Caroline loves to read — not as a pastime, but as part of her lifeline to the world. She once told me that when she was forced to stop reading in class, it was like her lungs were collapsing, and it was difficult for her to breathe. This seven-year-old has been described as extremely intense and sensitive. The loss of something that comforts her and intellectually feeds her manifests itself in a physical reaction.
Children who feel things with great intensity experience the world in a different way. Gifted young people are often more aware, stimulated, and affected by their surroundings. Emotional or physical reactions to events can last longer than expected and are often replayed in the child’s mind.
Intensities can be characterized by:
- Extreme feelings: positive or negative feelings; complex emotions; connection with the feelings of others; grand laughter and tears
- Physical reaction to emotion: stomachaches and headaches; blushing; rise in body temperature
- Strong affective memory: re-living or re-feeling things long after the triggering event; nightmares; elaborate daydreams connected to actual events
Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski studied the mental health of gifted youth and adults. He described the areas of heightened stimulation observed in gifted individuals as “overexcitabilites.” The five areas of overexcitabilites are:
- Psychomotor: extreme physical activity and movement; rapid talk; pacing; use of hand gestures
- Sensual: perceptiveness of sensory experiences; unusual awareness and enjoyment of sensation
- Imaginational: clear visualizations; metaphorical speech; dreaming; magical thinking
- Intellectual: need to question or analyze; delight in the abstract and theoretical; puzzle and problem solving
- Emotional: intensity of feeling and relationships; natural empathy and compassion; susceptibility to depression, anxiety, or loneliness
Dr. Michael Piechowski, who studied alongside Dabroswski, has dedicated much of his life to researching the emotional and spiritual aspects of gifted children. In his book ‘Mellow Out,’ They Say. If Only I Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright, he stresses the need to “give voice to the emotional life of bright young people, to show how their intensities and sensitivities make them more alive, more creative, and more in love with the world and its wonders.”
Piechowski, along with other gifted experts, teaches gifted children a variety of techniques for coping with their overexcitabilities. For Caroline, this required her teachers, parents, and siblings to understand and embrace her overexcitabilities. At the same time, Caroline learned exercises to calm her senses and help her focus.
Guided imagery and meditation are excellent tools for those like Caroline learning to master their sensitivities. A good place to start is with a simple exercise. Have your child close his or her eyes, breathe deeply, and say with the breath,
“Breathing in I calm my body,
Breathing out, I smile.”
Learning to use the mind to control the body through exercises like this — along with overall awareness and understanding — is an important step in mastering intensities.
For more strategies, see our post 15 Strategies for Managing Your Gifted Child’s Intensities.
Does your child experience any of these overexcitabilities? What coping techniques have worked for you? Please share with us in the comment section below!
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We are excited to share this post as part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Gifted children worldwide share many unique characteristics, including intensities. It is important for those who are in the lives of these gifted individuals to better understand these characteristics in order to help nurture and support their intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.