When I began to understand that my daughter fit the description of a highly-sensitive child, I also realized some new things about myself. When someone pointed out that my daughter was probably gifted/2e, I started to notice things about myself. Then when I realized that I had the gifted intellectual overexcitability, everything really started to fall into place.
This post is going to sound to some people like a lot of navel gazing. It may not resonate with many of my readers. Some people will read this at some point either today or in the future and think, “Wow. This lady needs to get a life and stop focusing on herself so much.” This post isn’t for them. I’m writing today for some very specific people.
This post is for you if your child fits the following:
- gifted/2e with an intellectual overexcitability
- very truth-oriented
I came to the realization this week that the combination of gifted intellectual overexcitability, being highly-sensitive, and being strongly oriented toward truth is a hard combination to live with. I put it on a similar level to the realization I had a couple of years ago about holiday overwhelm and highly-sensitive children. I believe God allowed me to experience some things this week so I could see the truth in them and help others understand the same thing. This post might sound like it’s wandering a bit as I share some disjointed experiences and situations. It probably won’t be the most orderly and structured thing I’ve ever written, but I need to just write and get it out there or it won’t get written.
But I really am going somewhere with all this.
As I quoted on my Start Here page, gifted intellectual overexcitability looks like this:
Intellectual OE is demonstrated by a marked need to seek understanding and truth, to gain knowledge, and to analyze and synthesize (Dabrowski & Piechowski, 1977; Piechowski, 1979, 1991). Those high in Intellectual OE have incredibly active minds. They are intensely curious, often avid readers, and usually keen observers. They are able to concentrate, engage in prolonged intellectual effort, and are tenacious in problem solving when they choose. Other characteristics may include relishing elaborate planning and having remarkably detailed visual recall. People with Intellectual OE frequently love theory, thinking about thinking, and moral thinking. This focus on moral thinking often translates into strong concerns about moral and ethical issues… Intellectually overexcitable people are also quite independent of thought …
That’s all well and good if a person is interested in dinosaurs or Ancient Egypt or Jane Austen or historical costuming or whatever. If it is a topic that is removed from current moral debate and topics, then kids can immerse themselves in it and get happily lost in satisfying their intellectual hunger.
But something very different happens if that topic is contemporary. And controversial.
And if your child is wired to truth-seeking, it can become very difficult.
For many years I had a side website where I collected information about women in the church, how women should use their gifts in the body of Christ, etc. I shared my thoughts as I did different reading. I would sometimes post about church and ministry scandals that had a significant impact on women. But for the most part it was a place where I posted information, research of others, etc. It was an intellectual endeavor where I shared my thinking with others who were interested in similar topics. For the most part it was low stress except for the occasional person who would attempt to shame me and school me on what a terrible woman I was for asking questions and studying these topics for myself.
I shut it down last year. Due to changes in our culture, the topic was becoming increasingly impacted by many other things happening in our country. The rise of intersectionality, social justice, and other things over the past two or three years meant that this topic was being overwhelmed by more “stuff” than I had time to read and process. It was no longer about some fairly cut and dried theological debate where you generally ended up on one side of the argument or the other based on trying to understand how to correctly interpret the Bible. I became increasingly concerned that I would be tangentially associated with some things I vehemently disagreed with and decided to take it all down. Those weren’t battles I wanted to fight. They weren’t topics I wanted to deep dive into. I found much of it so distressing and unbiblical that I simply took down the site. I wasn’t willing to invest the energy into it.
When I quit Facebook last year, I immediately lost several pounds. I had done absolutely nothing different. I truly believe it was from a drop in stress due to no longer being on that platform. I thought of that this week because I have inexplicably gained several pounds. Then I realized why.
It’s because I’ve been researching and writing for my new understanding culture and politics site (Finding the Truth in the Noise). My stress levels have gone way up. I’ve been stress snacking. And my sleep has been disrupted by my agitation which always causes me to gain weight.
The current political arena is absolutely toxic. It is stressful. And it is moving at such a breakneck speed that it’s virtually impossible to keep up with what is going on.
For someone with an intellectual overexcitability, reading and thinking and writing even in basic ways about culture and politics right now is like trying to fill a half a teaspoon from a fire hose that is fully open.
For someone who is strongly oriented toward truth, the current situation in our country is absolutely Orwellian. What some people are doing provokes such a strong response in me that it makes me physically ill.
So I question if I can even spend time thinking about these things long-term. As much as I find them interesting, I cannot simply make them an intellectual exercise and walk away. I’m not wired that way. So I’m looking at that website now and vacillating between knowing I probably made a mistake in starting it and being mad for being wired this way so I have to deal with this and can’t just be a “normal” person.
Since writing this post I have decided to delete that site and the related Twitter account. And then I re-opened it. And then I shut it down again and moved it to a forum here on this site. See how hard this stuff is if you have a child like this?)
The other thing that happened this week was a movie. Caroline wanted me to watch Big Hero 6 with her so I did.
It was a cute and funny movie. It was also intense. It was visually overwhelming. I felt the same way about it I felt about The LEGO Movie. Great movie and well done, but absolutely overwhelming for a highly-sensitive person.
By the time we were done with Big Hero 6, I felt visually, mentally, and emotionally assaulted. It might have been worse because I was already in a heightened emotional state due to the political stuff. But if I had been an immature child, I would have melted down at that point. I was absolutely raw. If I’m going to be totally honest, I was actually scared of how I felt for about an hour afterwards. It pushed me that much to the edge.
Just like the night I realized how much a simple Christmas program had left me on the edge of a meltdown, so I realized it anew this week.
Being a highly sensitive adult is a challenge. Being a highly sensitive child who doesn’t fully understand what is happening is even tougher.
Being a person with an intellectual overexcitability can be exhausting. How much more for the child who can’t figure out what to do with all the big emotions and thoughts that can come with it.
If you have a child who fits these descriptions, I sincerely hope you will take to heart what I’ve written. It is TOUGH to navigate all this.
Helping Our Children Navigate These Challenges
So how do we help our highly sensitive kids navigate this stuff? How do we help our gifted kids who are wired to devour information and seek truth handle big topics?
These are some thoughts off the top of my head. I haven’t fully thought this through because this is truly fresh and raw for me. I went to bed thinking about this and woke up thinking about it. I hope other people will add their thoughts in the comments so we can support each other in this challenging parenting area.
(Or maybe this is YOUR life and not just the life of your child. I hope you will find encouragement as well.)
One thing I would suggest is really keeping an eye on what your child is consuming. What might seem like no big deal could be a very big deal.
For example, I went through a period in college when I was fascinated by World War 2. However, reading about the Nazis and seeing photographs of what they did gave me nightmares. I’m talking sitting-up-in-bed-drenched-in-a-cold-sweat-and-crying-out nightmares.
That study ended pretty quickly. Even now as an adult, I would never ever visit the Holocaust Museum or anything like that. I know my limits.
You need to know what your kid is reading and watching. Not because you don’t trust her, but because you need to keep an eye on her well-being.
Keep an eye on how politics and cultural happenings are being understood by your child. Our kids hear so much that they absolutely should not have to deal with. It makes me sick the way they are being robbed of their ability to be kids without worrying about every insane topic that fills the media today. Keep communication open in the way that works for your kid. I’ve learned how to best broach sensitive topics with my child. Know what works best for yours.
Please keep an eye out for overwhelm with your child. Is she quick to melt down over small things? Maybe she is entering a zone where she is truly starting to become overwhelmed. Adjust schedules and expectations as needed. Show her grace.
Above all else, recognize that meltdowns are a cry for help. Tantrums are selfish and self-centered. They are something totally different. Meltdowns tell us that our child is in desperate need of our help.
I sincerely hope this post helps at least a few parents better understand and support their child.