Gifted adult characteristics. While gifted people are a very diverse bunch, they tend to share a number of characteristics that set them apart from the neurotypical norm.
**Please keep in mind while reading this page that individuality always trumps generic description**
Gifted adult characteristics & tests
In her book, The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius (which I recommend as a great entryway into the giftedness world), Mary-Elaine Jacobsen provides the following gifted adult questionnaire to help with self-identification. Do many of Jacobsen’s statements resonate with you?
- I have always had an insatiable curiosity
- I set very high standards for myself and can be my own worst critic
- I have a powerful need to know and am a seeker of ultimate truths
- I have been criticized for being “too much” of just about everything
- I have always felt deeply wounded by injustice and human suffering
- I can see many sides to nearly every issue and love a good debate
- I have a lot of energy and often feel driven by my own creativity
- I am often seen as the “idea person” in a group
- I love puzzles, mazes, paradoxes, complex ideas, and words
- I often feel responsible for problems that don’t actually belong to me
- Many times I have felt “different,” and sometimes I feel like a minority of one
- I am a dyed-in-the-wool perfectionist
- I have been criticized for not “sticking with one thing”
- Honesty, integrity, and authenticity are very important to me
- I have a history of questioning rules and challenging authority
- I seem to be bothered by bright lights, aromas, and noises that others ignore
- I have a well-developed sense of humor that is somewhat offbeat
- I have maintained my childlike sense of playfulness and wonder
Mary Rocamora (founder of the Rocamora school in LA) developed another helpful giftedness questionnaire.
Rocamora divides gifted adult traits into nine (somewhat overlapping) areas. Do you see these characteristics in yourself?
- General characteristics – large vocabulary, multi-talented, many interests and abilities, creative…
- Entelechy – a need for self-determination, to become all one is capable of
- The five overexcitabilities (OEs)
- Psychomotor OE
- energetic; love intense physical activity; fidgety; restless; can be misdiagnosed as ADHD.
- Sensual OE
- heightened and refined senses; deeply moved by music or the visual arts; a love—or hate—for certain textures, tastes, smells, sounds, etc.; environmentally fussy.
- Intellectual OE
- always exploring new ideas and theories; adept at meta-cognition; love problem-solving, research, analysis, and theoretical thinking. The stereotypical giftedness trait.
- Imaginational OE
- vivid imagination, inventiveness, dramatic perception, poetic inclinations, love of fantasy, humour, creative imagination and low tolerance for boredom.
- Emotional OE
- intensified feelings and emotions (from elation, to anxiety, to depression); strong attachments to people, places, and things; intense bodily emotional expressions; refined feelings toward self (e.g., ability to dialogue inwardly, self-understand, and self-judge).
- Psychomotor OE
- High intelligence – independent and divergent thinker, intuitive and insightful, relentlessly curious and investigative, lover of intense discussions, quick learner
- The search for truth – existentially concerned and constantly truth-seeking throughout life
- The “autonomous factor” – a sense of inner-directedness, an inner drive to make conscious choices in accordance with principles which are highest in oneself
- Perfectionism – driven to be—and do—the best you can (can lead to burnout)
- Introversion – gain energy from being alone; prefer depth to breadth; appreciate privacy
- Idealism – generally driven to make the world a better place for ALL
Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, a 2016 book by psychotherapist Paula Prober, conceptualizes the gifted mind as a rainforest. She provides the following (and self-described, highly unscientific!) quiz to find out if you mind is rain forest like:
- Like the rain forest, are you intense, multilayered, colorful, creative, overwhelming, highly sensitive, complex, idealistic, and influential?
- Are you misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mysterious?
- Like the rain forest, have you met too many chainsaws?
- Do people tell you to lighten up when you are just trying to enlighten them?
- Are you overwhelmed by breathtaking sunsets, itchy clothes, strong perfumes, clashing colors, bad architecture, buzzing that no one else hears, angry strangers, needy friends, or global hunger?
- Do you see ecru, beige, and sand where others see only white?
- Do you spend hours looking for the exact word, precise flavor, smoothest texture, right note, perfect gift, finest color, most meaningful discussion, fairest solution, or deepest connection?
- Have you ever called yourself ADHD because you are easily distracted by new ideas or intricate cobwebs, or OCD because you alphabetize your home library or color-code your sweaters, or bipolar because you go from ecstasy to despair in 10 minutes?
- Are you passionate about learning, reading, and research, yet perplexed, perturbed, and perspiring about schooling?
- Do your intuition and empathy tell you what family members, neighbors, and stray dogs think, feel, or need even before they know what they think, feel, or need?
- Do you find decision-making about your future career and deciding what color to paint the bedroom equally daunting due to the deluge of possibilities assaulting your frontal lobes?
- Are your favorite spiritual conversations the ones you have with trees, rocks, and babbling brooks?
- Does your worth depend on your achievements, so that if you make a mistake or do not perform up to your standards, you feel like an utter failure as a human being now and forever more?
- Do you crave intellectual stimulation and are you desperate to find even one person who is fascinated by fractals or thrilled by theology?
- Are you embarrassed to tell your family and friends that you find it easier to fall in love with ideas than with people?
- Have you ruminated about the purpose of life and your contribution to the betterment of humanity since you were young?
- Do you get blank, confused stares from people when you think you have just said something really funny?
- Are people awestruck at what you can accomplish in a day, but if they knew the real you, they would see that you are actually a lazy, procrastinating, slacking impostor?
- Are you afraid of: failure/success, losing/winning, criticism/praise, mediocrity/excellence, stagnation/change, not fitting in/fitting in, low expectations/high expectations, boredom/intellectual challenge, not being normal/being normal?
- Do you long to drive a Ferrari at top speed on the open road, but find yourself always stuck on the freeway in L.A. during rush hour?
- Do you love skipping down new sensual paths and exploring imaginary worlds to discover beautiful connections between fascinating objects, words, ideas, or images?
- Do you wonder how you can feel like “not enough” and “too much” at the same time?
- Are you uncomfortable with the label “gifted,” and sure that if you were to use the word as a descriptor of people with some sort of advanced intelligence—which you would not because it is so offensive—that it certainly would not apply to you?
If you answered “yes” to at least 12 of the above questions, you likely have a rainforest mind. If you ruminated about the answers to many of these questions and often thought “it depends,” you, too, fit the profile.
Patricia Gatto-Walden argues that while a gifted individual’s “mental resources may be highly developed, complex, and sophisticated…they are couple with challenges, concerns, fears, and special needs” (Gatto-Walden, 2017, p. 162).
Gatto-Walden compiled a list of common difficulties that gifted individuals face in her chapter entitled, The Heart of the Matter: Complexities of the Highly Gifted Self, in the 2017 book Off the Charts. How many of these challenges resonate with you?:
- Feelings of being overwhelmed and overstimulated by incessant mental, physical, emotional, and social stimuli
- A heightened sense of physical excitement associated with the speed and volume of thoughts
- Lack of friendships due to difficulty in finding likeness with other
- Reluctance to trust others due to number experiences of rejection and verbal taunting
- Harsh inner judgment of self and others, combined with certainty in one’s own opinions and assessments
- Inflexible beliefs in what is fair or just, right or wrong
- A sense of alienation and separation, with subsequent isolation and loneliness
- Rigidity regarding acceptable levels of performance for self and others
- The need to achieve high-level ambitions of unique and meaningful substance
- All-or-nothing valuing of productivity associated with perfectionism
- Lack of ability to quiet the mind
- An approach to all difficulties in life as problems to be solved mentally
- Elevated anxiety due to richness of imagination couples with intense emotional sensitivity
- Vividly imagined fears of frightening scenarios, which result in streams of hypothetical questions
- Strong preference to be guided by one’s own curiosity and interests, compared to following the direction of an authority (such as a supervisor, parent, or teacher)
- A response to multifaceted interests that involves over scheduling daily activities, resulting in endless stress and exhaustion
- Immense difficulty attending to or respecting aspects of self other than mental processing, such as emotional, physical, and social needs
If many of the items on the four above gifted adult characteristics questionnaires resonated with you, you are likely gifted.
Perhaps you already had a hunch that you might be gifted, or maybe it is a brand new realization. When I first identified my own giftedness, I feverishly sought out everything written on the topic (in true gifted style!). My life suddenly made more sense. Giftedness clicked.
Perhaps, you are interested in learning more about personal(ity) development for the gifted or ways you can manage your overexcitabilities. You may also find helpful the list of gifted resources (books, journals, websites, and online groups) I have gathered.