J. Coulson, MAHPP
Gifted individuals: the ideal developmental environment
Many gifted people failed to receive a sufficiency of the psychological nourishment, encouragement, tolerance and stimulation they needed as children.
Fortunately, while childhood can never be rerun, we can in adulthood create the right environment for our ongoing and more productive growth.
It is harder in some ways, because we have developed down certain paths and may have to retrace our steps. We may also have to reject some of the beliefs that have been our allies.
However, our inner drive to self-actualize cannot be ignored and will compel us to take whatever steps are necessary to grow. This process can be facilitated by coaching.
What were and are your needs?
The gifted person is a more-than person: they need more of everything than others because they have more capacity than others. When fulfilled, they also have more to offer than others.
In other words, gifted individuals are heavy users of emotional, intellectual, psychological and physical resources but, when optimally performing, they also repay more than they take.
Unfortunately, few households have the resources to meet more than the minimum needs of even a normal child.
Off to an unfortunate start
The 'ideal' childhood is one in which everyone and everything has its place and in which the right developmental events take place in the right order and with the right amount of time between them. In this ideal world, all adults are wise and can be trusted to do the best for us under all conditions.
Few people will have experienced childhood this way!
For gifted people, the shortcomings of most families were a particularly painful matter. Right from the outset, it seems, they were able to see the flaws in their parents, their teachers, their society. They were quick to spot hypocrisy and mediocre thought and had little tolerance for either.
This lack of tolerance was not and is not a personality defect: it is the natural and appropriate response to being hurt. It actually does hurt to see people behaving unproductively or "stupidly" when the gifted person can easily see a better and more useful way.
To see their parents make 'mistake' after 'mistake' is actually frightening for gifted children and can initiate a sense of powerlessness that can last a lifetime.
The development of identity
Andrew S. Mahoney, a counselor to the gifted, has identified four psychological factors that need to be present in order to facilitate the development of a gifted child's sense of identity. They are:
These four constructs represent important building blocks in the development of the self. The question for the adult gifted individual is: to what extent can an absence of these qualities in childhood be compensated for in later life?
The nurturance of individuation
Individuation, or self-actualization, is the process by which we become our true selves and true to ourselves.
The process is triggered by an inner motivation possessed by all of us. However, the extent to which we are able to achieve it has much to do with other qualities. These include intelligence, courage, and a commitment to development of emotional intelligence.
It is very difficult to individuate by oneself. The process requires a nurturing ground that is both supportive of the individual's experimental behavior and non-judgmental of any outcomes.
For gifted individuals, it is important that this ground is also challenging. We only know who we are and what we can do by over-reaching ourselves. If we are not challenged sufficiently we will maintain ourselves too comfortably in a zone far short of the joy of self-fulfillment.
The nutrients for growth
Gifted individuals are creative and competent and do not need direction. Indeed, it is the overpresence of direction that has led many to reject conventional learning. However, they do need a breadth and depth of acceptance, recognition and support for their self-directed experiments.
Together with these elements, they also thrive on approval, intelligent discussion and the identification of doorways for further possible developments.
Perhaps above all, they need someone to help them assess their 'outrageous' visions for themselves, and to take seriously the dreams and ambitions that others scorn.
The individual knows better than anyone what s/he is capable of. However, even that 'knowing' must be developed in the light of experience and examination. The gifted individual learns faster and more comprehensively than any other when they are following their own interest.
How can the needs be met today?
We cannot grow completely in isolation. If childhood has failed us, we are at a significant disadvantage in terms of a 'typical' adult life.
However, the very factors that led to our missed development as children can become allies if we seek to grow later in our lives. Unhappy children recognize that they have less to lose by leaving their past behind.
Various forms of developmental support exist, including psychotherapy, counseling, mentoring and life coaching. One of these is essential if the gifted adult is to capitalize on his or her inherent strengths and experience.
The partnership of gifted individual and gifted co-developer is an immensely powerful one and has benefits that potentially extend into every aspect of life.
The theory behind Dynamic Life Coaching requires that its practitioners possess rich life experience and are highly qualified psychotherapists as well as coaches. In other words, they must be gifted themselves and must have exercised their giftedness so that they are then able to offer the fullest understanding and support to their clients.
By researching and then committing themselves to an appropriate partnership,
gifted individuals can create for themselves an environment that will
provide the 'nutrients' to fulfil their potential.
Copyright © 2001-2010 Christopher J. Coulson
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