Blueberries in woman's hands. c) donatellasimeone. Via Fotolia

Is Your “Giftedness” Making You Sicker

Forrest Christian Underachievers 3 Comments

“Marcy” recently wrote about looking for a new psychotherapist in Northern Indiana, and talked about some judgments that she had about some of her previous therapists who didn’t fit with her. One of Marcy’s old therapists, with whom she did good work, wrote a book with the late Warren Rule, an Adlerian who for years was at Virginia Commonwealth; this reveals a lot about her.

I commented on the post, to which she replied. Here I want to further examine my answers to her questions.

On her site, I commented:

It doesn’t have to be true, because there are always exceptions, but I think that having a therapist who is generally at least in your league, mental-process-wise, works better. You don’t want a therapist who cannot understand the cognitive processes that you use. Personality is important, but if they can’t understand what you are saying when you feel you are speaking plainly (and there are some real reasons why this happens that are no one’s “fault”) it’s probably going to be a waste of your time. Degree is irrelevant to this, of course.

Does raise an issue, though. There’s a pretty good chance that you are mentally overwhelming the natives over there. (I say this as a Hoosier.) That can make social relations very difficult for the best of us. If you already feel uncomfortable with people, this can cause debilitating affective disorders. Therapy is of little value in this, except to help with coping skills. Personally, I’ve gotten to the point where I reckon it’s better to fix the broken leg rather than learn to cope with it. If the locals aren’t “getting” you, that could be a really nasty addition to the other stresses.

Marcy replied:

Manasclerk… well and good, but how exactly do you fix that broken leg? And what about the body of Christ, and loving your neighbor? Mental / psychological differences shouldn’t be such hindrances, should they — Jesus managed to have relationships with all sorts of people.

Let’s take a look at an answer to her.

Some important caveats

I’m addressing this to the Marcy who is represented on that blog, and not to Marcy as she may be in real life. I don’t know Marcy in meatspace: I only have the representations she makes of herself. But it’s still useful to go through, since so many people who should not be blaming themselves for the social and psychic distress caused by their mental capacities.

Nothing here should be read as implying that I believe that weblog Marcy should not seek psychiatric help or that she wouldn’t benefit from it, since I don’t think that. I will argue that these things exacerbate the existing problems; that the extreme Post-Partum Depression (PPD) she suffered was real and was made worse by issues stemming from these other issues, and that they are amplifying her current episode of dysfunction. Addressing these other issues in an understanding and knowledgeable psychotherapeutic environment will let any psychiatric assistance get more traction. If I didn’t think this, I’d keep my mouth shut because I’m probably going to make a few more enemies.

But, hey! what’s life without enemies!

I also need to say that I have participated in psychotherapy myself, including a lengthy group environment (based loosely on the old T-group). Although I believe that I could have had greater improvement by understanding some of the issues I’ll address below, I learned a lot and believe I benefited from my “edgy” therapist in real and important ways.

Last, let me clearly state that I admire the “Marcy” I see in her weblog. She is a thoughtful, intelligent and caring woman, who loved her infant daughter heroically during extremely severe PPD. It wasn’t just “baby blues” and she did incredible things. She has a burning desire to know and love her Lord, to faithfully follow Him in her entire life, to integrate her faith into every other part of her. She has made a home “in a distant land” for the sake of her husband’s career. (Being married to an ex-academic, I can relate.) She is a rare person, and rare things are sometimes not appreciated by the masses of us.

Back to the our discussion:

Jesus did manage to have relationships with all sorts of people, but he didn’t have all sorts of relationships with them. In the end, he was alone in the garden, even with his friends, and they didn’t ever seem to understand what he was saying. The Pharisees seem to be the people who understand Jesus the best in the Gospels and they decided that he needed to die for the good of the Jewish people.

I can’t say whether or not mental and psychological differences _should_ be hindrances; I only know that it is very clear that they are, and managing around them is very difficult. The problem with these differences in mentalities (the terminology gets complex here, but the ideas are straightforward) is that when you’re the biggest person in the room, you have to adapt to everyone else. They, in turn, do not have to adapt to you. This switching and adapting can be psychically exhausting. You have to watch everything that you say and do. Your management of your presentation of self is intensive, constantly watching yourself and others’ reactions to see if you are fitting in.

But in the end it’s a bit like trying to make a Navistar harvester look and act like a Ford Taurus. There’s enough commonality that a harvester and a car could probably have something to talk about, but it would be best if they both recognized that their differences. When others do not recognize your differences as being God-given rather than simply weird,

Perhaps you are what Stephanie Tolan calls an “gifted ex-child“, or what Mary Elaine Jacobsen calls “the gifted adult“. I would use the terms “Mode”, “level” and, if off the record, some useful things from the psychoanalyst and organizational theorist Warren Kinston that would be better about explaining what all these differences are rather than simply “gifted” vs. “non-gifted” (everyone has gifts), but the general idea is there even in these overly simplistic formulations of “giftedness”.

As Tolan observes (although not as deeply as Jaques and Cason), they think differently, too, because they began the process of thinking abstractly before other people did. They have deeper understandings of problems that they cannot solve (this is a situation of what Jaques-ians would call leaking the future potential of their mode) and this creates many problems for them. They do not fit in with others, and if not properly labelled, must be denigrated and even destroyed in order to preserve the stable power relationships of the community.

In her article from Roeper Review, Jacobsen describes the intense problems of dealing with what I call “higher Mode” individuals in a psychotherapeutic context. She also has some insights for guiding the counseling of higher-mode (her overly simplistic “gifted”) individuals that is consistent with my experience in career coaching of the same, and with the stories from Jaquesian psychotherapists like George Reilly. In fact, George’s article in the GO Society book — the whole book is available as a free download for registering your interest with them ‐

These things, though, are only relevant to our discussion here if Marcy (as she represents herself in her blog) is higher-mode (probably meaning Mode 5 or above). There is substantial evidence for this in the details that she shares, and even some for a recent Stratum transition: 3 to 4 seems likely candidate, off the top of my head.

This would make church hard. I’ve always considered the PCA to be a group of level 3 churches, with exceptions like Redeemer in NYC and Covenant in Chicago. Of course, most churches that are successful are run at level 3. If you are Level 4 coming into a Level 3 church, you are instantly a threat.

You’re not even going to be all that happy at a Level 5 or 6 church. John Morgan, a colleague in New Mexico, has described the way he uses the levels approach to make his large church successful. Small groups are never run at higher than Level 3. So she would always be butting heads with the small group leader. And because of the way that they have organized volunteers, she would always be butting heads with the staff leader of the area. To be successful, these churches need clear lines of authority. They don’t want someone who can challenge them and be a competitor leader as Marcy probably could.

Makes me think that there’s a reason why Emergent congregations have been forming.

If she’s what Tolan and Jacobsen call “gifted”, which she can in part self-identify through the descriptions in their articles, she is unlikely to find a lot of people in the small town she lives in who are in her mode. Possible, of course, given some of its characteristics. Still, the vast majority won’t be either in her Mode or higher, which means that most people won’t “get” her.

Worse, it also means that she would usually be the “biggest person in the room”, in the psychic size of mental complexity. This means that she must serve them, as Jesus served the masses. They are not serving her or inviting her places just to hang out, as they didn’t invite Jesus to just hang out. Jesus got invited to dinner because people wanted him share his wisdom or perform some miracle, not to watch the Lakers’ game. For higher-mode / “gifted” adults, this is important to remember, so that you don’t take offense at people not inviting you places. When you are the biggest person in the room, you are the one who is expected to create the social environment. You are the one who invites people over to lunch, or to watch the Lakers or skating or Olympics or the latest Star Trek marathon.

Why should Marcy have to be Jesus-like when the others can be just people? That’s a burden no human should have to bear.

It’s not a 100% thing, but it plays out consistently. If you don’t understand why this is happening, it can really make you start thinking that you need to change something about your self. If you understand that it is a result of the gifts that God has given to you to glorify Him with, you can change your expectations of the others. You can love them, rather than resent their inability to reach you, to see you, to hear your words, get you.

As she looks for a therapist, having one who is “big enough” to get her is probably more important than his or her approach. (You can get good results with almost any decent psychotherapeutic paradigm, to the dismay of those pushing a particular one.) Otherwise she’ll get the usual answers that work for the vast majority of folks but fail to address her needs or the special ways (common to all folk like her) that she interprets the world. Some therapists will actually do damage just so that they can insist on their own view. That’s just so wrong on so many levels. The fact that her earlier (beloved) therapist had written a book with Warren Rule says a lot about her and where she can find truth. (Note small “t”.)

Marcy’s a rare person, but not that rare. Frankly, she “feels” a lot like “Paula”, the painter/writer/organizer I’ve been coaching through what is probably a stratum transition. Focused, unfocused, penetrating thoughts, being left out by those who profess that all belong, undying belief in Christ her Redeemer. When people like Paula can unravel Mode issues from their wad of issues, the remainder can be much more easily addressed. It’s not a panacea, and won’t fix hormonal and chemical issues.

I’m not sure how she can find a place that sees her fully. It’s too bad that it doesn’t seem to be happening there. Her extended online community seems to connect more with her. In the early days, communication through letters enabled many higher-mode people to survive in “dry and arid lands” where no one understood them. For all its drawbacks as “community”, online discussions can help bring a sense of “I’m not really that weird” on the issues of “giftedness” / Mode. Combine that with a proper expectation of one’s duties and others’ responses, and you have a way of coping with the situation and still growing.

But you can see why Richard Florida was able to find “creative centers” where creative class people go.

So, let’s recap my meander here.

  1. Jesus was Jesus so that we don’t have to be.
  2. Coping with the results of your giftedness isn’t as useful as embracing your gifts and accepting your leadership role (of whatever sort) with others.
  3. Having psychological issues, even psychiatric treatment, is way too normal for these High-Mode individuals.
  4. A lot of these problems are caused because people don’t understand that they are different from most of the other people and this is exactly as God intended so that He may glorify Himself in them.
  5. Most small towns are becoming even less accepting of higher-mode (“gifted”) individuals than they used to be, partly because it is so easy for them to move somewhere they can feel accepted.
  6. Because someone who is bigger than me but doesn’t know it threatens my power, humans will attempt to cut down these higher-mode individuals. Even other higher-mode people do this. It’s just wrong.
  7. If you’re bigger than everyone else, you’ll live a lonely life. You have to embrace your “leadership” role of servanthood, and understand that you’re the one who has to invite people over.
  8. God has a plan in all of this and it is good.
  9. You’re not crazy just because you adopted some coping mechanisms that are not useful any longer.

Hmm. That was more than I had written and could have been the entire post. I’m way too wordy.

Most people resist this description of themselves because it flies in the face of the self-conception provided by others who are not in their Mode, so it’s likely that this is not something that “weblog Marcy” would have agreed with. And it may be totally irrelevant or offensive to the real-life Marcy, for which I apologize in advance. I’m just really sick and tired of people making the folks who have been given greater gifts to feel worthless and even ill.

Well, I write this stuff for my own uses. Some of this will probably end up in the book and certainly be discussed in detail over the next few months at the work blog.

Image Credit: Blueberries in woman’s hands. © donatellasimeone. Via

Comments 3

  1. There is a lot to chew on in this post. I think I will have to chew on it later, when I’m not minutes away from getting the little one up.

    Meanwhile… it seems there are some incomplete sentences — I saw a comma in one place and a dash in another that didn’t seem to go anywhere. Would you mind running over the post once more and clarify those bits?

    Thank you.

  2. I don’t know the terminology you are using with regard to modes, levels, and strata. I’ve seen you use these terms before, and those are usually the posts that I don’t understand.

    At some point today my thoughts wandered to Anakin, Obi Wan, and Palpatine — Obi Wan cares for Anakin, but doesn’t handle him very well, doesn’t quite get his drive, his needs. Palpatine does — and handles him perfectly in order to twist, distort, and mislead him.

    I don’t think you’re playing Palpatine to my Anakin — I don’t think you’re merely trying to puff up my ego and sense of grandeur.

    I need to be kinder, more compassionate and respectful towards the Obi Wans in my life.

    Understanding my differences doesn’t perhaps need to include superiority anymore than it needs to include inferiority.

    It would certainly be nice if God provided people like Joe (therapists / professional relationship or, better yet, just friends, or a pastor) in my life to replenish the cost of being me.

    Allegedly God himself is that spring of living water, but… I still feel like I’m starving sometimes… I remember 1 Cor 13 about this dim mirror.

    Oh, and I just read those two articles. They both make me think of Joe. And worry a little about the person I will be seeing next week.

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