Diary of Stuff (Volume I)
Me, to a Tee...
Well, golly darn gee jumping flea biting varmint infested
(insert plural form for an animal here), I ran a search,
and found these articles....I'm so much clearer to me now,
Can You Hear The Flower Sing? Issues for Gifted Adults
Author: Deirdre V. Lovecky, Ph.D.
Source: Journal of Counseling and Development, May 1986.
There has been comparatively little focus in the literature
on the characteristics and social and emotional needs of
gifted adults. Using observational data, the author
attempts to delineate some of the positive and negative
social effects of traits displayed by gifted adults. Five
traits (divergency, excitability, sensitivity,
perceptivity, and entelechy) seem to produce potential
interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict. Unless gifted
adults learn to value themselves and find support, identity
conflicts and depression may result. Emphasis on self-
growth through knowing and accepting self leads to the
discovery of sources of personal power. Nurturing
relationships through realistic expectations and learning
to share oneself provides a supportive environment in which
gifted adults can grow and flourish.
Although the personality traits and social and emotional
needs of gifted children have been widely described
(Erlich, 1982; Terman, 1925; Torrance, 1962; Webb,
Meckstroth, & Tolan, 1982), there has been comparatively
little focus on gifted adults. Numerous longitudinal
studies have indicated that the early advantage experienced
by gifted children continues into adulthood and that gifted
children become adults of superior vocational achievement,
generally satisfied with themselves and their lives (Oden,
1968; Terman & Oden, 1947,1959). Nevertheless, by age 62,
most gifted men have experienced the same dissatisfactions
with family life as have most people (R.R. Sears, 1977).
The gifted women reported to be happiest have been those
with the best coping skills, which are dependent on early
experience (P.S. Sears & Barbee, 1977). In fact, the
effects of early experience, particularly in terms of early
educational advantage, seem to be one of the most important
contributory factors in later adult achievement (Bloom,
1964; Oden, 1968; Terman, 1925).
In studies of male scientists (Roe, 1952), creative artists
and writers (Cattell, 1971), female mathematicians (Helson,
1971), and architects (MacKinnon, 1962), among others, the
predominant characteristics found included impulsivity,
curiosity, high need for independence, high energy level,
introversion, intuitiveness, emotional sensitivity, and
For the most part, the literature on gifted adults does not
address the social impact of the various traits described.
Piechowski and Colangelo (1984) indicated that certain
modes of mental functioning are not socially valued because
their expression causes discomfort in others. These traits
were termed overexcitabilities, that is, wider and more
intense experiences in psychomotor, sensual, intellectual,
imaginational, and emotional areas. Gifted adults seem to
be characterized by imaginational, intellectual, and
In this article I attempt to delineate some of the social
aspects (both positive and negative) of traits displayed by
gifted adults. I selected gifted adults from among my
colleagues, acquaintances, friends, and psychotherapy
clients. Of the 15 gifted adults included, 6 were therapy
clients. There were 8 women and 7 men ranging in age from
20 to 79. Of these, 6 were doctoral-level professionals, 4
were master's-level professionals, and 3 were students.
Fields of endeavor included the social sciences, education,
medicine, the biological sciences, business and computers,
art, literature, and history. Identification of giftedness
was based on a variety of criteria, including
identification of giftedness in childhood, memory of scores
on achievement or IQ tests, SAT scores, current
professional achievement, or attainment of national
recognition for achievement.
Using anecdotal and observational material as a basis, I
describe five traits that seem to be present in gifted
adults and that seem to be central features of their
giftedness. The goal is to generate a group of hypotheses
about gifted adults and their interactions with others.
Further explorations of these preliminary ideas, using more
refined research methodology, will undoubtedly provide a
more elaborate explanation of the impact of giftedness on
the lives of those concerned.
Characteristics of Gifted Adults
There seem to be five traits that produce potential
interpersonal and intrapersonal conflict: divergency,
excitability, sensitivity, perceptivity, and entelechy. The
first three traits have been derived from Torrance's (1961,
1962, 1965) descriptions of creatively gifted children. The
last two traits were developed from discussions with gifted
adults. These traits seem to be an integral part of
giftedness; however, the behavioral manifestations of these
traits may vary depending on other physiological and
personality factors, such as tolerance for ambiguity,
degree of introversion or extroversion, and preference for
particular types of sensory input. Gifted adults may
exhibit several of the traits. The gifted adults who served
as a basis for this article all exhibited at least three
(divergency, excitability, and sensitivity).
Although the traits in themselves are neutral, their
behavioral manifestations make them socially and
emotionally significant. For example, the trait of
sensitivity can be manifested as empathy, commitment,
touchiness, intensity, or vulnerability. Thus, in any
individual, the sum of the behavioral manifestations may be
viewed as positive or negative.
Divergency. A preference for unusual, original, and
creative responses is characteristic of divergent thinkers.
The positive side of the trait includes people who are
often high achievers, innovative in a number of fields,
task committed, self-starters, and highly independent. Many
theoretical scientists, writers, artists, composers, and
philosophers are divergent thinkers. Einstein, Freud, and
the French impressionists are examples of gifted adults
successful in using their divergent thinking ability.
Divergent thinking has positive social and emotional value.
Gifted adults possessing this trait are able to find
creative solutions to a wide variety of problems, including
interpersonal problems, and are able to see several aspects
of any situation. In an organization, they are often
the "idea" people who bring challenge and enthusiasm to
others. They find deep personal satisfaction in the
development of new ideas. Divergent thinkers challenge
stereotypes. Socially, they bring color to the lives of
others, who may use their example to find the courage to
break the bonds of conformity and decrease the effects of
On the negative side, divergent thinkers encounter
difficulty in situations in which group consensus is
important. They are often dedicated to their own ideas and
find it difficult to support ideas they find foolish. The
usual rewards may not motivate divergent thinkers. In fact,
they may ignore a reward system imposed by others to work
on their own. In social situations, divergent thinkers may
not fit in. Common social rules, such as not criticizing
others publicly or not disagreeing with one perceived by
the majority to be influential, may be disregarded. The
dilemma of the divergent thinker is one of maintaining
identity in the face of pressure to conform. A highly
divergent thinker is often a minority of one. If no one
else hears the flowers singing, the divergent thinker may
experience alienation and eventually an existential
Excitability. High energy level, emotional reactivity, and
high nervous system arousal characterize the trait of
excitability. Although excitability and hyperactivity may
seem to be similar, they are fundamentally different in
that gifted adults with the trait of excitability are able
to focus their attention and concentration for long periods
of time, to use their energy productively in a wide variety
of interests, and to do many things well. These gifted
adults enjoy the excitement of taking risks and meeting
challenges. This risk taking is dissimilar to that found in
mania or impulsivity in that the gifted adult (a) is aware
of the consequences of the risk, (b) takes risks in the
form of challenges rather than reckless activities, and (c)
knows when to stop.
The high energy level of these gifted adults allows them to
produce prodigiously in whatever most captures their
interest. They often pave the way for others to follow with
refinements of their innovative ideas. Many inventors and
entrepreneurs have the trait of excitability. Thomas Edison
and Leonardo da Vinci are examples of people who possessed
The trait of excitability has positive social and emotional
value. Productivity and risk taking create new ideas and
innovations. There is energy to spend on a variety of
projects and personal concerns without the necessity of
choosing whether to expend energy on work or self. Finally,
these gifted adults know their feelings, act on the basis
of these feelings, and are unafraid of the appropriate
expression of feelings.
On the negative side, gifted adults with this trait may
find it difficult to self-regulate. Boredom and the need
for stimulation can produce a habit of constant activity.
Some gifted adults may be unable to follow through on
projects because they crave novelty. A cycle of high
interest and activity for a new venture, followed by loss
of interest when the novelty decreases and details must be
addressed, can leave others feeling frustrated and angry.
In addition, some gifted adults may feel little
satisfaction with what has been achieved. Their dilemma is
one of always doing but feeling little gratification
because others often reap the rewards accruing from the
long-term development of their initial ideas. A chronic
depression that triggers more activity may be the result.
These gifted adults may know that the flowers sing but may
never have a chance to enjoy them.
Sensitivity. A depth of feeling that results in a sense of
identification with others characterizes the trait of
sensitivity. Gifted people form deep attachments and react
to the feeling tone of situations; they think with their
feelings. People who are highly sensitive make commitments
to other people and to social causes. They can be
enthusiastic and intensely single-minded about their
dedication. Poets, Investigative reporters, Peace Corps
workers, and political and religious leaders are often
gifted in sensitivity. Examples of such people include St.
Francis of Assisi, Elizabeth Blackwell, Emily Dickinson,
Ghandi, Martin Luther King, and Virginia Wolff.
People gifted with the trait of sensitivity find positive
social and emotional benefit in their deep concern for the
needs and rights of others, their empathy for the feelings
of others, and their desire to help even at significant
cost to themselves. These gifted adults may be unusually
aware of the feeling tone of situations and of the more
sensual aspects of the environment, such as color and
shading. They are often aware of their own shortcomings.
Some gifted adults feel a sense of unity with the cosmos,
an experience of a universal sharing of self. Adults gifted
with sensitivity tend to be highly moral people concerned
with giving and with doing what is right for others.
On the negative side, these gifted adults may not
understand that others do not feel so deeply or intensely
or that others may have different priorities. They may be
very intolerant of the needs of others when they perceive
those needs to be superficial.
Adults gifted in sensitivity may be so sensitive that
others may hesitate to share problems with them. In fact,
other people may believe that the gifted adult experiences
their pain more intensely than they do, and they may feel
robbed of their own feelings. These gifted adults must
learn to guard their vulnerability while still remaining
sensitive to others, to continue caring in the face of
rejection, and to moderate emotional responsiveness so that
they feel "with" rather than "for." The risk is that they
will become isolates who avoid relationships that could
nurture them. They hear the flowers singing, feel a unity
with the universe, and want everyone else to hear the song
Perceptivity. An ability to view several aspects of a
situation simultaneously, to understand several layers of
self within another, and to see quickly to the core of an
issue are characteristic of the trait of perceptivity.
These gifted adults are able to understand the meaning of
personal symbols and to see beyond the superficiality of a
situation to the person beneath. Skilled at understanding
motivations, they may be able to help others to understand
themselves. Adults gifted with perceptivity are those who
can hear the flowers singing within others not yet aware of
their own gifts. Their intuition and ability to understand
several layers of feeling simultaneously help them to
assess people and situations rapidly. In fact, they are
often skilled at sensing the incongruency between exhibited
social facades and real thoughts and feelings. Another
aspect of perceptivity concerns the recognition of and need
for truth. Social facades displayed by others may seem to
this gifted adult to be a sort of lie. Adults gifted in
this way detect and dislike falsehood and hypocrisy.
People who are gifted at "seeing" often seem to have a
touch of magic about them. Religious and political leaders,
philosophers, creative therapists, writers, and poets may
be especially gifted with perceptivity. Jane Austen,
Langston Hughes, Anne Hutchinson, William Shakespeare, and
Henry David Thoreau are all examples.
Positive social and emotional correlates of the trait of
perceptivity include the ability of these gifted adults to
view their own behavior somewhat objectively, to assess
their own as well as others' motivations, and to base their
responses on perceptions of underlying dynamics. They are
aware not only of what their own needs are but also of the
necessity of avoiding internal stress by learning to use
their perceptions to know what they truly want. Often, they
will decide to do what is best for themselves despite the
disapproval of others.
On the negative side, this trait can present difficulties
in interpersonal relationships because others, unaware of
what the gifted adult sees so clearly, feel both vulnerable
and threatened. For the gifted adult, seeing several layers
of a person may be confusing. It may be difficult to pair
the response obtained with what the situation seemed to
indicate was required. The more discrepancy between the
inner self and outer face, the more uncomfortable the
gifted adult may feel.
The dilemma of this gifted adult is whether to hide the
insights and respond superficially to the social facade or
to use the gift and risk rejection. Either course may
produce constraint and difficulty with spontaneity. Finding
interpersonal support is a major priority for these gifted
adults; the risk is fear of closeness and intimacy.
Entelechy. From the Greek word for having a goal, entelechy
bespeaks a particular type of motivation, inner strength,
and vital force directing life and growth to become all the
self is capable of being. Adults gifted in entelechy are
highly attractive to others who feel drawn to openness,
warmth, and closeness. Being near someone with this trait
gives others hope and motivation to achieve their own self-
actualization. Teachers, therapists, physicians, and social
reformers may be among those so gifted. Examples include
Helen Keller, Carl Rogers, and Eleanor Roosevelt.
People gifted in entelechy bring deep feelings to a
relationship. By spontaneously expressing feelings, they
encourage others to do so as well. Their example of
overcoming obstacles and their continuing support and
interest encourage others to grow. They not only hear the
flowers singing but invite others to hear them too.
People gifted in entelechy are capable of creating "golden
moments" of friendship, those special times when two people
are truly their best selves and able to share on a deep
level (N. Jenckes, personal communication, December 26,
1984). Gifted adults may find sources of rare intimacy;
however, they may also find an overwhelming number of
people who want contact but have little to offer in return.
They may feel vulnerable to and intruded on by the demands
of others who may feel cheated that the promise implied in
the initial sharing cannot continue. The dilemma of these
gifted adults is to find ways to nurture the self through
others while avoiding the expenditure of vital personal
resources on others' needs. The risk is anxiety about
requests from others and avoidance of closeness in
Options For Self Growth
The five traits described may lead to crises; gifted adults
continuously face choices that seem to lead either to
denial of gifts or rejection by others. Unless they learn
to value self and find support from others, these adults
will experience identity crises whenever the conflict
resurfaces. This process entraps creative energy, which is
then lost to creative production.
Gifted adults can learn to deal creatively with their
conflicts. Although many use the resources of
psychotherapy, one of the primary traits of adult
giftedness is a need for independence. Thus, they may wish
to find their own unique ways to nurture themselves and to
develop supportive relationships. Some options to be
considered might include the following.
Nurturing the Self
Knowing and loving all aspects of oneself enables one to
find and use sources of personal power.
Knowing oneself. Discovering personal symbols can help
gifted people understand and value their insights and
intuitions. Personal symbols can be explored in a variety
of ways, including daydreaming, analysis of dreams, poetry
writing, sketching, and the use of imagery and
visualization techniques. Lazarus (1977) described
visualization techniques and Moffat and Painter (1974)
described the use of journal writing to define and maintain
self in a sometimes hostile world.
Accepting oneself. Valuing their uniqueness is necessary
for gifted adults in accepting themselves. Valuing and
accepting negative traits can be a means of freeing energy
to deal creatively with life. If the gifted adult is able
to accept faults and vulnerabilities, then the positive
sides of these traits can come to light. Energy will not be
focused on feeling unhappy about self or on denying faults
and failings. Most creativity develops from the energy
found in discontent; using discomfort as a sign that
creative energy is available allows for the taking charge
of self rather than for feeling fated to misfortune.
Finding sources of personal power. Freeing self the
constraints that inhibit use of creativity by listening to
inner messages is one means of finding personal power.
Learning to use loneliness rather than avoiding or fearing
it can be an important means of increasing personal power
(C.A. Martin, personal communication, June 12, 1984). Many
gifted adults are lonely because of a lack of true peers.
Feeling comfortable with oneself, having a wide variety of
interests, knowing that there are some people who value at
least parts of themselves, and viewing lonely times as a
chance of further self-care and self-exploration are ways
of growing in personal power.
Nurturing Interpersonal Relationships
Having realistic and sensitive expectations for oneself and
others and being able to share oneself with others are
vital to the development of supportive interpersonal
relationships. Gifted adults often have high expectations
for themselves and others. Sometimes they forget that other
people are not gifted in the ways they are. In fact, gifted
adults may need to develop an appreciation for the talents
of others. Recognition of others' talents can lead to warm
friendships in which different talents can complement each
other. The lives of Salieri and Mozart might have been
completely different had each been able to value the other.
Understanding the effects of one's giftedness on others
entails a realization that the same behaviors may elicit
different responses from different people and from the same
people at different times. For example, emotional intensity
can be energizing at one time but exhausting at another.
Different limits may have to be negotiated with individuals
(D.K. Baker, personal communication, December 22,1984).
Just as sensitive gifted adults may cause others to feel
robbed of deep feelings, the anxiety expressed by others
may cause the gifted person to feel robbed of the chance to
make decisions about the relationship. Learning to set
clear boundaries and to negotiate particular limits on
giving, expenditure of time and energy, and individual
needs for distance and expression of uniqueness can help
gifted adults feel some sense of choice in a relationship.
Because of their inner depth and complexity, gifted adults
may need to find a large number of friends, each of whom
can meet some needs and reflect some aspects of self.
Gifted adults sometimes expect to share everything with one
person and over-look the special relationships that can
develop around one interest or one facet of self.
Sharing one's particular gifts with another can be a source
of both self-sustenance and connectedness to others. Some
gifts are easier to share with individual friends; others
may require a larger audience. A special kind of sharing
occurs in the writing of poetry, as described by Harrower
(1972). She discussed the need to communicate as an
integral part of the experience of writing a poem. Writing
poetry is a self-enhancing process that occurs by
connecting the writer in some new way to other people, it
is from this sort of sharing that emotional growth is
Gifted adults can use their special talents to help others
find their own creativity and their own sources of inner
power. Finding ways of sharing self can enhance both people
in a relationship and bring depth to that relationship as
it grows and changes over time.
Gifted adults, perhaps more than any other group, have the
potential to achieve a high degree of self-actualization.
Despite the problems that being gifted can bring, the
positive social and emotional aspects of giftedness can
more than compensate for the problems. To continue to hear
the flowers singing and to turn visions and dreams to
reality throughout an entire lifetime is a goal to be
desired by every gifted adult.
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Psychology Publishing Company. Permission Statement
Permission to reprint this article was granted to the
Davidson Institute for Talent Development by D. Lovecky and
the Journal of Counseling and Development.
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