral terms, I refer you back to my original post!)

          So what of the possibility, referenced in some of your linked comments as well, that the gifted are just wired to be miserable? I don’t actually think that’s the case. (We may have some built-in challenges, but so do the majority of people on the planet.) I am thinking of a dissertation on gifted adults that I read recently (I can track down the reference if you like but don’t have it handy at the moment) in which the author studies what it means for gifted adults to be “seen” and how this affects their life experiences. Among the people in her study, the one who didn’t see any need for being acknowledged as “gifted” as an adult was one who had been placed in gifted education, with other highly gifted peers, throughout his education and just felt normal because of it. Whether that person was also subject to the intensities we like to discuss here, and if so whether he did or did not learn to cope with/manage them, I can’t recall. So there is some counter-anecdotal evidence to the notion that the gifted are just going to suffer regardless.

          I also think of Max here. When I first met him, I wasn’t sure we’d really click on a deep level because I understood that he enjoyed high school and made a lot of lasting friendships there. The same can’t be said for me, so I assumed we were just very different. Then it turned out that he was in a magnet program with a lot of people who went on to get PhDs and otherwise have engaging, abstract-intensive conversations with each other. (They were perhaps more of one specific subset of the gifted group — namely, the math/science geeks, since that was the magnet’s theme, but Max is actually a humanities person and still clicked with them, and I tend to click with them too.) So Max was able to have a very happy time in his life when making friends was easy because he was with others who were compatible with the way he thought. Then he came into the Real World and wondered what happened. He doesn’t think he’s superior to others, to be sure; just not compatible with that many people. A “fish flavored jelly bean” is how he put it.

          So, those are just some anecdotes to think about on the nature of happiness for gifted people. As for whether they’re productive, I think that tends to happen in situations where they’re happy, which is another tangent I won’t follow for today. 🙂


  2. A couple of weeks after escaping from working in a sheltered factory I sat the entrance test for Mensa. Scored within the top percentile (something which has been replicated via formal testing since I became neurologically disabled), and went ahead and joined Mensa in a bid to make friends.

    One thing I learned during my time as a member was that the effects of severe childhood abuse paired with a lack of formal education, held much more weight than ‘like IQ’ as far as my ability to fit in was concerned. I made zero friendships within the organisation over the 16 years I was a member.

    When I was in that sheltered factory (fitting scrabble pieces in 10 x 10 templates for example; paid a couple of dollars a day) I was called into the manager’s office for an appraisal. They told me I was doing pretty well, and the ideal outcome would be for me to one day work in a “real factory” (the work at the one I was at certainly *felt* real…).

    The punitive, critical introject in me says “Gifted is as gifted does”. But the truth is, we can’t always ‘see’ giftedness – we don’t know how it’s being put to use (or how it has been repressed) in a person’s life.

    My own ‘gifted’ label doesn’t count for much. There are many ways to hamper a gifted individual’s development so that the question of inate intellectual ability becomes irrelevant as far as the wider world is concerned. The way I see it, many gifted adults were robbed long ago – this drive toward an eminence model is nothing new; I’d argue that it’s largely in line with status quo.

    As a gross underachiever, I do notice the eminence bias even amongst professionals who claim (aim?) not to perpetuate it. I read about gifted adults who *feel* like underachievers, but there’s a long list of their impressive achievements that goes alongside – and serves to show us that true gifted adults *are* high achieving, but just *feel* as though they are not.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for this really honest and thoughtful reply, Ro. Your experience and Darkest Yorkshire’s experience are quite different, but I think Subotnik et al would do well to study both your experiences to see the wide range of people who have this type of mental wiring, and how it can manifest in life in different circumstances, and what that will mean for the person in question.

      I think you’re right that the eminence model is nothing new. To be frank, I fear that what it basically is is an attempt to dismiss all the work done by the people who like Dabrowski and OEs and otherwise talk about the lived experiences of these sorts of people, who may or may not ever be eminent, cleaning us out of what some people have been trying to do all along.

      Your point about the high achievement of gifted adults who just *feel* like underachievers is an important one. (Though to be sure, Subotnik et al’s definition would toss out even most of those high-achieving adults, because they haven’t revolutionized anything.) It makes me think of the experience of stay at home parents (which usually means moms but I know one highly gifted dad in this boat, and the experience is different for him). They hear very strongly the message that their giftedness is “wasted” because they’re not “contributing to society.” Frankly, the idea that people who are “merely” parents can’t be “gifted” is not just offensive but misguided in a practical sense. The lived experience of abstract-intense giftedness is going to make a difference there, too, especially if it’s shared by both parent and child. (And for those who are neither in a high status job nor a parent, my larger point still stands!)

      Tell me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like the “OMG wow other people are also like this!” experience that I’ve had in reading about adult giftedness is out of reach in your case. 😦 At the same time, I relate to what you said about the high IQ societies…I haven’t tried to join because it sounded like just one slice of a broader gifted community, and not necessarily the part of it I was looking for. We are, most definitely, a diverse group. I’ve met a few gifted people who had minimal formal education, and I’ve seen the cultural chasm between them and others. (Of course, it makes me think of my dad, who was the intellectual equal of the chemistry PhDs but didn’t have anyone help him get there. 😦 ) The highly educated often seem to miss the self-generated insights that the less educated but highly gifted people generated on their own. It’s like education filled their brains with data, but didn’t train them to recognize a striking thought when they hear it….

      It sounds like your experience could be described not merely as 2e but 3e. (How would you react to a term like that? For those not versed in the lingo: 2e, or twice-exceptional, refers to being gifted and having a learning disability. Or any disability? I’m not sure.) I mean, there’s having a disability, and there’s being an abuse survivor…that seems to count as not merely one but two huge weights hung on you. So, would you say that the abstract-intense experience compounded the negative experiences of your life in any way. And/Or, did it lighten any of your loads?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suspect that my intellect (paired with a long history of using it to plan escape from danger and entrapment) is the only reason I’m not living in the psych residence I was being railroaded into living in just as I met D, and drugged to oblivion (again). One of the stipulations of living in that residence was that I take major tranquilisers again – something I’d taken myself off after realising I was only awake for 7 hours/day and had become morbidly obese.
        Apologies for the very incomplete response Jessie. My health is in a dive but I’ll return some other time to respond properly.
        But in short: No, I’ve never had that “OMG wow other people are also like this!” moment. Except in more recent times I’ve found another ex-Mensan in an online women’s healing circle – we kind of instinctually ‘recognised each other’. And I’ve noticed gifted people writing in a ‘raised by narcissists’ online community that I generally try to stay away from but… yeah. Those people tend to write about what losers they are. So in a small sense, there is some relatability there.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Ro, please don’t feel obliged to respond, particularly not at length! Your comment was worth really diving into, but not in a way that puts pressure on you. (And I often take a while to respond myself, so once again, please don’t feel pressured.)

          Thank you again for this very honest and personal story. I have a strong sense that this will matter very much to a few people out there who might stumble across it, and will have other worthwhile effects on a broader group still. ❤

          Liked by 1 person

      2. I hear you about your Dad, Jessie. He sounds like the coolest man, by the way.

        “There isn’t anything that (Ro) couldn’t learn and understand”.
        I found my IQ assessment report from 2011. That one statement written in the report caused a kind of lump in my throat at the time, and has stayed with me. When I read it I immediately knew it not to be true, in a functional sense. So what makes me different from other people who score similarly on IQ tests, I wondered?

        Looking back over my life, my smarts seem to have been funelled towards survival – and later, regaining/retaining a sense of autonomy. During my early years, I lived under the shadow of a (literally) homocidal and psychopathic father. He got a microscope? He’d want to look at things under it. He’d turn to us kids and take what he wanted, including blood. That kind of stuff… I always thought of him as a ‘mad scientist’ type though he was a leather upholsterer. He practiced torture techniques on me. He will never see one day inside a prison cell for what he did (I tried – the rest of the family stonewalled/visciously verbally and emotionally attacked me for going to the police and giving an initial 7 hour statement. My life was at risk as a result so I dropped the case).

        When I was a teen, my father admitted to shaking me as an infant (“You wouldn’t stop crying, so I shook you and shook you and shook you, and nearly threw you against the wall”) as well as sitting in his friend’s shed with a gun in his mouth, and nearly strangling my mother to death one day when her back was to him as she did the dishes… he welled up with rage and came “this close” to killing her then and there.

        I grew up very much aware that my life was in danger. And most of my energies were focused on not merely waiting for the day to come, but locating and camouflaging ‘safe spaces’, practicing running to them from different areas on the farm property with my 18-months-younger sister, stowing my ventolin inhalers in these safe spaces… that kind of thing. I was about 6 years old when the planning started to become more sophisticated like this.

        Though my parents divorced by the time I was 12, and I ceased all contact with my father when I was 15, my mother became severely psychologically abusive during my teen years. It was as though she finally ‘woke up’ out of ghost mode, and emerged as an absolute monster. My sisters followed suit and used to tell me to go kill myself (including how) and my younger sister used to throttle me until I was on my knees unable to talk, blacking out. I do understand she learned that from our father. In honesty, I know she was young and messed up… but her abuse really did a number on me too. It’s more to come to terms with and recover from.

        I was the Identified Patient of the family unit during my teen years. I had severe PTSD, but my mother was not capable of loving nor caring for me. So I was hospitalised, very heavily drugged… I lost my shot at a high school education, and ended up in a kind of vegetative state due to the high doses of medication paired with a bodily system that is extremely sensitive to certain drugs.

        During this time my mother slept in the same bed as my younger sister, and they became the ‘Mum and Mum’ of the house. The were always lying over each other on the couch, and my mother hung on my younger sister’s every word. These are a couple of quotes that my mother said to me around the same time: “Everything that comes out of your mouth is shit!” and ‘I wish euthanasia was legal for people like you”. It was very clear my entire family of origin wanted me dead. We also had no phone or power a lot of the time… I was totally isolated.

        Nearing the end of my teens I took myself off all the meds after it (slowly) dawned on me that I’d become morbidly obese, and mindless. I waited until I’d been off them for months, and was doing ok, before telling the psych. team – that way I figured they’d have no excuse for forcing me back on the drugs. Around this time I did have struggles though… mainly I struggled with not killing myself due to having a family that actively wanted me dead.

        When I was 20 I met D. The first he ever heard from my mother’s mouth was when she spat the word “WHORE” at me, in front of him. D immediately moved me in to his flat. We decided to try for a baby (yeah). 5 months after we met and got together, I was pregnant. D & I ended up living in a nice flat, just the two of us. We prepared the room for the baby really nicely, though that was the only properly furnished room in the house. At first we had to share a beanbag to sit and eat our dinner on in the lounge, and until A was about 6 months old we alternated between sleeping on top of a duvet on the floor and sleeping on the two couch cushions from the second hand couch D’s mother bought for us a couple of months before A was born. There was an inorganic collection a few months after we moved into the flat, and we went around collecting book shelves & odd wobbly chairs off the side of the road. We slowly made a home.

        Several months before I gave birth to A I asked to be referred to the maternity mental health team, as I knew I was at increased risk for postnatal depression. D and I were out one day, and when we returned home there was a message on our phone from someone at the MMH team. That was fine, but there was another message that was left just before 5pm – and the tone had changed significantly. I hadn’t even had a chance to receive the messages, and already I was hearing the words “If you don’t cooperate, you might not be able to live as *independently* as you have been…” down the phone.

        I was concerned. My mother (who was suddenly ‘nice’ due to her first grandchild being on the way) heard the message and was a combination of infurtiated and absolutely petrified – she contacted a friend who had some kind of experience with the MMH team and asked if they were ‘allowed to make threats’.

        Anyway, about 7 people from that team came for a meeting at our flat before A was born. It felt like overkill. D & I sat on our new second-hand couch, and the members of the team sat in a kind of semi-circle on our lounge room floor. Running in the back of my mind, were the words “They want to take the baby that is in my belly, away from me. Before she is even born”.

        Over and over, during my adult life, I have found myself in highly stressful situations where I have had to stay abnormally calm and rational. Due to my psych. history, I’m not allowed to show any signs of stress in situations that are objectively stressful. Instead I have to adopt a kind of preternatural calm in order to be taken at all seriously. In this sense, my intellect has helped. Prior to the meeting with the maternity mental health team, I preempted every single question they might ask, and practiced the ‘perfect’ answers with D. I wasn’t already a parent – I had no experience with babies or young children – so how was I to know ‘the answers’? Yet I found myself in a situation where I really needed to appear to know exactly what I was doing. They asked the questions, I gave my rehearsed responses – hiding the occassional shake of my hands as my heartbeat pounded in my ears.

        It worked. The agreement was that I stay in hospital for 3 full days after A was born. I was under high scrutiny during that time. Thankfully, I was over the moon when A was born and we bonded immediately. The maternity mental health team signed me out of their services after the 3 days in hospital, and D and I went home with our baby. We looked at her, sleeping happily, and like other brand new parents thought: “What do we do now?!” . But we figured it out. And we had the autonomy to do so on our own terms.

        Survival, fought-for autonomy, and now recovery. I’d say those things are what I’ve poured my intellectual energy into. As well as wrangling finances, and parenting (that takes a big chunk of energy 🙂 ). At this stage in my life, I’m doing fairly well parenting in the way I desire to for A’s benefit, my recovery feels well in hand (I do literal hours of holistic recovery work, each day – research, as well as practice) – and I don’t believe that anything aside from an absolute major, traumatic, life experience could knock me off balance for long. In short, I feel that: “I’ve got this. Even the hard stuff”. It’s a great place to be.

        Jessie, I’m kind of happy for you that you haven’t joined Mensa. I’m not sure what it would be like in a place with significantly larger membership (only about 350 members in my country) but for me it was a deflatingly underwhelming experience. I joined in my late teens, and had all sorts of idealistic fantasies about ‘changing the world’ and ‘think tanks’ etc (ha!). I enjoyed the few games nights I was able to attend… later, I figured out you didn’t need a room full of Mensans to have a games night. So the Mensa membership became redundant – especially after I noticed the bullying and self conscious one-upmanship. Yuck. A had already (rather wisely) stepped back from the young Mensa group of her own accord.

        These days I believe that ‘like minds’ are to be found in specific interest groups. I’m part of a few local bird photography groups on facebook (though I can’t engage in photography myself at the moment), and those feel like ‘my people’ somehow. I even recognise a couple of Mensans in the group, which is pretty funny. But yes, most people with high IQ are not in Mensa nor any other high IQ society. Like minds can very much be found elsewhere.

        Apologies for going off topic Jessie. The longer I sit in bed, the less blood flow reaches my frontal lobe… I start to feel as though it’s been ‘swiped’. So I apologise for probably not answering your questions in full. But this is the best I can do.

        Yes, why not 3e or 4e or… whatever? I think you’re onto something there actually. 2e doesn’t cover the life experience for many, I think. A is 2e. She was provisionally diagnosed with ADHD after testing by an educational psychologist. We didn’t get the official diagnosis from a paediatrician because then it would be on A’s national health record, and also… the ‘medication issue’. A showed signs of ADHD from infancy, basically. And I instinctively attuned to her and we helped her figure out ways to cope. She is a drummer with “wicked chops” as one of her teachers remarked the first time he heard her drum. A knows how to handle herself… she uses ‘energy burn’ strategies to get through her days. The ADHD has lead to difficulties with her learning. I understand what she’s going through because I was the same – in fact it’s thought that the ADHD was passed down from my mother to me, then from me to A. We all show distinctive, similar traits in that regard. But I don’t really see the ADHD as anything that’s going to prevent A from doing what she wants to do in life. She might ultimately get there a bit slower than others, and will have to continue managing her energy levels (and self care!) closely throughout her life – but it’s going well for A. I’m not concerned. She talks with me honestly about her struggles and we come up with helpful strategies, together. She makes herself 4 giant salad sandwiches for school lunch every day and eats eggs on toast for breakfast. Refuses to drink anything but water. The girl knows how to look after herself.

        To sign off:

        Long Live Dabrowski and OEs. Giftedness cannot be homogenised. Some of us are using all our energy on overcoming layer upon layer of disadvantage – but are our drives and needs as gifted individuals significantly different from other gifted individuals?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This brings to mind something I’ve never understood. If somebody is a psychopath and hurting other people is the only way they can feel joy, then nothing that follows should be much of a surprise to anyone. But what about those who aren’t, but still make excuses for, cover up for, and protect the psychopaths? What’s their excuse? I actually hate them more than the true monsters. Do you think this personality type is salvagable, or do we need to have a cull?

          Although my experience was nowhere near as bad as yours (my family has always been the best thing in my life, it was other people that were the problem), the thing about being freakishly calm under stress also sounds very familiar, although in different circumstances. One time I had to put out a car fire and everything got nice and still. Years before that me and Mum were driving on a narrow country road and met a car going the other way. We couldn’t back up so he had to, and I could see something in his expression. Dead calm I said “roll your window up in case he spits at you”. She did, and he did too. It’s a strange experience when you realise you have enough experience of violence that you can tell from a slight change in facial expression not just that it’s coming, but exactly what’s coming. I still have swabs of his saliva in the freezer for when Operation Cleansing Fire goes into effect.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Darkest Yorkshire, admittedly, I do occassionally entertain thoughts of “The Cull” … but this is only evidence of my sense of impotence in the face of the sort of abuse I endured. And recognising the prevalence of this destructive behaviour out there in the world… it all feels rather intractible.

            In some ways I understand now, that my narcissistic mother manipulated my psychopathic father. He was far less savvy than she was when it came to manipulation. He was an overt psychopath; just used violence and physical entrapment and took & did what he wanted. My mother employed covert wiles to keep herself safe (used her children as a shield) and later on, very cleverly controlled the psyche of my younger sister and of me. She did this with me up until I was 33 years old and cut contact, actually. She’s currently living with my younger sister – and based on an article my younger sister wrote that was run in the national newspaper over here, I can safely say that my mother’s tendrils are embedded well into my sister’s brain even now.

            In short: everyone with potential power to act in an abusive situation, who chooses to do nothing, is most certainly dysfunctional themselves. And sometimes malignantly so (though perhaps covert).

            It sounds like you are well versed in micro-expressions as well, Darkest Yorkshire. I remember feeling like a lightbulb went off when I learned about microexpressions.

            There is a book I learned about recently, that is currently winging its way to me from the U.S.: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1537334220/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

            ‘Borderline, Narcissistic, and Schizoid Adaptations: The Pursuit of Love, Admiration, and Safety’ by Elinor Greenberg.

            I’m hoping to learn more about these kinds of personality adaptations, and how to work with them. There are multiple reasons I want to read the book – one of them being that I myself am still in the process of developing whole object relations, and I believe the book contains exercises that relate to it.

            A short book I read recently that has really given me a visual representation inside my head of what whole object relations might look like, is ‘Owning Your Own Shadow’ by Robert A. Johnson. I’m in the process of integrating the information and was talking with A about some of it just yesterday. That book is simple, but fantastic.

            So I’m building my knowledge base all the time – but I don’t have anything close to what I perceive to be a solution to the problem of evil, Darkest Yorkshire. I am sincerely sorry for the difficulties you have experienced in your life; and only hope that you have found the soil of struggle to be fecund.

            My own life’s work seems to be mainly focused on healing myself, one individual, in order to be someone who can perhaps help others around me learn, heal, and grow in turn. It’s an extremely small enterprise. But the more individuals who do the work(…)

            Liked by 1 person

          2. “In short: everyone with potential power to act in an abusive situation, who chooses to do nothing, is most certainly dysfunctional themselves. And sometimes malignantly so (though perhaps covert).”

            I want to change that to “In short: every *caregiver* with potential power to act in an abusive situation…”.

            I don’t advocate codependency, nor an unconscious Hero complex – which could sometimes be in play when we’re talking about ‘rescuing’ other adults, for example. I recognise multiple other issues with my original statement, too.

            Liked by 1 person

          3. Darkest Yorkshire, I am going to assume that by “cull” you mean to ask whether these people also should be subject to criminal penalties, in which case I agree that enablers of psychopathic abusers deserve to share such penalties, including being locked up for a long period.

            I will note that “cull” and “cleansing fire” may be read to suggest violence. So let me be clear: I condemn this line of thought. Violence does appear to beget violence; I am sympathetic to the victims and the psychological processes that cause many of them to turn themselves to violence. But once they cross that line, they, too, are worth of condemnation and the non-violent type of culling just discussed. Otherwise, where does it stop?

            This is what is truly remarkable about the form of development that Dabrowski identified, and why those who don’t take that violent turn when psychologically we might understand why they want to are true exemplars of development. We might justly call them heroes. Not everyone can or needs to be a hero, of course, but neither should we accept their becoming villains.


        2. Ro, you are a truly remarkable person to have overcome that. Not every gifted person has Dabrowskian developmental potential (DP), but in addition to your noteworthy intellectual abilities helping you survive, your DP seems to have kept you from becoming a monster, as happened to other victims of abuse in your family. That’s something above and beyond ordinary giftedness, which may be how you managed to be a survivor twice over. Thank you again for sharing that.

          With respect to your drives and needs being different from other gifted individuals, I would imagine that they are not in a basic sense, but only in what life throws at you. Your need to stay perfectly calm in high stress situations is a perfect example of this…. That really struck me. This is weight in favor of giftedness being giftedness no matter what other people decide to call it.

          Also, interest groups are a great idea in terms of places to meet other gifted people. My dad joined many of them. (Thank you for the kind words about him too, by the way. <3)

          Liked by 1 person

  3. I just glanced over the monograph by Subotnik et. al., and while I probably haven’t absorbed their full argument, I see two primary issues with their connection of giftedness and eminence:

    1) Their definition doesn’t differentiate gifted individuals from high achieving individuals. One of the defining characteristics of gifted individuals, as I understand the term, is that they think outside the box. Indeed, one example of giftedness that the authors cite is “an artist who revolutionizes a field of art.” They then propose to adapt gifted education to facilitate the achievement of this type of eminence. But how can we design a program of education to facilitate revolutionary achievement, when by definition such revolutionary ideas are previously unknown and outside the box? There is no possible template for that kind of program.

    2) This model, like all of American education, focuses far too much on innate ability. Our education should be based, across the board, on the ideas that any student can achieve competence in a subject through hard work, and that hard work is ultimately more important than innate ability in deciding achievement. Programs for gifted students would then be built on top of this foundation. This model flips that idea on its head and says that we should design education programs based on the innate ability of the child, which I profoundly disagree with.

    I’m certainly no expert on this topic, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on these points.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Great thoughts, Maqroll. I still haven’t read the monograph, so I’ll remind readers that I’m responding solely to what you’ve written here and not to any nuance that might be in Subotnik and Friends’ paper.

      On point 1, I agree with you entirely. “Gifted” (i.e. abstract-intense) and “high achieving” are different groups, with some overlap. There really is no way to guide someone to a revolutionary insight; we can only seek to minimize the barriers to doing so in our environments. The best ideas I’ve read on this note come from Lee Smolin in his “Why No New Einstein?” article, which I rambled on about in this blog post: https://counternarration.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/physics-politics-and-visionary-intelligence/ Note that this still isn’t a template for a program so much as taking barriers out of the way and hoping to let outside-the-box thinkers actually get some support while they’re outside the box.

      On point 2, I’ve a few thoughts. To become “eminent” or even “merely” high-achieving, hard work is absolutely more important than innate ability. A reasonably bright hard worker will succeed where a highly gifted (i.e. abstract-intense) but lazy person will fail. At the same time, if a student has a high level of innate ability, then it’s going to be hard for them to learn to work hard, because the work will always be easy for them. So if the goal is teaching someone to work hard, then we need a program that fits a student’s innate ability. There are lots of stories out there of gifted students who never learned to apply themselves, because everything always came too easy to them. I can see why some might not have sympathy to the plight of everything being “too easy,” of course, but that’s the reason for their proposal. But I wonder why you profoundly disagree with classes based on innate ability. You may well be thinking of something I should consider, or maybe we’re conceiving of this differently. (My view is informed by my Montessori experience, for instance, whereas a public school environment would seem to raise some concerns…but I’ll stop there for now.)


      1. Part of me wants to write a rebuttal to books like Outliers and The Talent Code called Hard Work: the Last Refuge of the Talentless. Obviously teaching people to be the best they can be, even at things they have no natural talent at, is good and virtuous. But it’s not the same thing. No matter how strong I become I’ll never be a natural athlete. Obviously the gifted have an interest in pushing neurotypicals’ intelligence as high as it can go so we can have more interesting conversations. But attempts to artificially create genius have ended badly, usually with burnout around age 16. The few exceptions were where the kid already was a genius and so got an appropriate education, like Ada Lovelace and Norbert Weiner. The best we could probably expect from those who have gone the hard work route is to initially think they were gifted only to later realise they aren’t and be like IMPOSTER YOU MADE ME THINK I WOULDN’T DIE ALONE

        The 10,000 hour rule isn’t as advertised either. When top level athletes were actually studied it turned out they had about 4000 hours focused training in the sport they ultimately specialised in. The remaining 6000 were composed of multi-sport training and playing for fun. In physical training there are programmes like the Maffetone Method and Easy Strength where you achieve as much as you can without trying too hard, and save maximal effort for emergencies, opportunities, and random bursts of enthusiasm. They are known for low levels of injury and overtraining. It’s also been proven that boxers punch hardest when making an 80% effort, and 50% is only slightly weaker. I’m thinking similar attitudes could be applied to other endevours. I’ve done ‘virtuous’ hard work while researching certain subjects but a lot of the knowledge never went in properly, doesn’t feel like it’s really mine and I can’t think as easily with it.


        1. “Obviously the gifted have an interest in pushing neurotypicals’ intelligence as high as it can go so we can have more interesting conversations.”

          Good grief. I want to foster an environment and society that lets people be so they can be authentic and fulfil their potential. If neurotypical people think I’m boring (and they frequently do), and if this at times hurts me (and it does), then turning the situation around and condemning them for being “boring” is not at all something I can support, even in jest. It is not for abstract-intense people’s sake that we should educate others, anymore than it is for society that we should educate abstract-intense children.

          It’s true that the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours thing has been largely debunked, which is not to say that practice isn’t also necessary to get really, really good at something, even if you have talent.

          But I don’t think Maqroll was talking about creating “genius.” I think he was talking about creating high achievement, which can be done with hard work; indeed, that’s an essential ingredient, and it’s been achieved by plenty of people who didn’t make it into their gifted programs, in part because they’re not abstract-intense thinkers. Your physical training example does raise a good point, which is that “hard work” should never mean “burning yourself you.” That it does says something bad about our culture, but not that hard work done in a sane manner is something to scoff at. Far from the caricature you depict here, these people tend to succeed — more than a lot of kids who were in gifted programs, as noted above, and which I still think ought to be beside the point of gifted programs. (Abstract-intensive thinkers can work really hard or work only hard enough to get by, I don’t care. My goal is their quality of life.)


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