Annemarie Roeper on the Emotional Needs of the Gifted

I’ve never met Annemarie Roeper or talked to her in person. The closest I’ve gotten is reading her work and seeing her picture. But through her words and that picture my intuitive self was deeply drawn to her, to a light of widsom, knowledge and selflessness that seems to encompass her…

Maybe someday I’ll have the blessing of sharing some physical time and space with her.  In the mean time, let me share with you some of her incredible insights on the emotional needs of the gifted.

The references in her article are to children, but remember, gifted children become gifted adults with all the same intensities, complexities and world visions. The subheadings and emphasized words throughout this article are mine, not hers, but I’m sure they’ll help reinforce her amazing ideas.

The Emotional Needs of the Gifted Child

by Annemarie Roeper

The emotions are the heart and soul of giftedness. The heart and soul of the human being is my passion. I have been preoccupied with it throughout my life.

The Gifted Heart and Soul

When we look into the eyes of children and adults we see their souls. We receive their message with our own souls. It is my belief that giftedness exists in the heart and soul. It is in the area of emotions where the gifted differ most from others. This is particularly evident in the most highly gifted. The emotions of the gifted grow out of their greater cognitive awareness which then translates into feelings. They understand early on that it hurts when you get injured and learn to avoid it by being extra careful. That means they develop fears earlier and stronger; sometimes, to an exaggerated degree. For example, I’ve known several very gifted children who were terrified of germs and would visualize them flowing through their bodies, destroying their health. To just tell them how unlikely this is may not satisfy them. They need us to acknowledge their fear. During the Gulf War, many gifted children were frightened of bomb attacks. The rational explanation by parents left them feeling misunderstood. Intellectually, they knew an attack on us was not likely to happen, but they needed to have their anxieties understood. Their concerns extended beyond personal fears. That adults could be so destructive undermined their feelings of safety. Even four year olds identified with the Iraqi children. I could see the desperation in their eyes and their need to do something, such as writing a letter to the President.

The Path to Self-Actualization

Because of their greater awareness, gifted children understand the consequences of their behavior and develop feelings of guilt sooner and stronger than others. Being aware often drives them to remedy a situation by taking action, and yet, realizing their own helplessness. Problems between parents are a frequent case in point. Their solution may seem bizarre, such as misbehaving or drawing attention to themselves rather than to the conflict. If they can’t influence the situation they develop a feeling of guilt because they often feel responsible. They are also perfectionists and feel they are not supposed to act on their emotions. An eleven year old boy in our school one day burst crying into my office. When I finally could quiet him down, so I could ask him what had happened, he said that he had hit another child. He was totally overcome by guilt. The perfectionist may not be jealous, for instance. They may turn those feelings against themselves. All of the senses of gifted children are heightened. They are over excitable. These emotions are most likely expressed in the safety of home. Families become witnesses to the expression of greatest joy and happiness as well as desperation in the gifted child. In a household of gifted people the electricity is palatable. Everything is more so. While the ability for cognitive learning is in the brain, the motivation for learning, for inner growth, for self actualization is emotional and is in the heart. Gifted children are often driven to learn. The drive is emotional; the ability to learn is cognitive.

Emotional Intensity

It is known that some people with great intellectual ability do not want to learn for a variety of reasons. We cannot force them to as much as we might try. We often hear about motivation. Motivation is emotional not cognitive. Every time a child says, “I want,” it is an expression of emotion. Gifted children overflow with emotion, passion, enthusiasm. At times, they exhaust others with their emotionality. I have seen big boys cry when they see beauty or when they are very disappointed. Their sense of justice is deeply emotional. Children frequently get very emotional about the homeless, the atom bomb, or war. Injustice in the classroom is unbearable for them; injustice at home even more so. One child could never forgive the teacher who tore up his best friend’s picture. I once saw a child give up winning a chess game on purpose, because he noticed that it would be intolerable for the other child.

Understanding the World

Giftedness to me is a great deal of heart and soul. Yet, most of the work, research, and approaches to reaching the gifted child is on a cognitive basis. We try to understand the gifted with our brain, with reason. The whole approach to education, beginning with parents, has moved to a cognitive basis. By excluding the emotions, we miss the essence of giftedness. If we want to be supportive of the gifted, we must support the Self. Self actualization means emotional growth. This must not be construed to mean that they don’t need the educational opportunities for growth. They need them desperately, but not necessary in the way we want them to learn. They are driven emotionally to make sense of the world or to express themselves in it. For this reason, gifted children love science and math and information in their chosen area of interest. Their goal is to master the world by understanding. Mastery for them means safety. That is why cognitive growth is a must for the gifted. They want to incorporate the world by understanding it, by exploring it. They are passionate learners for emotional reasons. But their desire is not always directed towards skilled or academic learning but towards concept learning of their own choosing. Therefore, our expectations contradict the inner need of the gifted. They often feel too tightly structured and controlled. There are those who have trouble spelling. That may be all the school knows about them. But their inner stories and fantasies could paint the world in brilliant colors and express more excitement and knowledge than you could ever find in the teacher controlled classroom. Most of this richness is hidden behind our linear approach to education. It would be so exhilarating if all that inner creativity and emotionality that exists in our children could burst into the world and become visible. Instead, we concentrate on taming it and bend the child to our linear world. And the Self fights back.

To read more of this article, please visit Education Oasis.

To read more about Annemarie, visit the  Roeper Consultation Service blog.

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  • Kunwer

    I fully agree with this article. Emotional charge also bring passion in the gifted which is so useful for the work environment to be sucessful.

  • Soph Laugh

    This is an absolutely beautiful sharing that mirrors the truisms found by seeing the world through transparent eyes. 

    • Sonia Dabboussi

      What a lovely way of looking at it. Thanks for the deep words…

  • A

    I went to a psychiatrist and before I could tell him everything about me (due to time constraint), he diagnosed me with ADHD(HI) and Borderline Personality Disorder. I researched about them online and I don’t think I have the exact symptoms of Borderline Personality. Before this, I had suspected that I am gifted (still do), but this diagnosis, though I’m not convinced, has caused me to start doubting myself and chiding myself saying that I might be narcissistic to think I am gifted.

  • sapphire

    Just stumbled on this article. So much truth & wisdom about giftedness. Rang to me heart and soul! She truly understands the gifted person.

  • pramod

    it is a very good site.
    I loved it, but i have many querries to discus. When n how?
    Pl help me because after my traumatic brain injury I forget and have become a slow learner.