The Bright Side of Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children

September 1, 2015

Gifted children often experience overexcitabilities, also called intensities. These areas of heightened stimulation are categorized in five areas: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional.

Though overexcitabilities are not, in and of themselves, negative characteristics, they are often discussed as though they are problems to solve. However, there are some wonderful benefits to “experiencing in a higher key.” Because we have talked about overexcitabilities in general and strategies for “coping” with overexcitabilities on this blog before, we wanted to take this time to highlight some of the more delightful elements of overexcitabilities in gifted children and adults.

Extreme compassion, empathy, and sense of justice

Many gifted children have such a deep sense of empathy, compassion, and justice that they will stick up for others, challenge authority figures when authority is unfairly imparted, work toward solving problems they see in the world, take social action, and act as mediators and peacemakers. These are the kids who will make a positive difference in the world, on both small and large scales.

A deeper connection to the world

“Overexcitable children are more receptive and responsive to what they experience. In some areas of their lives, they are extremely perceptive and may be aware of what other people cannot even imagine.” (Meckstroth, 2013, p. 279)

Gifted children and adults with emotional intensity often develop a deep connection to people, animals, nature, places, and objects that have sentimental value for them; Piechowski  (2006) states that this “connection with the world as the place where we live is an important aspect of our emotional development” (p. 5). Emotionally intense individuals also enjoy deep, strong, and loyal friendships.

The ability to delight in simple pleasures

Those with sensual overexcitabilities take delight in what they see, taste, smell, touch, and hear.  The taste of food, feel of nice fabric, sound of music or poetry, and the beauty of art or a sunset can bring these children great joy and comfort.

Desire to think more deeply about and solve world issues and problems

Intellectual intensity as well as the empathy found through emotional intensity combine to propel gifted children’s deep interest in world problems and solutions to those problems. Gifted children “consider the possibilities of how things might be” (Sword) and can work toward achieving that ideal world. They often “search for solutions to known problems, find it difficult to let go of a problem, and identify new questions to be asked.” (Piechowski, 2006, p. 53)

Strong focus

Both Piechowski (2006) and Winner (1996) describe the gifted child’s capacity for intense interest and focus, which Piechowski describes as a “capacity for absorption,” allowing gifted individuals to tune out their surroundings and achieve a state of flow when working on a project or thinking about a topic.

Ability to see multiple sides

Emotional empathy along with intellectual intensity allow deep thinking, internal debate and dialogue, and the ability to see different viewpoints. Dabrowski (1972) described overexcitable individuals as “see[ing] reality in a different, stronger, and more multisided manner…. Enhanced excitability is a means for more frequent interactions and a wider range of experiencing” (p. 7). These abilities can be applied to external situations, or they can be used for individual development, to gain more self-awareness and understanding.

This ability to see issues from multiple sides can also combine with imaginational excitability that helps gifted children work out problems in their mind using creative solutions to result in inventiveness and out-of-the box thinking.


Aesthetic and intellectual creativity are often results of imaginational and sensual overexcitabilities. Children who experience the world differently, delight in the beauty of the world, and have active imaginations are often natural creators.

Stress relief

Sensual overexcitability helps us delight in everyday sensual experiences. Psychomotor overexcitability helps us physically expel negative energy through movement. Individuals with imaginational intensity may harness those powers to help create an imagined situation that can bring calm and relieve any tension experienced. Intellectually intense individuals can carry on internal debates, dialogues, and arguments – natural to this form of overexcitability – as a way to vent emotions privately. When gifted individuals are stressed, emotionally tense, or nervous, they can turn to these overexcitabilities for relief.

Let’s help our children see these benefits

In an article on emotional intensity, Leslie Sword concluded, “If emotional intensity is seen and presented positively to gifted children as a strength, they can be helped to understand and value the gift of emotion. In this way gifted children will be empowered to express their unique selves in the world and use their gifts and talents with confidence and joy.” The same can be said for all areas of overexcitability. While not losing sight of the challenges our children face due to their intensities, let us also help them see the positive power of these intensities and embrace them for good.

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This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Overexcitabilities. Please click on the graphic below (created by Pamela S Ryan–thanks!) to see the full list of Hoagies’ Blog Hop participants.


Bailey, C. L. (2010). Overexcitabilities and sensitivities: Implications of Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration for counseling the gifted. Retrieved from http://counselingoutfitters.com/vistas/vistas10/Article_10.pdf

Dabrowski, K. (1972). Psychoneurosis is not an illness. London: Gryf.

Delisle, J. R. (2006). Parenting gifted kids: Tips for raising happy and successful gifted children. Prufrock Press.

Meckstroth, E. A. (2013). The asynchrony of overexcitabilities: Advice for parents and teachers. In C. S. Neville, M. M. Piechowski, & S. S. Tolan (Eds.), Off the charts: Asynchrony and the gifted child (pp. 260-281). Unionville, NY: Royal Fireworks Press.

Piechowski, M. M. (2006). “Mellow out,” they say. If I only could: Intensities and sensitivities of the young and bright.  Madison, WI: Yunasa Books.

Sword, L. Gifted children: Emotionally immature or emotionally intense?. Retrieved from http://www.davidsongifted.org/db/Articles_id_10241.aspx on 8/14/15

Winner, E. (1996). Gifted children: Myths and realities. New York, NY: BasicBooks.

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