Where Trauma and Giftedness Intersect
Updated: Jan 4, 2021
Sometimes we feel angry because we have been wronged in some way or our boundaries have been crossed. We might be fed up and frustrated with something or someone after we have tried for too long and are exhausted. At times we feel nervous about an upcoming change in our lives, meeting new people, a big test or feel overwhelmed by money issues. We might also feel sad because of a loss and hopeless after a long struggle with unresolved issues.
It is normal to have a full range of emotions, as our emotions are meant to give us important information, and enable us to experience life in color, not just black and white. You can think of feelings almost like a super power. If we notice, and listen to the signs our bodies give us, we can overt danger; and at the same time notice and appreciate beauty, kindness and love when it presents and we feel happy. Here are some examples of what I am talking about. Have you ever had that feeling in your stomach when something isn’t right, followed that instinct and avoided a dangerous situation? Have you felt angry or irritated when someone disregards your well being and expects you to do something you aren’t comfortable with? Has a part of you said “this isn’t a good idea” when something that seemed okay turned out to be really bad? We get feelings about good things too, like those times we get a good feeling about someone, and they turn out to be an amazing person. All of our emotions have a purpose, and are expected under certain circumstances.
So, what happens when the frequency and intensity of the emotion doesn’t match the event triggering it? In other words, the reaction is unexpected given the situation. If this is happening to you on a regular basis it is a sign you may be having difficulty regulating your emotions, and there is likely an underlying cause. It’s a good idea to seek the help of a medical professional, as different health problems can manifest as mood issues. If you are physically healthy, you might be struggling with an underlying mental health issue, which is also a medical problem. There is often a genetic component to having increased anxiety, depression and extreme mood fluctuations so it is also a good idea to investigate your family history and consult with a therapist.
Unresolved trauma is another potential root cause of overwhelming symptoms of anger, anxiety, fear, sleep problems, flashbacks, unexplained body pain, stomach upset, depression, low and high motivation, and addiction. What we have survived in the past can linger in our nervous systems, as our bodies attempt to renegotiate what happened before to end in a different way. A traumatic event could be as simple as a fall, or as complex as torture spanning a period of years. Even things we might not regard as traumatic, like a medical procedure or surgery can be very distressing to our bodies.
Trauma can also result from ongoing stress, like that experienced by people who work in high stress environments, children who are bullied, people who are under resourced and/ or marginalized. Misattunements and constant evaluations at school, work and in other environments can trigger feelings of threat and danger in our nervous system, causing us to feel unsafe.
Highly intelligent and gifted people are a group who may experience chronic stress and misattunement throughout their lives. Gifted children and adults are often misunderstood by the average world and get messages from others that they don't fit in, that they aren't good enough, they should be perfect, they should be less sensitive, less imaginative, less active. They may be called arrogant, lazy, stubborn, weird, overthinking, overreacting, and the list goes on. In addition, the needs of gifted children may go unmet, especially if they are part of a minority group or of a lower socio-economic status. All of this can lead to feelings of shame, which can be one cause of Imposter's Syndrome. It can also lead to intense perfectionism, being a workaholic, and for some, cause them to make choices that negatively impact their lives like dropping out of school, committing crimes or using drugs to self medicate. While research suggests higher intelligence and emotional sensitivity may make a person more resilient, it does not insulate them from the affects of trauma.
Most people are not fully conscious of the trauma triggers which cause them to have a fight, flight or freeze response. Think of unchecked anger, frequent arguing and punching objects as a possible expressions of being in a “fight” mode; running away, avoidance, excessive movement, and panicking are some examples of the “flight” mechanism; and being mentally “checked out”, feeling emotionally numb, shut down, isolating or thrill seeking/risk taking behaviors are a few symptoms associated with “freeze”. People essentially get “stuck” in one of these survival states, where their nervous system constantly tries to find resolution for what it has experienced. As a result, people are more sensitive, or numb, depending on the state. What can seem like over or under reactions, or irrational behaviors, can actually be the result of the trauma cycles the nervous system is attempting to neutralize. Unfortunately, this experience can interfere with our enjoyment and participation in life, and can wreak havoc on our relationships.
The good news is, help is available, and we are capable of healing wounds. It is important to seek the support of a professional who specializes in trauma, and who understand the unique needs of gifted people. If you or someone you love is struggling emotionally. The right person can encourage you to have good health practices, help you to develop appropriate coping strategies and enable you to develop a good support system, which is good advice for everyone.
About the Author: Christy, is a Licensed Marriage Family Therapist and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, practicing in San Diego, California. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, teens, parents, families, couples and individual adults with complex psychological and relationship problems. She specializes in the needs of gifted, bright and high achieving people, as well as those who have suffered past trauma. Christy uses an eclectic approach, meeting the needs of whomever she is working with. Her work addresses the needs of the whole person, incorporating mind and body.