Winter night, looking down to Chateau D'Oex. (c) 2008 E. Forrest Christian. All rights reserved.

Why Psychotherapy Can Be Worse Than Not When You’re A Hidden High Potential

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I recently had an exchange in another site with “Marcy”, who talked about some judgments that she had about some of her previous therapists who didn’t fit with her. (One of her old therapists, with whom she did good work, wrote a book with Warren Rule. I think this says a lot about her.) She was trying to find a new psychotherapist in her region and kept talking about this great therapist she used to have, in another region. It turns out that the guy has co-authored a book with Warren Rule, which says a great deal about him. And Marcy.

We’ve had our fair number of exchanges, so I sent a note which is relevant to our discussions because most high-potentials seem to seek out psychotherapy. They don’t always have a good experience. She seems to be a high-potential, with the accompanying issues.

A bit of what I said:

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 people in your small community. 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’s reply:

Mental / psychological differences shouldn’t be such hindrances, should they?

Which is really where this post starts. It’s rough, and full of raw edits from a much longer discussion. But it may be useful.

So I’m letting y’all see it. And perhaps it will raise comments about the role of psychotherapies in relationship to helping high-potentials navigate their several transitions, and the unique problems associate with their lives.

Okay, I’m probably talking about you which is why I decided to put up this set of notes as we wait for the new newsletter.
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 working around them is very difficult. They certainly were a challenge for Jesus and at times he seems worn out from the way that people who loved him thought about him. He was too big for them to see fully.

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 and physically 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 their differences.

Although everyone has some form of presentation of self and manages that presentation, most people don’t have to do this much of it. You must manage yours because others see your gifts not as gifts but as “you’re weird”.

Perhaps you are what Stephanie Tolan calls an “gifted ex-child“, or what Mary Elaine Jacobsen calls “the gifted adult“. In my technical discussions, I use the terms “Mode” and “level” to be more precise about 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, “gifted” people think differently 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.

So you get to live in a world that will never understand you. That’s really debilitating.

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 ‐

If she’s what Tolan and Jacobsen call “gifted” she is unlikely to find a many people in her small town share her growth trajectory. (Remember that people in the same trajectory, even in very different places along that path, “get” each other in deep and psychologically uplifting ways.) Sure, it’s possible but even in a big city the vast majority won’t even share her current level of complexity processing, which means that they won’t “get” her. Ever.

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. For these higher-potential or “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, a Mom’s Day Out, or to watch the Olympics or the latest Star Trek marathon.

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 given to you, 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 to psychotherapy. (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 ways that she interprets the world, common to all folk like her.

Some therapists will actually do damage in their psychotherapy just so that they can insist on their own smaller view. They cannot accept and do not understand the issues of the higher-mode individuals.

As Jacobsen says, “If not essential, being gifted yourself is invaluable to successful therapy [to a gifted client].”

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 where she and her husband have moved. 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 these thoughts on psychotherapy for hidden high potentials:

  1. 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.
  2. Having psychological issues, including needing psychotherapy or even psychiatric treatment, is way too normal for high-potentials / “high Moders” / “gifted” individuals.
  3. A lot of these problems are caused because these types of folks don’t understand that they are different from most of the other people: not better, just different.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. You’re not crazy just because you adopted some coping mechanisms that are not useful any longer.

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 growth trajectory (Mode). I’m just really sick and tired of people making the folks who have a different growth trajectory to feel worthless and even ill, whether it’s because they have a high trajectory or lower. All people deserve respect and dignity. In the end, we’re all the same before God.

Image Credit: Winter night, looking down to Chateau D’Oex. © 2008 E. Forrest Christian

Comments 0

  1. Remember that people in the same trajectory, even in very different places along that path, “get” each other in deep and psychologically uplifting ways.

    That’s one reason why a gathering of high-mode individuals would be so useful — a chance to get acquainted, a chance to make connections that can be continued online.

  2. Good post. Ever the contrarian however I would argue that the complexity of the psychotherapist is not as important as the process. Freida Fromm Reichmann would argue that psychotherapy won’t work unless the analyst is confused. In her book “Principles of Intensive Psychotherapy” she discusses this experience. The psychotherapy process is one that promotes self-discovery as opposed to guidance. The funadmantal principle is that by digging up and bringing into the light of day those experiences that have been repressed that the patient is liberated from the psychopathological influences that these experiences have confined them to.

    I definitely agree that the more complex the individual is the more they seem to be affected by “mental illness”; although I am not comfortable with this label. During a discussion several years ago Julian Fairfield described the progression from one level to another as an unraveling and reorganization of the brain not unlike the experience of a breakdown. His description interested me insofar as I believe that there are relationships between what we commonly label a mental breakdown or mental illness and the progression of complexity of mental processing.

    In some cases I think that these individuals are disturbed by the unorganized warehousing of data in their brains, or the effects of the stimulus this provides for them in the presence of an inability to rationalize in a cognitive way the significance of the raw data. Perhaps the mind takes in what it can process at some later date contrasted with a less capable individual being exposed to the same data but not distinguishing any significance to it. The data is not warehoused because it has no current or future relevance and as a consequence it causes no disturbance.

    Human beings have a propensity to attempt to make sense of/ interpret the occuring world and to assign meaning to what is occuring. It is in the rationalization of what is occuring that the effects though not understood are catalogued in the conscious or subconscious mind for future rationalization, or not, and in the interim there may be consequences that manifest themselves in the behaviour of the individual pending some resolution. The brain is a complex organ with distinct and intricate functions occuring in the archipallium, the palleopallium, and the neopallium. There are disassociated associations that occur and manifest themselves within the realm we are discussing.

    The subject matter is compelling insofar as it offers the possibility of moving psychiatry from alchemy to science. Earlier today I was involved in a discussion where I promoted that “mental illness” is an affliction that manifests itself in the social attributes and that pharmacological treatment of symptoms is largely ineffective. If we better understood what occurs in these disassociated associations of the functioning brain we might glean some insight into treatment for “mental illness”.

  3. Thanks for bringing this topic alive.

    Lets assume that coping with the phase changes across levels brings new uncertainties. That seems obvious. Then we must look at the yet more significant challenges of changing domains ( see Luc Hoebekes insights into domains).

    Surely those domain changes offer the really significant challeges. They may look like just another change of level, but they are not. For example, as we move from the Level 3 cartesian/newtonian world to the 4th level quantum world, it may be possible to start to lose contact with The Real World of friends and colleagues.

    My hunch is that these changes are the ones that do the damage, including bringing the potential of experiencing a crisis.

    Many workplaces never offer the opportunity to engage in implemented judgements above level 3, so “gifted” people may experience the loss of engagement at a young age. If we were then to consider the impact of being out of “flow” for a long time, then there is the attraction of reconstructing identity as a coping mechanism. Temporarily a solution, but….

    ….and so a psychotherapist who does not understand the dialogue, who does not get the conversation, may offer some help. But as time goes on, they may well become just another burden, rather than a blessing.

  4. Post

    Both Jack and Al have said quite a bit here. (Jack, when are you going to publish the book so I don’t have to explain what “polishing the bagel” means?)

    Psychotherapies and psychopharmaceuticals are enormously helpful, and I’m certainly not saying that we should abandon them. But most psychotherapists don’t understand the dialogue of people who are “gifted” (using Jacobsen’s term) or higher-mode. They then insist on leading treatment of symptoms, including pharmacological solutions to treat depressions caused by problems of mode. High moders will get more bang for their buck (or simply time) by addressing the root causes rather than the symptoms of being on a higher trajectory.

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