“Just be yourself, and all will be fine.” Have you heard that? I have, and I know that it’s not entirely true. Whilst it is true.
Are you yourself? Do you stand firmly and confident in who you are? Or have you lost yourself? As gifted, you may have been treated with extremely different attitudes, either overwhelmingly positive or very negative. And it may have made your self-esteem fragile.
I’ll explain why.
To become a me in interaction with others
In order to have a good interaction with others, we must have met a glance in the eyes of others who say, “You are okay and we understand each other.” We have this need with us from the start. Think about small children and how often they say “Look! Look here mama! Look daddy! Look!” and for the child to be satisfied and able to continue, a look, gesture or word requires confirmation that the parent is seeing, and that it is okay. In this way we check with our environment to know what a good behavior is. Eventually, we will have a sense of what is accepted and not, a sense of whether we are okay or not.
The necessary interaction between children and their caregivers can be described in different ways. Within psychology, this has been described, inter alia, in the theory of attachment. And neuroscience explain how the brain works in the creation of our self, how the interaction with others affects the brain and what in the brain that makes us need to interact with others. These are different ways to explain, which leads to roughly the same conclusion:
To feel good as a human, you and I need to have others around us who show that we are okay and that we understand each other.
Not being okay hurts
To hear how bad or how strange you are, or to hear how amazing you are but without being met with the understanding from the other, do not lead to a mutual “you are okay and we understand each other.” And when your nearest and dearest do not confirm you and that you are okay, it hurts. One way to reduce what hurts is to protect yourself behind a mask, a role. Do you recognize yourself in any of the following roles? And in what context do you use them?
With a mask no one can see who you really are and you reduce the risk of getting glances telling you that something is wrong with you. A role will give that confirmation in the eyes of others that you need. The painful thing is that you know that it’s not your true self who gets the confirmation, but anyhow it hurts less. It is a kind of coping strategy.
Coping is a term used when it comes to people’s handling of crises and a definition is as follows:
“Coping means an attempt to reduce physical and mental pain that is associated with negative life events. Successful coping reduces the pain.” *1
Protecting yourself with a mask is a kind of coping strategy. Which coping strategies you use depend largely on which ones worked to reduce your pain as a kid.
Giftedness and coping
In the book How the Gifted Brain Learns, there is a section on Social Coping. There, the authors refer to studies which shows that what coping strategies gifted choose, vary with age and with socioeconomic background. Among other things, it is more common for older adolescents to try to hide their high intelligence. By, for example, stop opting for “nerdy” interests or underperforming to appear more normal. Below is an excerpt from the section on Social Coping. Read it!
If you hide yourself for a long time, you eventually find it hard to find yourself. The masks grows stuck and become you. You lose parts of who you are. Do not know what you are anymore.
I know what I’m talking about because I lost myself among all my roles. But when I met people who I recognized myself in, and eventually dared to be entirely myself with, I began to find the fine person I am. It has taken time, but I was there. Similarly, you are also there, behind your masks.
Being able to use coping strategies in different contexts is constructive. It is good being able to wear masks for protection on certain occasions. The important thing is that you find the context you can be yourself in. Where you can belong in an obvious way and where you can be you. Just be yourself. Completely. And how to find such contexts I’ll talk about in the next episode.
* 1 Barbro Lennéer Axelson, Förluster, om sorg och livsomställning (Lost, About Sorrow and Change of Life), page 75.
In chapter 4 the author briefly addresses theoretical perspectives on attachment theory and coping theory, pages 64-77.
Linda Kreger Silverman, Särskilt begåvade barn (Gifted children). Chapter 5, especially page 167-172 (Swedish edition of Nature & Kultur, 2016)
From the book How the Gifted Brain learns. The chapter is written by Maureen Neihart and Vivien S. Huan.
”Gifted adolescents tend to employ coping strategies that are quite different from their non-gifted peers. Much of the work on social coping has been done by Tracy Cross, Laurence Coleman, Mary Ann Swiatek, and their colleagues. Some gifted adolescents involve themselves highly in extracurricular activities in school, underachieve, or exhibit negative behaviors in order to be perceived differently by others. Others engage in behaviors aimed at denying or hiding their high ability and distance themselves from the stereotype of the gifted group.
Some gifted adolescents cope by helping others or by cultivating relationships with adults, while others seek out-of-school talent development opportunities, avoid special programs for the gifted in school, hide their high ability, or deliberately underachieve in order to cope. Engaging in conforming and avoidance behaviors to devalue conventional popularity and focusing on the importance of peer acceptance are also used. Deliberate attempts to highly involve themselves in activities that are unrelated to their being gifted are also made.”
“A common, though not universal, finding regarding gifted adolescents is that many struggle to manage the need to belong with their need to achieve, especially females, African Americans, Latinos, and those from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds. Over time, these tensions appear to corrode their aspirations and self-concepts. In effort to minimize or avoid these conflicts, gifted adolescents may deny their talent, lower their aspirations, or underachieve.”
“Several writers have suggested that making these assumptions explicit, normalizing the tension as a societal phenomenon, and openly discussing the hidden costs of success help students manage such tensions and stay the course of upward achievement.”
With this excerpt, I just want to show that it is common for gifted to use coping strategies and what strategies they use may differ from strategies others use. As you can see in the last paragraph, it can help resonate back and forth about what you win and lose on different coping strategies. And I will talk about that later on.