with Recognized and Unrecognized Gifted Adults,
This article describes the issues most frequently encountered in
with gifted and talented adults, particularly those in the performing
A distinction is drawn between those clients who knew they were gifted
and those who at first did not.
and characteristic of both groups, are examined. Six representative
contribute their personal retrospectives on the work that they did in
which made greater self-actualization possible.
is enormously valuable for therapists who work with gifted adults to
abreast of developments in research, developmental theory, and
applications. "Advanced Development" has made a great deal of such
accessible so that we therapists can develop a broader understanding of
what giftedness is and how we can best serve gifted clients.
therapeutic considerations, in Volume 1, Dr. Kathleen D. Noble, in
Out the Promise of High Potential: Perceptions of 100 Gifted Women,"
many insights about gifted girls and women that would greatly enhance
therapist's efforts to help female clients attain their full
1, Nancy Alvarado, in "Adjustment of Gifted Adults," shares her
about the issues of gifted individuals from a counselor's perspective,
and Dr. Kay Ogburn Colangelo describes a counseling application of the
Theory of Positive Disintegration. In Volume 2, Dr. Deirdre V. Lovecky,
in "Warts and Rainbows: Issues in the Psychotherapy of the Gifted,"
the traits of gifted individuals and suggests some helpful therapeutic
Barbara Kerr and Charles D. Claiborn, in "Counseling Talented Adults,"
offer insights helpful to those providing career counseling for
adults, and Annemarie Roeper, in "Gifted Adults: Their Characteristics
and Emotions," provides her own observations about gifted adults and
is based on my own experience over the last 13 years counseling
performers, writers, metaphysicians, and people who were clearly gifted
in self-transformation. I have worked extensively with two types of
clients: those who knew they were gifted and were highly
in their field, and those whose giftedness was unrecognized, masked,
or thwarted in some way.
had a screening process for clients. My selection process is geared so
that I can pour myself into each client, working in-depth and providing
a high level of care. Individuals who are excessively needy or
rigidified in their belief systems, or resistant to connecting to their
feelings are not appropriate for my work.
referred to reputable therapists with whom they can work at a basic
The ideal client for transformational therapy is one who has acquired a
general understanding of his or her psychological issues from previous
therapy. The work proceeds at a faster rate if the client has heroic
courage and integrity, and is exceptionally focused and energetic.
are perfectionistic about their personal development are more likely to
hold an ideal vision to work toward and will present an exciting
descriptions represent some of my observations regarding the many
adults I have worked with over the years, and the stretching I have had
to do to accommodate my vision of their needs. Six of my current
have contributed their personal accounts to illustrate this article,
the work we have done together. They are a representative sampling of
clients who have had similar issues.
one is gifted often opens a floodgate of energy. Clients who came to
with established gifted identities were characteristically passionate,
intense, and unafraid to unleash the shadow side of their personality.
[See Advanced Development Volume 2, p. 19, for a definition of "the
in Jung's system.] They were solidly connected to their inner vision,
seemed able to pursue that vision despite self-doubt and
their psychological development with the same perfectionism and
that they invested in the development of their talents. They were
challenging me in their search for deeper understanding of themselves,
of their areas of special ability, and of the world around them. They
to be freely playful, original, and idiosyncratic, and were highly
to being presented with new developmental possibilities. Many of the
lead larger-than-life lives.
OF CLIENTS WHO KNOW THEY ARE GIFTED
gifted clients share many psychological issues with the general client
population, from the typical unresolved childhood conflicts, to incest,
abuse, addiction, and clinical depression. However, these gifted
had other issues that were unique to them, related to their giftedness.
of the true
inner torments for self-actualizing gifted clients is the struggle to
in the face of creative blocks. These blocks can manifest in a number
forms. For example, I have a very gifted young client who is a veteran
actress, dancer-choreographer, singer-songwriter, and artist.
a well-known character actor and artist and her mother is an extremely
successful agent for child actors. My client herself has been a working
professional since childhood and writes about how misapplied
can cause a creative block:
an exceedingly gifted family. Each member is highly successful,
personally, professionally and especially creatively. Creative
was encouraged and rewarded in my family...[However], the older I got
the more proficient I became in the professional creative world of
the more my own parental eye became a judgmental eye.
directed toward the joy and experimentation of the creative process and
more focus was placed on the outcome, the product. Because my early
environment was so stimulated with the creative process I could feel
something was becoming stagnant inside of me. By focusing on the 'goal'
I was missing out on the journey. Without that journey there was no
And, without joy there was no motivation to continue my creative
The process continued in spite of my result-oriented parental eye, but
this kind of process was jolting, incohesive, and aggravating.
raised in a hyperfunctional, perfectionistic environment I had to go
mere immersion in the creative process and determine personal
for my creative critic. Otherwise, that critic was threatening to
all the magic inside of me, my instrument...Through my work with Mary I
have been more successful in understanding, creating and enforcing
personal boundaries, boundaries that protect me from my own inner
as well as other people who try to judge and interfere with my creative
process and endeavors. I have learned that my gifts are my children and
I must nurture and love them unconditionally."
are passionately engaged with their talent but are constantly separated
from the creative experience by relentless self-criticism, self-doubt,
and feelings of inferiority often suffer from another type of block. It
is often accompanied by depression and the periodic shutting down of
spontaneous creative impulses. This a familiar issue and I see it most
often in actors. Here therapeutic intervention helps the client to hear
the critical voice loud and clear and feel the separation from self
it produces, so a technique can be devised to heal that separation once
it is noticed.
that I have frequently encountered results from repressive, regimented
early educational environments. The client is left with an
teacher" that demands forced learning. Clients find themselves joyless
and slowed in learning new skills that would enrich their creative
caused by massive resistance from the "inner child." This is intensely
frustrating for people who are aware of and practice their giftedness.
Therapy must be extended to relearning how to learn in a spirit of
relaxation, and experimentation.
know they are gifted can also be fiercely protective of their vision.
can help the client ascertain how to honor that vision and how and when
to compromise with other creative contributors in collaborative
Some examples include developing a performance piece, writing a novel
input from the publisher's editor, and making a movie.
performers ascend to fame and on-the-street recognizability, they face
increased levels of public exposure. They are often overwhelmed by
expectations, loss of privacy, and the fear of public humiliation if
imperfections are disclosed to the press.
needs to help clients create a manageable lifestyle that is conducive
maintaining as much privacy as possible and to develop a personal
regarding adverse publicity. Another common issue among the newly
is that family members often begin to put pressure on them to provide
career opportunities or supplement their incomes with the client's
members are likely to want to live vicariously through their celebrity
child or sibling. In addition, when gifted performers get too rich, too
famous, too fast, their lives are prone to spinning out of control and
that, too, can become an important issue in therapy. Substance abuse,
too much power to managers and agents, and buying a lifestyle too big
one's abilities to manage are problems that I frequently see.
performers crave public recognition because it fuels their creative
A major preoccupation of gifted performers is the struggle to find
way into the company of their peers so that their talents can flourish.
Becoming famous and respected almost certainly brings opportunities to
work with other gifted individuals.
performers seek a wider public arena because they associate larger
with feeling more fulfilled. This drive is often misunderstood by this
type of client and can be subverted by self-defeating psychological
client had attained enormous success as a working actress and doing
for commercials and cartoons. She also wrote and performed a cabaret
featuring songs and her own original jokes. She crashed into a wall of
frustration and depression several years ago and sought to understand
she couldn't seem to break through into larger public recognition
her driving hard work and the critical acclaim she received for her
her belief that, "One strives and suffers, then someone will eventually
give you your big break, and with that fame comes the promised joy." It
became apparent to her that she was trapped in an obvious set-up for
creativity to be linked with struggle and disappointment.
of our work was to break down this belief and focus her creativity on a
project that gave her joy throughout the process rather than expecting
the joy to come in the form of a big career break. She had studied to
an opera singer as a young woman, and she absolutely loved singing
express her talent with ongoing joy, she returned to study opera with
voice teachers, a couple who has an outstanding record of training
(and famous) voices. With much support and encouragement, her original
nightclub act, which had always been her collection basket for
has been reborn as "Stand-Up Opera," a show she created for her own
a dazzling rendition of her favorite arias, interspersed with jokes
opera's many ridiculous plots and ill-fated heroines, and hilarious
about operatic performances gone awry. Not surprisingly, her newfound
and enthusiasm shines through, and audiences and critics alike have
with wild enthusiasm. This is how she now relates to her talent as a
of her hard work in therapy:
which I now recognize as a gift, is a strange, powerful, and ephemeral
thing, thrilling and frightening at times. It's my first thought when I
wake up in the morning. How will it act? Has it gone away?....My
sessions have become vital to me. They are my therapy--they make me
more like myself, a 'myself' that I hadn't been consistently plugged
since I was a small girl.
had had glimpses
over the years, fleeting, though. It's my barometer of joy and I don't
need someone to listen to it to get the joy. When I do share it with
it's a totally different experience than I ever had performing my night
club act, which was always such a letdown when no one did anything for
me as a result. I've found just in my limited experience with the show
over the past year that people respond to this sound energy in a
visceral way. Now the focus in performing feels like it's off me
and more on the mutual experience to be shared...I feel blessed to be a
a play this summer at the Williamstown Theater Festival, she observes:
are aware of this same joy in their work. They are flying (the good
on stage, linked with the rest of the ensemble and creating a circle of
energy that encompasses the audience and draws them into the
You can feel it in the room. You're doing the feeling for them. Your
is to wake them up--to make them feel something."
I've just discussed, gifted adults who are unrecognized as such
need to accept the possibility that they might be gifted. I have found
many of these clients resistant to having that label applied to
stereotyped idea of what "gifted" means and find that description
with their self-concept. For others, their resistance can be attributed
to fear of failure to live up to the label. Those clients whose core
is based in shame, or who polarize from anything that would tend to
them feel superior to others, also have a hard time being called
Once it is explained that giftedness is not identified by high
alone, that there is a personality profile attendant to giftedness, the
resistance begins to yield and a new sense of identification
in "Adjustment of Gifted Adults," mentioned earlier, (Advanced
Vol.1, p. 77) provides a well-developed overview of such currently
characteristics as divergent thinking ability, excitability,
perceptivity, entelechy, perfectionism, and introversion.
for unidentified gifted clients to spend some of their therapy dollar
understanding the reasons why their talents were not recognized or
as children and what has stifled them from fully actualizing their
in adult life. In some instances the reasons are circumstantial, but
psychological factors are involved, it is crucial that these aspects
fully understood, so they can begin to reclaim their giftedness and
a channel for its development in the present.
who were programmed to stay confined in conventional roles like "Dad,"
"Mom," "Dutiful Son or Daughter," and so forth, the authentic self is
and so is the potential for full development of their giftedness.
this type of unrecognized client needs a method and systematic support
for sparking creative drives eclipsed by traditional role
A good example is provided by a client in his early fifties who had a
as a very successful laser engineer.
run a company inside a large defense industrial firm. Early in our
I kept hearing that he had an intense drive toward achieving
and we began to explore and encourage that hidden passion.
an early retirement, he read voraciously on the subject and settled
Krishnamurti's writings as the best approach for him. This man might be
characterized as metaphysically gifted. He engineered a brilliant and
approach to his enlightenment that involved meticulous researching of
inner world. This system expanded to include his own method of clearing
himself of ego projections and to better understand the nature of life.
Therapy then became a forum for testing his ideas in the context of his
personal work. This is the way he describes the reason he went
all his life and how he discovered his deeper identity:
childhood, I was not felt, sensed. Child rearing seemed to be based on
turning me into a responsible adult, one who could function in the
make a home, a career, have a 'good' life. Stamp, Stamp! Here comes
good citizen...This led to a dutiful, responsible life, which left me
to feel the depth of what life is, what being human is. Because this
was not lived, I was always outside the day to day world, rarely
never really connected to, never really felt."
his intense need for introspection and deeper understanding and he was
able to shed an old identity that no longer served him. This is how he
describes what unfolded from the weekly mirroring:
for the first time, connected to at last!...I learned to track my inner
self. By being felt, I learned to feel. By feeling, I learned to feel
I really was. It has been an incredible, fascinating journey...Life
from the inside, my inside.
someone could go with me to the depth of my pain, my disconnectedness,
so I could see my deepest fears and resistances and could begin to feel
life...The key is not the missed path, the key is that I was felt,
connected to at a very deep level. This level of connection allows the
uniqueness of me to grow, to live. I was trapped in my mind, in my
analytical mind, separated from feeling and from a connection with
and myself. That is no longer the case.
did I discover
that I was interested in the fundamentals of what life is? As I look
I can see the seed trying to grow, at age 14 in my search for the
of death, at age 18 when I decided to become an atheist instead of the
safe agnosticism I was following. But all of this went underground
someone...could feel this deeper need in me."
with people, to pass on this work, to be with them as they explore,
their own fundamental fears, and underneath that barrier, find a life
simply lives through them. This work is done by feeling, sensing, and
those efforts by a dash of thinking."
BARRIERS TO A CREATIVE LIFE
UNIDENTIFIED GIFTED PERSON
"leading cause of death" of the potential for actualizing giftedness.
systematic destruction of any child's self-esteem is devastating, but
the gifted it is particularly so. For most people that carry shame as a
core issue, secondary defenses were constructed early on to protect
from the acute primal experience of a shaming event.
heightened sensitivity, the gifted I've worked with tend to have had an
extremely intense reaction to being shamed or humiliated in early
For some clients, any attempt to achieve anything can trigger fear and
deadness, a sense that any effort to be Somebody is simply a futile
to avoid accepting that you are really Nothing.
driven to achieve despite the shame are locked into terror that they
be humiliated when they are off guard and they will be defenseless
a reoccurrence of primal shame.
express their inner creativity is heightened in many gifted
and when the drive to create meets the wall of shame, it implodes into
numbness, rage, depression, and hopelessness. It also heightens the
for substance abuse, or other self-destructive behavior, setting up the
very exposed failure that triggers the shame.
client with a doctorate in linguistics describes our work to liberate a
Dancer, a Teacher, and a Songwriter from her core shame this way:
found a metaphor for the way I felt in my life: I was bound by a strait
jacket...I sensed creative energies inside, but couldn't seem to
life into them. I'd been raised by a mother with an insatiable need for
center stage who had to break my spirit in order to keep me in the
and a father who played hit man under my mother's direction. I grew up
believing I just didn't matter in the world.
to identify the shame that bound me and the broken heart that ached
She let me know that the healing would require conscious, painful
Disclosing my shame to others when it came up was a double whammy of
At first I wasn't even aware when a shaming event happened. I'd find
shut down, feeling dead, and wonder why. It took a willingness to feel
the shame for me to begin to notice it when it happened, and the added
willingness to self-disclose it in order to begin to build the muscles
that would prevent me from engulfment.
full force of my non-personhood, and the void that my life really was,
and the enormity of the effort that was going to be involved to begin
move the shame--could have been overwhelming..."
to experience some periods when the shame was not present, we began to
open up her creativity. She says:
at some special moments I felt alive, playful, and creative, whereas
of the time I felt more or less like a missing person. Mary had been
me questions like, 'What would make your heart sing?' At first the
felt as far away as distant stars...Recently I have found a wonderful
teachers, but felt stifled by the imposition of structure, so I just
playing around with what moved me in the privacy of my living
I dance, I seem to bypass shame. A whole healthy creative self comes
to play. A few months ago I left my job to start my own practice in
I call Awareness through Authentic Dance.
more I get to know this part of me, the more my creative juices seem to
be flowing. Songs have started bubbling up and I'm studying harmony and
singing to support and invite whatever wants to happen in this area.
started sewing costumes to wear when I dance...Every now and then shame
pops up and shuts me down, but every day as I work to enlarge my
pushing back the old boundaries of shame and enlarging the space I'm
to move in. The strait jacket just isn't relevant anymore."
number of my unrecognized gifted clients had teachers and parents who
precocity as a behavioral problem to be disciplined, controlled and
toward "normalcy." This history leaves the client not only with the
of reclaiming his or her true gifted identity but of healing all the
and pain of being, in effect, punished for being gifted. Also, when
coerce unrecognized gifted children to live the life the parents have
for them, the children are robbed of years of lost time in which they
otherwise have been developing their giftedness. They grow up
angry, and guilty, whether they attempt to live out their parents'
or whether they rebel.
was punished and coerced toward normalcy needs support to embrace his
and facilitation to heal all the wounds attendant to being abused for
gifted. The therapist must treasure the client's giftedness and
the client to do the same. Together, a hothouse environment is set up
the "inner child" can feel free to create, which is essential to the
of adult creativity. The client is also guided toward a level of
that throws off ongoing parental and societal pressures.
new film and TV director writes about how he was abused for being
inclined, how self-destructive behavior ensued, and the events and
by which he was able to embrace his creativity:
Me gifted? No way! Not according to my family upbringing. I grew up in
a creative wasteland, ruled over by the cultural SS. Any signs of
were interpreted as subversive. They were arrested and sentenced to the
inner world on sight!...So, I went underground...Those people tried to
break my spirit and mold me into the type of man they thought I should
to make me NORMAL--just like them! I was treated as if I were a bad,
and unworthy child...I felt stupid, like I was a really bad person,
insecure, hysterical, sad, lonely, angry, and hostile...I was
in pain and I lived in darkness and fear...
going to my first film class where we watched movies and talked about
The nickel dropped. That was it. I wanted to make movies...My father
to all this...by telling me that I had no right to be in the movie
and that I was crazy and a dreamer...I struggled to get jobs by day,
I did battle with Dad & Co. by night for the right to do what I
this period I met David, who became my friend, then my therapist,
and father figure who encouraged me to express myself in some way.
May and John Cassavetes both sensed that I possessed some talent and
me to express it. I was too far gone to hear any of it, and even if I
I didn't believe it. I could do nothing about it."
of self-destructive behavior and substance abuse, he got clean and
It was two years before anyone would hire him again.
to work as an assistant editor and had to learn my craft from the
an editor I learned to work creatively. Finally I began to understand
creative process. I broke through."
of our work provides a sense of the process of reclaiming his true
year and a half I have been working with Mary Rocamora. It seems as if
we have been at it for a much longer period because what has transpired
in that time is quite remarkable. The intensity of this work brought
such profound changes in me. I am not the same person.
with the ill effects of my upbringing, freeing me up from the duties,
and guilt imposed on me by my family. We dealt with the rage, anger,
and grief, and ultimately the letting go of the hope and the acceptance
of how things were and how things are. I discovered and connected with
my inner child, starting the process of reparenting this wonderfully
safe place for him filled with love and trust. The removal of these
enabled me to really take off and pursue and realize my creative
I was able to experience the opening of my heart and in learning to
(it), live and come from that place inside me that only feels."
owning, and believing that you have some creative talent...Editing was
fun for awhile but after seven years that world had become too small
this creative monster. I needed a bigger playground. Last November I
to direct my first show, an episode on "L. A. Law". It was good enough
to get me a second show to direct. I'll succeed as a director. My
has survived, all of it. It has a larger life and is the strongest
aside from love in this universe...Try and stop me now!"
gifted adults I have worked with came from privileged parents that were
overpowering and autocratic, who utterly eclipsed their children's
of intellect and talent. Despite all the elite education and tutoring
children of these very wealthy families were regarded as parental
who should not be allowed to compete with the parents or to be
to have creative lives of their own. A creatively and intellectually
woman that put in five intensive years in therapy to reclaim her self,
her giftedness as an actress, and to build an authentic life sums up
childhood experience reported by many such clients. She exemplifies how
giftedness is frozen in the core identity of nonpersonhood, and the
that her wealthy background played:
into a very small dark corner labeled 'daughter.' Everything around me
ran like a well-oiled machine: food, clothes, school, vacations,
my parents were both abroad, the house felt safer, but I only noticed
I felt this right before they were expected back, when that black scary
doom started to permeate me again. It seemed as though the presumption
was that I had everything; therefore how could I ask for anything? But
I felt as though I had nothing but trepidation...I went invisible...and
then invisible meant I would have no voice, no say, no impact, no
become me by discovering what my hidden, horrible beliefs actually
by learning they were never authentically mine, by identifying the
that precluded me from knowing this, by starting to believe that I
had the right to...decide who I am and what my place on this earth
be, by the outrage that propelled me to disentangle the heinous web of
emotional misinformation that was crammed into my psyche and being when
I was helpless, unprotected, and tiny.
it is commonly understood is a useless and very dangerous word. It is
a positive value judgment that by itself it does not possess. If it is
incorporated into a loving, caring, nurturing, attentive scenario where
it can enhance experience and further exploration of the self and the
it is a divine gift, to be appreciated and treasured and to be very
is often the case. It is normally the antidote to valid authentic
It is the catch-all answer to refute essential questions. It is the
label that invalidates one's most precious needs. It screams at you
you can never ever, no matter now hard you try, be good enough to
and pay back the immeasurable good fortune that has been heaped upon
is the sure-fire
hell in which self doubt, guilt, and worthlessness breed malignantly
ferociously. It is brilliant because it wounds and if left alone kills
the very belief systems the psyche needs to fight it off. It produces
encourages defenselessness, and from that terrible fearful place comes
all sorts of aberrational feelings, thoughts, behavior patterns, and
This is why 'privilege' is a very, very dangerous word. When not
to a positive scenario it is the final and totally eclipsing negation
when I believe I can accomplish anything and everything I want to. This
feeling is not a constant, I believe, because it is a relearned belief.
It is structured around my own sometimes frail, sometimes unshakeable,
belief in myself, a self that was for eons smothered and under constant
wealthy gifted individuals that are discriminated against in their area
of creative expression precisely because of their wealth. Many of the
clients I've worked with have been denied opportunities to join their
because they don't need the income, are seen as undeserving because it
looks as if they haven't had to struggle, and are perceived as spoiled.
AFFECTS GIFTED ADULTS
seems to transmit mixed messages to the gifted among us. While the
has been conditioned to have the highest expectations of a famous
individual, there is always the underlying media message that if a
person demonstrates anything either creatively or personally that is
sensationalizable, or flawed, he or she risks public humiliation.
the high profile gifted are only treasured as long as they appear to be
perfect. Currently, the only saving grace for bad publicity is to find
a way to turn bad press into public sympathy.
the unrecognized gifted, our society offers less and less educational
where individuals could find mirroring for latent talents. It fails to
provide any significant creative encouragement in the professional
and few windows, besides specialized therapy, that would open up a
creative life that was previously unlived. In our society, leading a
devoted to excellence is not particularly encouraged or rewarded,
of course, you are an Academy Award-winning movie star or one of the
most beloved opera singers.
there are many gifted individuals among us who are not fulfilling their
potential, in part, because there is no cultural invitation to do so.
there is no part of the American lifestyle that is tailor-made for the
special needs gifted adults to discover and maximize their talents.
backdrop, the therapist who works with the gifted needs to close this
with therapy providing an environment reserved for the most creative
visionary individuals among us. Each client must be encouraged to be
architect of a lifestyle that supports his or her particular creative
feel that their creativity is precious and has the potential to make a
contribution to the society at large. This is a critical therapeutic
that must be addressed, whether it pertains to the already famous
or to the gifted individuals that are inching their way out of
seek to specialize in working with gifted adults must understand the
between the psychological issues at hand and the issues pertaining to
client's giftedness. They must be fully knowledgeable about the
of the creative process so as to liberate and activate it
and have a well-developed understanding about how to take clients with
great ability into a level of professional achievement that will
also make up for the lack of societal support and help all gifted
to be the architects of a lifestyle that supports the development of
~ ~ ~
M.A., is the founder and director of The
Rocamora School. She has been a consultant in private practice in
Angeles, California, for the past 14 years, specializing in working
gifted adults, many of whom are in the entertainment industry. She
seminars and other presentations on advanced development.
articles by Mary Rocamora.
~ ~ ~
originally published in
Journal, Volume 4, January, 1992
=== === ===
Barbara Kerr. Smart
Girls: A New Psychology of Girls, Women, and Giftedness
Kathleen Noble ,
Women - Perspectives on Female Talent Development
[also see interview
with Prof. Noble]
Sally Reis, PhD: Work
Left Undone: Choices and Compromises of Talented Women
Mary Rocamora. The
Personal Journey Workbook: A Guide to an Extraordinary Life
"to show a way to get
of old, limiting patterns so that a fresh and expansive life can be
a carefully designed exploration of awareness and beliefs using
non-dogmatic information and precisely crafted inductive exercises."
Linda Silverman Counseling
the Gifted and Talented
Marylou Kelly Streznewski.
Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential
~ ~ ~
Ability - gifted/talented articles
~ ~ ~