Giftedness In Adulthood: Traits and Issues



Defining Giftedness

Gifted” means (As defined in the Texas Education Code) those who perform at or shows the potential for performing at a remarkably high level of accomplishment when compared to others of the same age, experience or environment and who:

  1. exhibits high performance capability in an intellectual, creative or artistic area;
  2. possesses an unusual capacity for leadership; or
  3. excels in a specific academic field.

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If you or someone you know exhibits many of these traits, you may wish to take this survey for a more in depth analysis: Comprehensive Giftedness Survey   If at least 75% of the survey content is relevant, giftedness is likely afoot!

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Gifted Adults

When looking at Giftedness in adulthood, it is critical to note the word “potential” in the definition above; potential does not necessitate outward markers of achievement  to be present for giftedness to exist later in life. In fact, many of the positive traits associated with Giftedness in youth have costs that can be incurred. Often these costs intensifying across development and create significant problems for gifted adults. They can even become deterrents to social and occupational success, and contribute to poor psychological functioning with higher incidence of anxiety and depression.

Traits Possible Problems
1. Acquires/retains information quickly 1. Impatient with others; dislikes repetition; irritable; may mistakenly assume that others can function similarly to the gifted or not accept themselves as gifted
2. Inquisitive; searches for significance 2. Asks embarrassing questions, can be dismissive of new ideas from others, search for meaning may lead to cynicism and hopelessness
3. Intrinsic motivation 3. Strong-willed; resists direction; not driven by money or reward (particularly in matters related to occupational identity)
4. Enjoys problem solving; able to use abstract reasoning 4. Resists routine practice; questions use of abstract reasoning procedures; may find themselves in conflict when faced with dilemmas that have no clear choice and be unable to make decisions in these moments
5. Seeks cause-effect relations 5. Dislikes unclear/illogical areas (such as traditions or feelings), may rationalize to avoid feelings, may struggle with existential matters (morality, life/death, etc.)
6. Emphasizes truth, equity, and fair play, strong moral code 6. Worries about humanitarian concerns, may be unforgiving to self and others for moral transgressions; may have difficulty not relating to human error as the norm
7. Seeks to organize things and people 7. Constructs complicated rules; often seen as bossy; may develop or seek out labyrinthine hobbies/games
8. Large vocabulary; advanced, broad information 8. May use words to manipulate; bored with school/occupation and age-peers; may seek novel stimulation to ward of boredom
9. High expectations of self and others 9. Intolerant, perfectionist; may become depressed and/or anxious; highly critical of self and others
10. Creative/inventive; likes new ways of doing things 10. May be seen as disruptive and out of step, may feel asynchronous (out of step with the times)
11. Intense concentration; long attention span; persistence in areas of interest 11. Neglects duties/people during periods of focus; seen as stubborn; can get swept away by passionate thinking which can inccur high relational costs
12. Sensitivity, empathy, desire to be accepted 12. Sensitivity to criticism or peer rejection may make living with giftedness difficult to tolerate; high need for belongingness but often does not feel a sense of belonging
13. High energy, alertness, eagerness 13. Frustration with inactivity, may be seen as hyperactive or viewed as a distraction
14. Independent; prefers working solo; self-reliant 14. May reject parent or peer input; nonconformity, may have difficulty working with others particularly if not in a leadership role
15. Diverse interests and abilities; versatility 15. May appear disorganized or scattered; frustrated over lack of time; may have difficulty settling on identity due to constantly changing or plethora of interests
16. Strong sense of humor 16. Peers may misunderstand humor; may become “class clown” for attention; may use sarcasm or derisive humor at inappropriate times

If you or someone you know is gifted, they may want to take this assessment to evaluate the  impact of giftedness in his/her life: Gifted Issues ASSESSMENT



When To Seek Help

If you have felt misunderstood for years; or struggle with persistent bored, or feel plagued by self-doubt; or struggle with loneliness, you may want to seek help. In addition, if you feel subjected to persistent and uninvited commentary about your difference, support may be an important part of your personal growth.  Other problems associated with giftedness in adulthood that benefit from treatment are identity confusion and distorted self concept. The best description of these problems comes from a reknowned author on adult giftedness —Mary-Elaine Jacobsen, PsyD:

Identity formation occurs gradually and becomes a central task during adolescence. Teens are on a mission to figure out who they are, what they stand for, and where they are going. A formidable task for everyone, it is an even greater challenge for the gifted. This wouldn’t be so if giftedness were better understood by teachers, parents, and peers. The characteristics of the gifted that are the underpinnings of excellence (e.g., extrasensitivity, intensity, complexity, and above-average energy and drive) are the same ones so often criticized by others as excessive or annoying.

Gifted people often grow up with a pervasive sense of being considered an extremist—having too much of just about every personal trait to fit everyone else’s definition of acceptable. The criticisms they face often are leveled not at their performance but at their personhood. A performance complaint sounds like this: “That essay is not acceptable, because it does not address the topic I assigned.” A personhood attack sounds like this: “Once again I see that you decided to make up your own assignment. Why do you think you always deserve special treatment?” The first statement implies the student has done something unacceptable; the second, that he or she is unacceptable. Paradoxically, such criticisms are often mixed with praise like “You’re so smart; you can do anything!” It’s no wonder that gifted people, faced with conflicting information, find it nearly impossible to develop an accurate self-view.”


Importantly, gifted adults can learn to accept  their characteristics and use them to help manage interpersonal and intrapersonal conflicts more effectively, making them feel more like gifts. In fact, many gifted adults respond well to therapy and counseling from mental health care professionals. When seeking treatment for giftedness issues, it is best to find a therapist knowledgeable about the gifted experience. To help evaluate therapist readiness, formulate some interview questions. Ask something like “What do you believe are some of the more significant problems gifted adults encounter?” Or “How do you think asynchronous development affects the interpersonal relationships of gifted people?” In other words, come up with questions that only someone who genuinely knows and understands gifted adults would be able to answer. The relationship you foster with the therapist can serve as a model for how you wish to relate to others in your life so choose carefully!



1. Books
Living With Intensity
The Gifted Adult
 Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential
 “Living Out the Promise of High Potential: Perceptions of 100 Gifted Women,” provides many insights about gifted girls and women
2. Websites:
3. Articles: 
4. Therapy:
If you live in the San Antonio area, please contact me if you are interested in therapy services for the gifted. 
Lavelda Naylor, MA, LMFTA
The Key Counseling Services of SA
4230 Gardendale
Suite 502
San Antonio, Tx 78229

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