Giftedness: Anxiety With Better Branding

Today I would like to share a personal story. When I was a kid, I loved to read. I mean, I loved to read. I brought books out to recess, I stayed up late with a flashlight under my covers, I watched almost no television. I think it was the fifth grade when my school started Accelerated Reading, and about halfway through the year, I got bored with the list because it was all too easy for me and stopped reading AR books. At the end of the year, I was in second place in the entire school for AR points. And I had stopped participating five months before everyone else.

It probably sounds like I’m bragging (and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little proud of that story), but my ridiculously high reading level had its downfalls. For one, when I decided that I wanted to read “love stories,” I got way more sex education than I bargained for when I found my way into the “romance” section at my local library.

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

Giftedness can refer to intellectual ability, academic ability, or skill in another area. It sounds great, right? Who doesn’t like to be good at things? When children are intellectually gifted, the problem arises due to uneven development. They learn to understand things on a cognitive level that they aren’t emotionally ready to deal with. I’ve seen this happen when six-year-olds have existential crises after realizing that they are going to die some day. Not to mention, many gifted kids struggle in adulthood because their identity develops around the fact that they are talented “for their age,” and when age is no longer a factor, they have no idea who they are.

Whenever I work with a gifted child and the parents express guilt (“Why are we complaining that our kid is smart?”) I tell them that giftedness is basically mental illness with good branding.

Every quality can be a strength or a deficit depending on the context and how extreme it is. We live in a world where any significant deviation from average can make it hard to fit in. If we started recognizing the anxiety that goes with giftedness, these kids could grow into healthier, more well-adjusted adults who recognize their value outside of their really high reading level.

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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