Why “gifted” is a dirty word… let’s clean it up!

hiding gifted
When I spoke to a classroom of gifted teenage girls a few weeks ago, I broached the topic of giftedness and what their thoughts were about being gifted.

One girl vehemently proclaimed, “I don’t like the word gifted. I am not better than anyone else.”

She spoke with such dislike towards the term, validating what I had gathered about the topic in reading and speaking with other gifted adults:

“Gifted” is a dirty word.

Somehow, “gifted” has been equated with “better.” And, because we want to belong, we value our fellow humans for what they also have to offer, and we don’t want to stand out in any way, those of us who are gifted reject the title. After all, we didn’t come up with that label.

Likewise, those who are not gifted don’t want to be seen or feel “less than” and can feel threatened by our abilities to think rapidly and out of the box, to grasp concepts faster, and to exercise keen perception about what is going on around us. So, there is this unspoken (and sometimes spoken) rejection of intelligence because it is seen as a threat to others’ identity, instead of the potential usefulness towards evolution of humanity.

In the past few years as I have directed my coaching towards supporting gifted people, I have been wondering what terms to use to speak to you. High IQ? Creative? Sensitive? Smart?

Yes, And.

It’s all of those things and more. Giftedness is a different way of experiencing the world. Only 2% of the population fall into this category, which is defined as having an IQ of 130 or above. Sure, you may wonder if the tests are accurate. Sure, you may not want to label yourself (gifted people are known for hating compartmentalization and labels!). But whatever word you use, the fact remains: you are gifted.

You can call yourself “highly intelligent” or “acutely aware” or “very sensitive” or “able to connect various topics like lightening.” You can use whatever descriptor you want, but it doesn’t change how you experience the world.

That is the essence of what I want to point out. It can be hard to be intelligent in a world that doesn’t understand, or in tribes that feel threatened by you. Our need for belonging is just as great as everyone else. So, when we don’t understand or accept our nature, and when we don’t feel support in being who we are, we downplay our talents and we downplay ourselves, trying desperately to fit in, to not rock the boat. And, as women, we are additionally socialized to put others first and be the caretakers. Compounding issues much?

This all can lead to a feeling unfulfilled, wrapped in an endless searching for meaning, not finding it, which can lead to depression, and, at worst, suicide. Highly intelligent people are more at risk for depression and especially existential depression. But with the right understanding and support, we can change this.

You deserve to be happy, too.

Let’s start by belonging to ourselves.

Many gifted people feel alone. It’s hard to connect with others, hard to find friends and lovers. It can be challenging to find work that really speak to you, that weaves together your multitude of talents and keep you interested long enough to stay. It’s hard to live in a world where you see the hope for humanity and experience the overwhelming feeling that the world is doomed and why aren’t people getting it? How does one walk through life worrying about such big topics and find one’s own personal sense of meaning and belonging?

This is what I love helping my clients with the most. Understanding your nature so you can fully nurture yourself. So you can find your own personal meaning in life and do your part to heal the planet, to create, and to fully be yourself.

You can reject the label and spend your energy on hiding your nature. Or you can embrace it and find a way out of your own pain.

We need to talk about this. We need to talk about what is mean to be an adult gifted woman in this world and how we can support each other.

So, I’m going to use the word gifted. I’m going to be a part of cleaning up that word in this world, and everything that is associated with it. Forget “better”. Let’s use “different.”

Because you matter, too.

Until next time…

With light and love,
Nicole Justine Cavanaugh