Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Gifted Mind: Forests and Forests of Thoughts

Photo Courtesy of Mauro Barsi

     Among the topics that come up repeatedly in psychotherapy sessions with gifted clients is their experience with the realization that most others do not process information in the same way they do. Often, this is a shocking disappointment. Often, a sadness ensues as the implications of this realization begin to emerge.
     I am talking about the gifted individual's basic way of apprehending and making sense of the world around us. The native curiosity in the gifted mind leads to an ever-growing learning tree that over time creates an entire interior world of forests. These individuals come to conversations with others with the assumption that all minds are as forest-rich as their own.
     This, they learn, is not the case.
     They learn that what they assumed was a lack of interest in a certain subject was instead a lack of comprehension of the question; that what they viewed as a witty retort was a defense mechanism tossed conversationally as a means of diverting an impenetrable discussion; that others may appear to be quicker in their thoughts because they are thinking in a less, not more, complex manner.
     And there is denial. The existential loneliness that ensues in the realization of being such an outlier that your native way of thinking sets you apart is something many individuals would prefer to avoid. This can lead to hiding the light of giftedness under a bushel basket. And, of course, this process fails.
     The analogy of software to mental processing is so commonplace that I hesitate to mention it, but in the case of intellectual giftedness, it is particularly apt. With giftedness, the hardware is equally significant. Just as the complexities of the operating system create the environment in which the computer performs its functions, so to the hardware sets the physical limitations of the capabilities of the operating system.
     This is true with the human brain and human intelligence, also. The brains of gifted individuals are capable of high-level processing, and the thoughts made possible by that brain are the expressions of it.
     You can use less of your computer's operating system at any time, but you cannot use more. You can use fewer of the functions available on your laptop, but you cannot use more. These are the limits of the software and the hardware. The more powerful the hardware/software combination, the more powerful the system.  The same is true in exploring the limits of the human brain and of human intelligence. 
     I counsel clients in their attempts to make peace with the different ways in which their minds work. I work to help them see that their gifts are unique, and that the manifestations of their gifts - their work, their conversations, their thoughtful relationships with others - are the extensions of those gifts into the world.
     I help clients see that letting their lights shine is the highest use of their gifts, because it is the way they share their gifts with others in a natural flow of energy from themselves into the world around them. This is not showing off and this is not "being different."
     It is being authentic.