Every intensity, or ‘overexcitability’, associated with giftedness is not necessarily negative or positive in itself. Many people who evaluate their traits, however, see them strictly as negatives or even weaknesses. I don’t just believe that all have their good sides, I also believe it’s important to know these sides and develop them into valuable strengths. It’s much easier to see your imperfections than your strengths, so I made an overview of the 5 overexcitabilities and how they can be both positive, negative, and neutral.
The first thing associated with giftedness is intelligence, and intellectual intensity shows itself in the form of profound curiosity, love of knowledge and learning, love of problem solving, keen observation, reflective thought, introspection, avid reading, sustained intellectual effort, love of theory and analysis, and independent thinking.
The intellectual side is often much appreciated. Even though growing up highly intelligent may sometimes leave one feeling alienated and alone, the trait in itself is valued by whoever has it. However, too much dependance on the intellectual side of things leads to a neglect of the areas of feeling and intuition. Highly intelligent people often complain about how they can’t seem to still their mind, but that they secretly don’t want to give up their fascinating world of thoughts anyway. (I used to think of nothing higher than great thinkers, whereas now I’d love to be a great feeler or a great be-er much rather!)
This overexcitability can consist of detailed visualization, vivid dreams, a love of fantasy, creativity, inventions, a love of music and art, a sharp sense of humor, and a preference for the unusual and unique.
Just as intellectual strength, imaginational intensity is often appreciated. This one, however, can be a true burden once imbalanced. Fears can grow unlimited in the vast universe of the imagination. Great imaginational skills are also the reason why you always have a pretty good idea of what a ‘slightly better’ version of yourself could look like. This frustration is for many gifted people the source of their desire for personal growth and development. This may sound positive, but it could also mean that you’re never fully satisfied with who you currently are. Learning to love yourself now, despite seeing the possibilities for what you could grow into in the future, is crucial.
The next three are more often marked as weaknesses than as possible strengths. Think about what the word ’emotional’ means to you for a second, and what you associate it with. Do you come up with words such as instable, weak, melodramatic, etc? That’s unfortunate, because as you see below, that’s not what being emotional means at all.
Emotional sensitivity means having a depth and intensity of emotional feelings and relational attachments, a wide range of complex emotions, a strong memory for feelings, a high concern for others, a heightened sense of right and wrong, strongly developed feelings of empathy and responsibility, and a strong curiosity about the self.
Being emotional is the ability to feel, to recognize, and to understand. Practically speaking, being emotionally sensitive often means that you feel other people’s energy. Besides the fact that this can be overwhelming, it is also one of the greatest gifts a person can have. Your emotionality is part of your ability to heal. My current structural integration practitioner told me that the essence of being a healer is the ability to take on other people’s pain, but what makes you a good healer is not how much pain you can take on, but how good you are in letting it go afterwards.
When you take on the role of martyr and never learn how to get rid of what you absorb, your emotional sensitivity may lead to burn-outs, anxiety, and depression. Emotional boundaries and learning to let go are key here. See more about the potential beauty of this specific overexcitability in my post ‘Why you should accept your emotionality’.
An overexcitability in the field of sensory stimuli means being sensitive to visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory, or tactile stimulus. Think of being highly receptive of lights, colors, sounds, noises, smells, taste and fabrics.
This specific one is often talked about, and is the beginning point of the description of Highly Sensitive People (HSPs). On first sight this is the hardest one to find a positive note to. For me personally, this is what I struggle with mostly in my day. My sensory sensitivity is the reason I have trouble with crowds, busy supermarkets, loud music in the car, flashing lights in a café, and bright unnatural light in general. It is the reason I never wear certain fabrics, clothes with tangible stitching, and why I have to be careful with smells around the house.
However, I do also realize that these sensitivities are also the reason that I have an appreciation for fine foods, wine, teas, and that I can enjoy myself for hours looking at art, nature, people, and other beautiful things. Touching a soft cloth can be an intensely joyous sensation, and so is hearing the subtle sounds of a wind chime in a light breeze outside. It is very important to appreciate these parts of your sensitivity, and know that with proper self-care, feeling overwhelmed or over-stimulated can often be avoided. Knowing yourself is key here; learn your limits, learn what drains your energy, and learn how you recharge. Take appropriate breaks, and take them in an appropriate way. (I often find that laying down for 10 minutes in my dark bedroom in complete silence is much more recovering than laying down for an hour with the lights on and some background sounds.)
Ahh.. my nemesis. This is about the physical expression of emotions. It shows as a surplus of energy which can be internal and/or external, such as intense physical activity, competitiveness, rapid speech, restlessness, nervous habits and tics, impulsiveness, and even anxiousness. People who have psychomotor intensity as part of their giftedness often have a strong preference for fast action and fast decision-making.
This is the high I crave that at the same time depletes me more than anything. It took me years to learn how to speak in a socially accepted pace (i.e. terribly slowly!) and how to soothe the restless fire inside of me when needed. This overexcitability contains most clearly the good and the bad at the same time – and is therefore neither. This one also represents most strongly the importance of proper balance, for everyone understands that after a period of high energy, rest inevitably follows. Learn to recognize your flow. When are you enjoying your fast pace, and when is your speed coming from restlessness? It’s important to stop seeing phases of less energy as ‘lesser phases’. Just as sleep is an important part of the day, so are moments or days with less energy the times in which you recharge.
If you’d like to read more about giftedness and want to gain more understanding into your personal balance, I recommend reading Living with Intensity.