In this article, autism coach Nikki talks about the similarities and differences between being highly sensitive and being highly gifted.
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Estimated reading time: 12 minutes
Earlier I wrote a guest blog about the differences between high sensitivity and autism, because these two neurodivergencies are often mixed up. Today you will learn more about high sensitivity and being highly gifted, as these traits often are confused with each other as well.
However, that’s not completely strange, as high sensitivity can also be a trait of being gifted. Therefore, in this article, I provide some more information about what being highly gifted entails. You will discover what the differences and the similarities are, so you can distinguish between the two traits.
Here’s What You’ll Learn
- The Basics Of Being Highly Gifted
- The Traits Of Highly Gifted People
- The Similarities of Highly Sensitive And Highly Gifted People
- (Re)Cognizing Your High Sensitivity As A Highly Gifted Person
- (Re)Connect With Your Intuition
The Basics Of Being Highly Gifted
There are different definitions of giftedness, but in general professionals use the multi-factor model of Franz Josef Mönks’s. This professor of developmental psychology has added a number of factors to the existing model of the American psychologist Renzulli.
Renzulli stated that giftedness is not so much a trait, but a certain ability that leads to gifted behavior. According to this theory, a person is highly gifted if he has a great amount of creativity, high intelligence (IQ> 130) and a certain motivation.
- High creativity: By creativity people do not only mean “creative” creativity, such as painting, knitting, clay or baking cakes. For many gifted individuals, creativity (also) expresses itself in language and word jokes and in coming up with original solutions to problems. Gifted people can get into discussions with surprising questions and arguments. Their strength is to think outside the box.
- High intelligence: One of the hallmarks of giftedness is high intelligence. An IQ (Intelligence Quotient) of 130 is generally used as a lower limit. Intelligence tests determine the IQ. The average IQ is 100. If you have an IQ of 140, then that score deviates 40 points from the average. In percentage terms, there are as many people with an IQ of 140 as with an IQ of 60.
- High motivation: By this they mean having a great passion, task orientation and the urge to achieve set goals. Gifted people often have an intrinsic motivation to achieve their goals.
Influence Of The Environment
Mönks added the influence of the environment. The environment partly determines whether the qualities that the person has (highly intelligent, high creativity and high motivation) are also visible in striking performances. He mentions the influence of the family, the school and the circle of friends of the gifted person in its childhood. This influence can be both positive and negative.
Heller expands the story even further in his multi-factor model. He sees “giftedness” as something that is not only about intellectual capacities, but can also be, for example, musical, social or physical gifts. He also says that factors in the person have an influence as well. For example, someone may have great musical talent, but suffer from fear of failure to such an extent that it is not possible to perform in front of an audience.
Being highly gifted appears to be basically innate. There are indications that the nervous system of a gifted person can make new connections more easily and more quickly. Whether the person can also translate these innate qualities into exceptional achievements and whether the person is happy depends on many factors, both in his environment and in himself. A gifted person is “different” from most people in several ways. It is not better or worse, but it is different. That is why the gifted person needs other things to be able to develop optimally.
The Traits Of Highly Gifted People
But how do you know if you are gifted, maybe? Well, you do an IQ test! The result of an IQ test gives many gifted individuals a sense of security or reassurance when it turns out positive. But there are many situations where someone does not perform optimally while taking the IQ test. Somebody might perform worse because they have a fear of failure which makes them do the test less successfully. Therefore, the “negative” result does not necessarily mean that you are not gifted.
Another way is to read into the many traits that gifted people have. You can find many lists of traits online. Gifted people often identify with these lists, but the logic does not necessarily work the other way: recognizing yourself in these lists does not mean that you are gifted.
The traits mentioned are not all actually traits of highly gifted people. A large number of these “traits” are experiences, pitfalls or behaviors that we encounter in the gifted. Many of these are based on the fact that gifted individuals belong to a minority. This list therefore serves as a recognition, not as a “diagnostic” instrument.
I did however, make a list for you. Because I do want you to know what a lot of gifted people have in common, so you can get a broader vision of what it entails to be a gifted individual. I put these traits in different categories (I am a sucker for categorizing things, I am autistic after all). I have three categories listed: sensitivity traits, consciousness traits and traits in relation to intelligence, creativity and perseverance.
#1: Sensitivity Traits
- have always felt different from others.
- have low self-esteem and often low self-confidence.
- are sensitive to (loud) noise, light, crowds, smells and other external stimuli.
- feel easily influenced by the moods of others.
- have perfectionistic traits.
- are intuitive.
- can pick up subtle signals from your environment.
- are easily annoyed or impatient.
- are sensitive to pain.
- need to rest after a day at work to reconnect with yourself.
- are more sensitive than average to the effects of nicotine, alcohol and caffeine.
- feel the emotions of others in your own body.
- usually hate violence.
- can be very moved by the beauty of things, like music.
#2: Consciousness Traits
- often quickly find different solutions to problems.
- are or were an outsider at school.
- participated fairly inconspicuously at school. You got along with everyone, but you didn’t really belong to anything.
- are very loyal.
- can take on the whole world one moment and then lose that feeling the next time.
- are a worrier because you are able to see what may go wrong.
- prefer friends who are older than yourself.
- often have to defend your opinion or ideas or they are ignored.
- sometimes doubt your own ideas because you are the only one who seems to think a certain way.
- are regularly told not to be so difficult or so serious.
- would like to make the world a better place and you are already full of ideas about how that should be done.
- feel that you could achieve more than you have done so far.
- have trouble finding inner peace.
- are very loyal and trustworthy in friendships.
- are afraid to take an intelligence test, because what if you fail and giftedness turns out not to be a part of you.
- sometimes you know things, not knowing why that is the case.
- have extraordinary experiences that you cannot always place or explain.
#3: Intelligence, creativity and perseverance traits
- work best in an independent position.
- set high standards for yourself and others and are very critical.
- have great perseverance when you are working on something that you like or need of yourself.
- often have to repeat something or explain it several times. Others don’t get you.
- have your own way of learning.
- don’t find learning difficult, but the way it is presented has to be appropriate.
- have a very strong sense of justice.
- have a special kind of humor.
- hate repetition.
- can spend hours focused on something if it interests you.
- find parties where you can have a good discussion pleasant.
- often feel bored at parties.
- have a large vocabulary, or you understand a lot, but you use that vocabulary a lot less.
- like the details in a discussion and “pick on” others for irregularities in it.
- have unlimited curiosity.
- feel a hunger for knowledge and information in areas that you find interesting.
- could read early on and you still love to read.
- have a full bookcase.
- work on many cases or projects at the same time.
- sometimes find it difficult to get started because you no longer know how to start.
- procrastinate a lot.
- experience trouble completing projects because your attention already moved on to the following.
- work according to fixed procedures or you have difficulty applying structure.
- work the best prior to a deadline and things usually work out just fine.
The Similarities of Highly Sensitive And Highly Gifted People
As you could see in the list of traits, giftedness and high sensitivity overlap in many ways. But they are not necessarily the same thing. Both gifted people and highly sensitive people perceive the world very intense and consciously. Both groups of people notice certain subtleties and discrepancies around them that the gross of the people around them seem to miss.
Next to that, both highly sensitive people and gifted people are aware of their environment and have an above average sensitivity to atmosphere and stimuli. Consequently, this makes both of them react excessively. The information received by the senses is also experienced more intensely and a deeper processing takes place.
Certainly in new environments they can therefore become overwhelmed by the stimuli that they experience. This can make them struggle with certain social matters, such as parties, and really dread it. They will also notice that they need more charging and recovery time than the people around them, who are less sensitive to stimuli.
What’s also the same in both parties, is that they often have the feeling of “not belonging”. Both highly gifted and highly sensitive people might feel a certain distance between them and other people. I’m not saying this is the case for everybody, but it is noticeable more often in these groups of people.
If you are either highly sensitive or highly gifted, there might me a bigger chance of not finding the right connection with other people. Consequently, this may make you feel rejected and misunderstood. Either of these individuals might have heard that they are “too sensitive”, “too emotional”, of “you worry too much, let it go”. Certainly gifted people are regularly called too critical, too difficult, too stubborn or too know-it-all.
Common Differences Between Highly Sensitive And Highly Gifted People
But next to these similarities, there are differences too. One of the biggest differences between giftedness and high sensitivity is the above-average potency and intelligence that is present in giftedness. This is the case if there is an IQ score of 130+. Gifted individuals also have a stronger analytical capacity, are faster in their thinking, are often one step ahead of others and are ahead in their development, which may be noticeable even when they are just a child.
Walking, talking or reading earlier than peers is a clear sign of being ahead in development. It also can develop later, but then they are already above their level. Some gifted people even skip developmental phases. For example, they start walking without having had the crawl phase. Being ahead in development, at home and at school, is not always noticeable. This can be the case when the child grew up in an environment that stood in their way, developmental or learning wise.
It might be the case that you now wonder if you are “only” highly sensitive, or that you are highly gifted too. You might wonder how to figure that out. It can be the case that you feel like there is more to you than just being highly sensitive. You feel like there is still an undiscovered part of you and that high sensitivity doesn’t cover the entire load.
If you feel this way, why not figure it out? Read more about it, make an appointment with somebody who can test you, if you’re able to afford that. In the end, it helps you to understand who you are and how you are wired. Therefore, even if you are not able to get the “scientific answer”, look for what works for you.
(Re)Cognizing Your High Sensitivity As A Highly Gifted Person
Let me first start this by saying that some gifted people might not even recognize their own sensitivities. A lot of them do know they are somewhat sensitive, but they might miss their high sensitivity completely.
When I researched this topic, I read that gifted people often are more ratio-oriented. Which means that they are more “thinkers” and that they tend to “think things out” in their own head. Many gifted people believe that the brain has all the answers, while intuition and emotions play an important role in finding answers.
So, what sensitive, gifted people might miss, is their connection to their own sensitivity. For instance, their ratio could be overdeveloped and the feeling-part less developed. Therefore, it sometimes takes years before gifted individuals understand how highly sensitive they are.
This reinforces when there is or was an unsuitable environment. When you have to adapt a lot because you have few like-minded people around you, it becomes a survival mechanism to close off the feeling aspect. You can no longer use your own intuition. You can also harden towards the outside world and become very black and white in your thinking and in relationships with others. For example, you break friendships abruptly because the other person does not meet your “requirements” or disappoints you in some way.
(Re)Connect With Your Intuition
Key is to get back in touch with your intuition and senses. Learn about who you are as a person, what matters to you and try to ignore your ratio. Try to incorporate some moments during the day to do this. Get back in touch with yourself. Make a habit out of it.
For example, sit down for a moment and try to be aware of your own body. Feel how you are sitting. Try to pay attention to how you feel, next. Do you have an itch? Do you feel your clothing on your skin? How is your stomach feeling? Is it hungry?
Go where your attention goes. What does it tell you? Is it a feeling on a thought of your own?
Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Relax your shoulders. Take a good stretch. What do you feel now?
You can do this little exercise multiple times during the day. When you are behind your laptop. When you are binging a new show on Netflix. Or when you are in the grocery store. Get out of your head and try to feel. It’ll work wonders for getting back in touch with your senses!
If you’d like to read more about being highly gifted, you may enjoy the book ‘Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential‘