Right now, as I write this, I’m harnessing my intellectual overexcitability and coping with my emotional one. My curiosity and drive to understand giftedness inspires me to research and write. And I write while my feelings of negative self-judgment threaten to derail the whole process.  Sheesh.

This is how it is, every month with every article. The process is wonderful and exhausting, and it’s a snapshot of what it’s like to be me and gifted.

The most commonly held misconception about overexcitabilities (OE’s) is that they are something to “cure” or overcome. But that would be a terrible waste of some of the gifted individual’s best and most intrinsic qualities.

OEs are a set of inborn characteristics that come hand-in-hand for most people with advanced cognitive abilities. They are the intensities and sensitivities many of you beautiful people are coping with in your families, workplaces and social situations.

OEs are something to accept, appreciate, and master.  I know mine will never go away; they will rear their intense heads at the most inopportune times, even after lying dormant for long periods. It’s my job to love them and make them work for me.

The concept of OEs first came about through the research of Polish psychologist and psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980). Simply stated, OEs are a person’s heightened ability to perceive and respond to stimuli – anything from an algebra problem to the seams in your socks to a glorious sunset.

This excellent SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) article lists and defines OEs as follows:

  • Emotional – experiencing things deeply

  • Imaginational – capacity to visualize, invent, and create

  • Intellectual – inquisitive and reflective

  • Psychomotor – a surplus of energy

  • Sensual (Sensory) – intense responsiveness to sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell

Over my next five blog articles, I will examine each OE and provide tips for identifying and coping with them. (For those of you wishing to follow along at home, take a moment to subscribe to my blog.)

Let’s begin with the emotional overexcitability.

Have you ever interpreted your child as overreacting to a perceived injustice that you know your neighbor’s kid would take in stride? Does your child have surprisingly deep, personal relationships with others, animals, or even toys?  Do they alternate between extreme joy and extreme sadness with relative frequency?

These are some of the ways the emotional OE expresses itself.

Many gifted children, particularly teenagers, who struggle with the emotional OE are misdiagnosed with mood disorders. They are told that something is wrong with them, that they are too sensitive and need to “toughen up.” They are pathologized by well-meaning people who truly want to help but just aren’t educated on gifted theory.

This is a big part of the reason why gifted advocacy is so important.

There are many reasons to appreciate the emotional OE. First and foremost, the emotional OE is the source of your gifted child’s amazing empathy. Have you ever been taken aback by your child’s demonstration of care for another child who is hurting? In my opinion, this is the most wonderful way the emotional OE expresses itself.

While the emotional OE can be intense for everyone involved, there are ways to lessen the impact.  You may remember in a previous article, titled “Living With (Not Indulging) Intensity,” I gave the advice to “anticipate and empathize”.

When possible (and sometimes this can be extremely difficult, so be easy on yourself), anticipate the situations that are going to trigger this OE in your child.  Situations may include sad or emotionally-intense movies and books, harsh or insensitive people, or sometimes a change in a plan to which the child was deeply attached.

Then, when your child’s emotional OE is triggered, take a moment and slow down to connect with them. Check in, ask them their feelings, and never minimize. They may be too overcome to communicate their feelings in that moment; make sure your child knows that you are there for them when they are ready.

You’ll be so touched by what they share when they feel comfortable to let their emotional OE unfold at their own pace. And the intensity of the impact will be minimized over time.

Has this or a different approach helped your child to cope with their emotional OE? I’d love to hear your story in the comments below.