What makes gifted relationships so tough? Solutions for the Problems of Giftedness

By Cat Robson

I could write a few novels with the material from my romantic and work relationships.

Lots of drama and disappointment, and loads of self-recrimination.

How does giftedness figure into the patterns of our connections with others?

In this excerpt from his article, Solutions for the Problems of Giftedness, Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., gives some interesting answers.

The Big Problem: Looking for love in all the wrong places, and being fierce in disappointment

We began the group with the hypothesis that perhaps there was something about the nature of giftedness itself that led to grief for our members; and though we did find that qualities like being highly intellectualized or “too intense” (see below) contributed to members’ difficulties, in the end we believe that it was not giftedness itself that was the chief source of unhappiness.

Instead, we realized (as we should have known all along, since all the members suffered from depression and shaky self-esteem) that the problem was, for each individual member, that the pursuit of or expression of talents was being used in an attempt to relieve a sense of personal unlovability, inadequacy, or alienation.

This attempt was doomed from the outset for two reasons.

First, and most important, accomplishments, relationships, or recognition never heal deep-seated doubts about the self; rather, like an addiction, they provide temporary satisfaction but leave the individual craving more.

Second, the attempt to heal the self through external validation is inevitably self-defeating because the relentless pursuit of accomplishments, relationships, or recognition makes the individual unreliable and unsuccessful as a partner, friend, or employee.

He swings between extremes of being overly enthusiastic, anxious to please or show off or otherwise win the desired validation, and being depressed, withdrawn, bitter, and self-centered when the validation isn’t forthcoming or is inadequate (as it ultimately must be) to heal the self.

We felt that each member was living out a version of the same basic narrative.

Each had been raised by parents who were critical, remote, or abusive.

Each had discovered that expression of their individual talents was a way of temporarily gaining parental approval, or at least that in school, being bright, cooperative, or inquisitive won interest and approval from teachers.

Each more or less settled early on this as a life scriptÑto be smart and talented, to achieve success or recognition academically (and later, by extension, through financial or social accomplishment) became the primary strategy for relieving doubts about the self.

But early experience of inadequate or destructive parenting had left weaknesses in the foundation of the self that could not be repaired no matter what the adult self accomplished.

[We] felt that the real problem was that members had been looking for love in all the wrong places: looking outside, to success, accomplishments, or to other people, when they had to begin to look inside and learn to love themselves.

Richard O’Connor, Ph.D., is the author of the books:

Undoing Depression: What Therapy Doesn’t Teach You and Medication Can’t Give You

Active Treatment of Depression

Undoing Perpetual Stress.

Happy At Last: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Finding Joy



Site: High Ability

Articles: High Ability – gifted/talented


Giftedness characteristics

Self-tests: giftedness / high ability


Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. The Gifted Adult

Marylou Kelly Streznewski. Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential.


Originally posted 2010-07-14 18:02:58.


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