Can gifted children burn out before they become gifted adults?

The constant pressure to succeed. The need to produce nothing less than an A in every class. The feeling that no matter what you do it’s never quite good enough, that there’s something more you should be doing, something more you should know. Can this all become too much?

For gifted children, the push to excel by those around them can be incredibly overwhelming. And even though they may be capable of doing great things in the world, when they start being able to make their own choices as teens and young adults, sometimes they choose not to make the most of their skills and talents. They choose to move away from what they have learned in their lives to be emotionally painful – their giftedness.

Maslow says, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be. He must be true to his own nature. This need we may call self-actualization.” And in many ways this is indeed true.

The problem comes when this desire for self-actualization conflicts with negative feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy and lack that have been acquired layer by layer, year by year.  What then becomes of those who possess the possibility of finding creative solutions to the world’s difficulties? I dare not wonder.

Merging a previous period of perceived failure with a current period of actually reaching far less than self-actualization, and then reshaping both of these into a fulfilling, inspired adult way of being is the challenge facing a good number of our gifted today.

Is this an easy process, altering an entire belief structure and severing negative emotional bonds?  Absolutely not.

Is it a possible one?  Yes, it certainly is.

But it happens only with a lot of guidance, love and support, one step at a time.

Join the forum discussion on this post
Be Sociable, Share!

  • Electrically

    Speaking as a someone new to (gifted) adulthood, I can say with certainty that I burned out. For most of my life, I’ve been an overachiever. From elementary through junior high, I had an extremely supportive group of teachers and peers in exclusively gifted classes, which helped my development enormously both intellectually and emotionally. When I got to high school, the gifted program began to dissolve. It was frustrating to say the least, but by my final year of high school it was absolute torment. I missed assignments, doodled all class, and eventually stopped going altogether (this was absolutely unheard of for me, and felt like  breaking a law). That said, I still graduated, and with higher marks than most of my peers (although lower than my usual), but it was grueling. I could barely get out of bed in the morning.

    My problem was not about a personal fear of failure so much as it was my restrictive environment. High school was not a place for creative inquiry. My giftedness was seen as an inconvenience and actively discouraged. To make matters worse, they spouted all the usual garbage about gifted accommodation and encouraging critical thinking and whatnot. I spoke to teachers and administrators to fix it and was turned down every time. Eventually I gave up. They obviously didn’t care, so why was I expected to?
    The result has been complete disillusionment with institutional learning, which may or may not be justified. I have a major reluctance to pursue higher education. But as it relates to the article, I only mean to say that burnout is not always internally induced. 

    • http://giftedforlife.com Sonia Dabboussi

      Institutional learning is geared to serve the masses which means by default that oftentimes the smaller groups that need attention don’t get their needs fully met. It serves its purpose, but it is not the be all and end all for sure.

      It’s usually easier to help younger children develop their skills since, even with differences, there is enough the same that there will still be some range of people who understand them. As children age their ideas become more complex, their needs more varied, and the number of people working at a level equal to or higher than they are becomes more limited. Add giftedness into the mix and you’ve got a tough situation. So it becomes easier for administration to brush the ‘problem’ under the rug instead of address it since addressing it is a big challenge that many administrators just don’t have the time or funds to deal with.

      In the end, it’s up to us to do what we need to do in our lives. We need to find others that we can communicate with in a way that we can truly be ourselves. By making these connections we can find resources or share ideas to design a path that suits us, which may just be one that doesn’t presently exist. A challenge? Yes. Impossible? No. Worth the effort? Definitely!

    • http://giftedforlife.com giftedforlife

      Institutional learning is geared to serve the masses which means by
      default that oftentimes the smaller groups that need attention don’t get
      their needs fully met. It serves its purpose, but it is not the be all
      and end all for sure.

      It’s usually easier to help younger children develop their skills
      since, even with differences, there is enough the same that there will
      still be some range of people who understand them. As children age
      their ideas become more complex, their needs more varied, and the number
      of people working at a level equal to or higher than they are becomes
      more limited. Add giftedness into the mix and you’ve got a tough
      situation. So it becomes easier for administration to brush the
      ‘problem’ under the rug instead of address it since addressing it is a
      big challenge that many administrators just don’t have the time or funds
      to deal with.

      In the end, it’s up to us to do what we need to do in our lives. We
      need to find others that we can communicate with in a way that we can
      truly be ourselves. By making these connections we can find resources
      or share ideas to design a path that suits us, which may just be one
      that doesn’t presently exist. A challenge? Yes. Impossible? No.
      Worth the effort? Definitely!

  • LizzieLemonic

    Somewhat unfortunately – reality is not made up of supportive peer environments, coddling adults and constant accommodation. Gifted students, in my opinion, are ill-served when they are not taught to function in the face of so-called restriction and humanity’s diversity of agendas, because that is likely more typical of the world they will have to be capable of thriving in. True gifts are those that are able to be shared with the world, with all of its faults, in our effort to improve them. We avoid teaching our gifted children to cope with this fact at the peril of the giftedness we think we are protecting.

  • J

    I am a freshman in high school and joining the gifted program is one of my biggest regrets. When I was younger, school came easily and I had a high enough IQ to test into the gifted program. I never had to study, so I never developed good study habits. I used to love learning and would ask for EXTRA math homework and stuff. This was all in elementary school. In 6th grade I tested into pre algebra so I skipped 6th grade math. This class was a fun challenge. But during that year I was picked on a lot and my mental health began declining, worsening very much over the years. In 7th grade I was challenged at a reasonable level and I really enjoyed it. It was hard but manageable and I learned a lot. Then I skipped a science class so I could take biology in 8th grade. With biology, geometry, and my advanced english class, work became unbearable. I worried about not doing well and had no motivation nor study skills. Being told how ‘special’ and ‘smart’ I was as kid left me thinking I didn’t need to study. Now I am in freshman year taking ap chemistry and ap algebra II and absolutely struggling. I got myself into courses that are way over my head, but now I can’t switch back to on level classes. My chem teacher isn’t exactly the best teacher out there and I just have a lot of trouble managing my school work. My grades are slowly beginning to decline even though I’m working hard. It’s just really difficult to study. And its my fault for not learning to study well. I’m trying my best to improve but I’m still quite disappointed. Sometimes my school work seems like a ginormous mountain that I can’t climb so I try to avoid it and not think about it. It is a terrible habit that I need to work at. I do hate saying this entire spiel though because I feel like I’m trying to blame the school system for my lack of motivation. I need to take responsibility for my own faults. In the end, my decline is MY fault. But school truly did kill my love of learning. I barely even read for enjoyment anymore.
    I apologize for this long winded paragraph and for sounding like a whiny teen. That is, in fact, what I am though. I’m a privileged child who is having trouble working hard at things in life because I had everything handed to me as a kid. This truly is all my fault. Hopefully I can improve.