Why Are So Many Gifted Children Also Highly Sensitive?
By Lisa Natcharian, Raising Wizards
It’s a scientific fact that 20% of the population is born with a gene that allows them to “process sensory data much more deeply and thoroughly” than other people do. We also know that a common thread that runs among gifted people is their ability to understand the world more deeply and thoroughly than others, a trait that is simply sensitivity by another name. Unfortunately, our society tends to view sensitive children as “weak” or prissy in many ways.
This mis-categorization ignores the fact that highly sensitive people are often highly successful people, specifically because of their creative and perceptive temperament. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Martin, Robert Frost, Frank Lloyd Wright, Mozart and Elton John are all highly sensitive.
Highly sensitive people have a number of very sought-after traits, including soaring creativity, intense focus, careful conscientiousness, empathetic kindness, and the ability to understand the world around them very deeply.
TYPICAL SIGNS of SENSITIVITY
Summarized from Dr. Elaine Aron, a leading research scientist in the field of high sensitivity
- Processes things deeply. Thinks long and hard about things. Very concientious and can be slow to answer quesions. Generally responds with accurate, unusual, or creative ideas.
- Overstimulated very easily. Doesn’t handle time pressure or deadlines well. Don’t rush them! Group work is unpleasant for them; they prefer a quiet space to think. Noise is distracting, and chaotic situations are a nightmare. Needs lots of personal space and downtime.
- Reacts emotionally. Takes criticism very personally. Cries easily, even if feedback is kind and positive. Has tremendous empathy for others, and tends to worry how others are doing. Will make a point to give direct and positive feedback to others.
- Aware of subtleties. Notices very small differences in surroundings, including minor rearranging, changes to lighting or smells. Reads people in a similar way; almost seems to be a mind-reader.
BENEFITS OF BEING SENSITIVE
- We are more creative. Brainstorming takes introspection, and the process of combining and editing ideas requires solitude. The sensitive or introverted person is ideally situated to take his deep experience of the world, quietly turn it over in his brain until it blooms into an explosion of new ideas, then shape it into a workable solution.
- We have an exuberant and lavish inner life. We are vivid dreamers and daydreamers, we have inventive imaginations, and we recall memories in great detail. We are happy to spend time contemplating instead of acting, which helps us see connections between important things, which makes us smarter.
- We are more emotionally aware. Emotional intelligence, or the ability to recognize our own emotions as well as those of others, is a significant indicator of success in relationships and in the workplace. People with high emotional intelligence are better decision-makers, better problem-solvers, and enjoy more fulfilling relationships.
- We’re really hardworking. Some might call us perfectionists, but we aren’t happy until things are clean, organized and RIGHT. That makes us favored students, esteemed colleagues, and excellent managers. We are also careful and conscientious, which again is a strong marker of success in life. We’re also really good at noticing small errors.
- We notice more sensory detail. The world is full of amazing things, and we can see them all. Whether it’s gorgeous artwork, or the scent of an amazing meal, or the indulgent softness of a favorite blanket, sensitive people experience the world around them more deeply, and as a result can derive more happiness from beautiful things than other people can.
- We feel emotion physically. Instead of simply hearing and enjoying music, we literally get goosebumps from beautiful lyrics or harmonies. Hugs become physical healers, and holding hands produces a flow of energy that we can almost see. It’s a wonderful way to experience life deeply.
- We understand nuances in meaning. Highly sensitive people can read other people like a book. Micro-differences in facial expressions or vocal timbre tell us volumes about the validity and real meaning behind what other people are telling us. This gives us an advantage, in that it is much harder to fool or cheat us. We recognize inauthentic people and can avoid them, and we have additional information at our disposal that we can use to make important decisions.
- We have superhuman intuition. Our gut instincts are spot-on, which can save us from a lot of heartbreak and hassle. It’s like having six senses instead of five!
- We have greater empathy. We can sense emotion in other people, and that makes us great friends, teachers and parents. We act out of a deep sense of understanding for where another person is coming from, and are more likely to do exactly the right thing.
- We are incredibly compassionate. We have a sincere need to support, guide and comfort others, and it makes us very useful, as well as appreciated.
- We are awesome partners. We are great listeners, we’re kind and thoughtful, and we naturally want to help people. How many girls do you know who are dreaming of a boyfriend who is self-centered, oblivious and aggressive? None. YOU are the ultimate boyfriend!
- We experience love very deeply. Because we understand the ones we love so well, and because we naturally tend to want to make other people happy, we form very strong bonds of love. This love is reflected back to us, as our parents, children and partners appreciate what we give to them, and want to make us as happy as we make them. It’s a blessing to be able to be surrounded by such deep love.
DIFFICULTIES OF BEING SENSITIVE
- Boys aren’t supposed to be sensitive. Our society still perpetuates the misguided notion that men and boys should be tough, stoic, aggressive and hardy. To be otherwise is to be labeled weak, or fussy, or feminine.
- We can mistakenly feel that there is something wrong with us. Because only 15 – 20% of the population is highly sensitive, we may not know many people in our orbit who are like us. Between the messages society sends us about the importance of extroverted behavior, and our own tendency to analyze input from other people very carefully, we may conclude that we are abnormal or even damaged. This is catastrophic for our self-esteem.
- We are often misunderstood. We may be labeled “over-sensitive” or “over-dramatic” by people who don’t realize how deeply we feel, because it’s not their reality. If we are introverts (80% of sensitive people are) we may be deemed reclusive or standoffish; if we are empaths we may be labeled histrionic or attention-seekers.
- We are susceptible to getting stuck in relationships with toxic people. Narcissists in particular are drawn to sensitive people because we give them the focused care and attention they crave, and are less likely to break off an unbalanced relationship because our natural perfectionism, work ethic, and tendency to see the best in people lead us to conclude that if WE just work a little harder, things will turn around. We are often in danger of giving more than we receive.
- We need more time alone to decompress. Space to breathe and let go of the stresses that we have internalized is essential to our well-being, but our modern lifestyle can make it impossible to find enough time to take care of ourselves. In addition, the desire for solitude can be misinterpreted as anti-social behavior.
- Anxiety can present itself as real physical ailments. Because we internalize so much emotion from the world around us, our bodies can reach the limit of what they can hold. Stress and anxiety can display themselves as stomach aches, IBS, muscle aches, fibromyalgia, migraines, and more.
- Sensitive people absorb negative emotions from others. This can happen just by being in the same room as people who are arguing or crying, or even by watching emotionally broken people on television or in the movies. We not only notice and are uncomfortable watching other people get upset (or embarrassed), but we FEEL what they feel, despite clearly understanding that whatever is happening is not happening to us.
- There is no such thing as constructive criticism. Sensitive people take feedback as a personal judgment. Because we are programmed to want to do things well (we can be perfectionists) and receive approval, we are very hurt when someone points out a mistake we made.
- Sensitivity can really get out of hand. “Emotional Snowballing” may occur in stressful situations, where the emotional response increases to a level disproportionate to the events at hand. Popular situations (such as crowded public events) can become overwhelming, and result in a dire need to escape to somewhere quiet and peaceful.
This post originally appeared on Raising Wizards; it has been reposted with permission.
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