Episode 23: Explorations in Gifted Diversity

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson with guest Jennifer Harvey Sallin

Release date: December 3, 2022

In episode 23, Chris and Emma were joined by psychologist Jennifer Harvey Sallin, founder of InterGifted, a worldwide community and support organization for gifted adults. This conversation is a celebration of gifted diversity in adulthood! We talked about what giftedness can look like in adults, how it manifests, and the great range of diversity within giftedness. Jen shared her model of giftedness with us, which describes the areas of giftedness, and shows how everyone’s ‘gifted profile’ can look different.

What is success, and what does it mean in today's commercial context? Jen described being a generalist or “multipotentialite,” and going against the normal expectations society might have for gifted people and their careers. We discussed the beauty of doing things that bring meaning to you and trying many things in life, as opposed to being a “specialist” or trying to conform to what others think success should mean.

We addressed considerations for therapists, clinicians, and coaches when working with the gifted. Jen shared the story of creating InterGifted and filling the need for an international community in this population. She is one of the few people in the world who provide training for clinicians and coaches working with the gifted, and we talked about that work as well.

Bio: Jennifer Harvey Sallin is a psychologist and founder of InterGifted, a worldwide community and support organization for gifted adults. In addition to leadership in the world of high intelligence, Jen applies her expertise to raising awareness about climate and activism psychology and personal and collective paths to degrowth. 

Resources mentioned in this episode

InterGifted website

Rediscovering Yourself (Jen’s website)

Gifted Psychology 101

Daniels & Piechowski’s book Living With Intensity

High, Exceptional, and Profound Giftedness (Chris mentioned this link around the 11-minute mark)

Chris joined Jen on her podcast Conversations on Gifted Trauma

Thank you, Bee Mayhew, for editing this transcript!


Emma: Welcome to Positive Disintegration, a path to authenticity. In this episode, we're going to be talking to Jen Harvey Sallin from InterGifted. We're going to be discussing all things giftedness in adults, what giftedness looks like, how it can manifest and the great range of diversity within giftedness.

We're also going to be talking about success, what it means in today's society for gifted people, and also considerations and issues for therapists, clinicians and coaches who are working with gifted adults. If you're a gifted adult yourself, I think you're really going to get a lot out of this episode.

Hello, listeners. Welcome back to Positive Disintegration. I'm your host, Emma Nicholson, and with me is co-host Dr. Chris Wells. Hi, Chris. How are you going today?

Chris: Hi, Emma. I'm good, thanks. How are you?

Emma: Excellent. And I believe we're going to have a chat today about giftedness.

Chris: That's right. [shared chuckling] We're going to talk about giftedness, something that we haven't talked about explicitly very often, or overtly. It's often kind of in the background, but we don't go into it in depth. And today we are going to, so it's exciting.

Emma: And we're going to get to talk to someone who actually trains people to deal with the gifted, which is kind of a rare experience.

Chris: Again, yes, that is a rare experience because who is out there training people about the gifted? Not many people. If they're doing it, they're not doing it in institutions for the most part. So, Jen has taken it upon herself to do it.

Emma: It sounds like our listeners are going to get a rare treat. Our guest today is Jennifer Harvey Sallin, and Jennifer is a psychologist and founder of InterGifted, a worldwide community and support organization for gifted adults. In addition to leadership in the world of high intelligence, Jen applies her expertise to raising awareness about climate and activism psychology and personal and collective paths to degrowth. Welcome to the podcast, Jen.

Jen: Thank you. I'm very happy to be here.

Chris: Welcome, Jen. We're so glad to have you. I've been looking forward to having you on the podcast for a while now. Just to introduce how we know each other, I've been a member of InterGifted for a while now. I don't know off the top of my head how long, but years.

I participated in your Gifted Psychology 101 course for psychologists, six months that we spent together with a small cohort of other clinicians. It was great on multiple levels, and it's been fun for me to still be in touch with some of the people I was in your course with, that whole experience was great. I'm so glad that you're with us today to talk about your work because it's so important.

The first thing that we always ask people is, tell us about how you came to Dabrowski's theory or learned about it.

Jen: It's always a complex story, right? I think everybody has a complex story of coming to Dabrowski's theory. For anybody who's heard me talk on other podcasts, or heard my read about my story or heard about my story somewhere, they know that I rediscovered giftedness in my late 20s. It was at that time that I was really looking for literature on adult giftedness, something to guide me in understanding what my struggles were, giving names to my struggles, and then seeing what I could do to ameliorate them. It was really tough to find good literature on the matter. But I did find the Daniels and Piechowski book, of course, “Living with Intensity”, which was a beacon in the darkness or a light in the darkness that really called to me. That introduced me to Dabrowski's theory.

And right away, I could see how the work that I was doing coaching people was going to change. This was something that I needed to bring into my work. I knew at that point that I needed to be working with people in the high intelligence community because of my own needs. And, you know, I had struggled as a psychologist prior to switching over into the high intelligence community, because I irritated some clients, and some clients irritated me.

It wasn't my fault or theirs, it was just a really big difference in the way that my mind looked at problems systematically, and, you know, in a meta way and they didn't, their mind didn't. While they could sometimes say, “oh, that's, that's interesting. I just don't know how to apply that in my regular life”. And I would say, “well, I don't know how to simplify it more” so there would be this kind of frustration on both sides. I realized there must be something better for me, there must be a better fit for me somewhere.

When I started meeting other gifted people and started understanding it, then it was pretty obvious that that was the issue. It wasn't that I should jump ship and no longer be a psychologist or coach. It was that I should work with the people who I meant to work with and that I can support in the best way and who feel best supported by me.

Finding Dabrowski's theory through the “Living with Intensity” book was a really huge step for me. It opened a big path to supporting gifted people in a really structured way, through their positive disintegration and toward reintegration at a higher level. It's what I always wanted to do with people anyway, but it gave language to it. It gave structure to it, a taxonomy, and it allowed me to be able to do it in a really systematic way that was really meaningful for me and for the clients that I was working with.

So, then I started to incorporate it into my work, and I started to write about it. And then as I started doing theoretical work on giftedness and modeling work on giftedness, basically in any holistic model that incorporates giftedness. I was relieved to sort of understand that, you know, you don't have to be gifted to have overexcitabilities.

But a lot of times if you're gifted, you may have overexcitabilities. So that was also really helpful for me to understand how to help people that are gifted and have overexcitabilities, and how to help people who are gifted and don't have overexcitabilities, and where to send people who have overexcitabilities but are not gifted.

Chris: Yeah, I'm still doing the work of educating people around overexcitability and it's not only for the gifted, but it looks different in the gifted. I mean, let's face it, if you are an extreme outlier in your intelligence, you're going to have a different experience of this than someone who doesn't. Well, as you know, it's a real problem to try to get people to understand what it's like to have high intelligence if they don't have it. It's naturally difficult and it's kind of, you're kind of wasting your breath trying because how do you get them to get it?

Emma: So I was just going to ask you, on that note, what does a gifted person look like? So for our listeners out there who either are gifted and might see themselves or maybe they're just wondering what the difference is, can you sort of give us some description of whether they have overexcitabilities or not? What does a gifted person look like?

Jen: Well, I've come up with a fairly simple way of describing it to somebody who doesn't naturally think about what giftedness is.  I'll ask the person: do you have a friend, or somebody in your family that they just keep seeming to ask more and more questions?  And when everybody's kind of tired of the subject, they're still asking the next question? And it's a more complex question?  They want to know more about it. Then the next time they come back, they're talking more about it, more in depth. Then they're wanting to create something with it. And you know, you're like, okay, we really don't need to get into it that far. Like, we got enough information. Almost every person responds, “oh, yeah, I have a nephew like that. Oh, yeah, my partner's like that. Oh, yeah, one of my kids is like that”. And then I say, it's possible that that person in your life might be gifted, because gifted people tend to notice more, learn more, learn faster, ask more questions, ask more complex questions, and need that kind of intellectual input. We all need intellectual input.

I always remind people, intelligence is on a spectrum, a very multi-dimensional spectrum. So if everybody's looking for just a flat gifted/ non-gifted divide, it's not that simple, but you can sort of see that you're probably going towards a gifted mind if you have that next level of questioning, that next level of complexity, that next level of need for intellectual stimulation. So I usually make it really practical for somebody to really think of somebody else in their life that embodies those qualities. Otherwise, it just remains really theoretical.

Like if I say, “it's thinking more, it's more complexity” and without naming a person or having them think of a specific person, we all tend to project out onto everybody else what we are and how we think. So when you say more complexity, you might already think you're a complex person, and so you might not know what that means. What is more complexity? More complexity than me? I don't know. But if you say, well, what about your cousin, Jerry?  Okay. Yeah. Well, Jerry, I can tell is way more complex than me. So then I start to think about what does it mean, to have more complexity, mental complexity, for example.

If you're one of the listeners and, and you're going, hmm, people always describe me as, you know, highly analytical, over analytical, thinking too much, feeling too much, being too sensitive, always needing more, never satisfied. It's not a guarantee you're gifted, but if you start to check a lot of those boxes, it's probably something you want to look into.

Chris: I wanted to ask you about your model, if you don't mind sharing it, because you developed your own model of giftedness. I'm always sending people, well, aside from the model, I'm always sending people to your page about being highly and profoundly gifted because of the way that you describe that experience. There's one page that you have that is a description that I am always sending people to because, I'm like, you just need to read this. Thank you for writing that. And please go ahead and tell us about your model.

Jen: Well, after I read the Dabrowski book, the Living with Intensity book, I just thought there needs to be something out there just for gifted adults that's really dedicated to explaining to gifted adults or showing gifted adults what they how they can understand their mind and what they can do with it going forward. And I just wasn't finding it.

You know, some people had written some great stuff. Deirdre Lovecky was one of my favorites, for example, who had sort of written about exceptionally/profoundly gifted kids. And there was, you know, always stuff about kids, kids, kids, kids, gifted kids everywhere. And for me, I was like, craving I needed that something specifically to give specific to gifted adults. Something that was really organized and could be used kind of like positive disintegration, but a gifted specific, something that talked specifically to intelligence and not just about overexcited abilities. Because once I realized that those things weren't the same, then I was like, well, I can see why people are getting confused about overexcitabilities.

Cause that's the one that is the most descriptive model and the clearest thing that you can plug yourself into. But actually, it's not the same thing as intelligence. So intellectual overexcitability is not the same thing as intellectual intelligence. And I think it's worth having a model that really makes that clear distinction. So then I, you know, I, I have, I had thought about for years… I had a lot of different career paths in mind, but one of the main ones that I had tried to pursue was to become a neurologist because I was so fascinated with the human mind. So neuroscience has been like a pet project for me basically throughout my life. As soon as I could read, I was fascinated by the brain and fascinated by how things work up there. And so I've done a lot of that.

Then a lot in terms of consciousness research, like, what is reality? What makes consciousness? How does it work between neuroscience/consciousness research, and then the research of intelligence? What is intelligence? What makes intelligence? I combined these things and my clinical experience and so on, and I put them in this model that kind of described what are the basic building blocks of intelligence. If you're intelligent, how do you express that? How is intelligence? And I came up with these six areas, five of them actually sort of overlap with the overexcitabilities, in a sense, but they're distinct from overexcitabilities.

The idea is: any one of us who's alive, we have some central intelligence, some physical intelligence, some emotional intelligence, some intellectual intelligence, some creative intelligence, and some existential intelligence. So if you look at, you know, being/doing/having the things we do, relating the things we do in life, they can pretty much be, at least in my model, right, they can be named with these six areas. So you don't have to be gifted to be intelligent in those ways, because anything that's alive is intelligent in some way, in those ways.

Let's say creative and existential [intelligence] seem to be stronger in humans, you know, than in some, I don't know, “lower” life forms. I don't like the hierarchical view of life forms like that, but let's just say human intelligence does seem to have some higher version of creativity, creative intelligence and existential intelligence. Everything that's alive has some version of this combination of intelligences. I really wanted something where people could look at their giftedness and say, okay, it's not just like I said before, it's not just black or white, it's not just I'm gifted or not, I have an IQ of 140, or 150 because that puts way too much pressure on anybody.

Like, okay, so now I'm supposed to be this “genius” that gets all the best grades and goes to the best schools and gets all the awards and wins a Nobel prize. That's totally ridiculous to think that all gifted people would go that path. But without knowing, more granular, understanding of what's going on in your brain and your whole self and how your intelligence expresses itself, how do you get out of those cultural narratives around “genius”? It's really hard. So taking the time to give names to the different intelligences is really helpful. It helps a person to see where they are in each of those areas.

So again, I mean, I think this could be an interesting model, even for non gifted people, and even some other life forms. But I use it, obviously, mainly in the gifted realm. One thing that it's very helpful with is, it helps people look at where their intelligence is stronger and where it's less strong or less dominant, which helps answer a lot of questions for a lot of people. You could be, let's say, highly gifted in the intellectual realm, but really not have any high awareness of emotions, you think of the typical computer nerd or something, like the stereotypical computer nerd that may be really disconnected from their emotional life.

Then you start to understand, oh, yeah, well, you could have somebody that's highly emotionally gifted, but less intellectually gifted, they would have a totally different experience and profile of their giftedness and they'd be suited for very different things in life. If you have the “computer nerd”… I'm quoting because I don't think it's a bad thing, but just you know, the stereotypical computer nerd, who then you put them in a situation where they have to do emotional support work, for example, they're probably not going to be super brilliant at it. It's probably not the path that they go to best use their intelligence.

And same thing, if you put the emotionally gifted person in a tech job, you know, they're probably going to be pretty unfulfilled. But depending on where you grow up and the cultural views, and sort of the implicit assumption about what a gifted person should do, oftentimes you can, it can be really confusing what you're supposed to do. A lot of, let's say, highly emotionally gifted people who are less so intellectually, may push themselves to go into work or a life path that's really not suited for them, because they're, intellectually, they're just not so highly gifted intellectually as emotionally gifted.

I mean, I'm just using two simple examples here. But when you look at all the six areas, you know, they can combine in very different ways. So if somebody has a really balanced profile, they would probably be the typical person who's good at any job and really would thrive at, you know, anything that includes all of the different areas of intelligence. And then you have some people that have a more, as we sometimes say, ‘spiky’ profile, where one area is a lot higher than the others, or two areas are a lot higher than the others. We can start to understand the way our mind works, understand our values as related to the way our mind works, and then make life decisions based on that.

Emma: Jen, do you find that, particularly in that scenario where you get the jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none sort of person, that they find that maybe they're gifted, maybe they're good at whatever job they roll up to… do you find that sometimes causes people a bit of grief for actually finding a role that gives them real fulfillment? Because they work at it, maybe they're doing well or maybe they get a promotion. Then they sort of find that, ‘I don't know if this is the career for me’ because they're succeeding at it and they're making money, but it's not giving them that inner fulfillment. Then they sort of say, well, what am I meant to do with myself?

Jen: Yeah, absolutely. This comes back again to cultural narratives and expectations because if we grow up being taught that we're supposed to do one thing and love it, and we're supposed to be specialists in one area. then there's a lot of shame that comes when you're a generalist, a multipotentialite, and you do a bunch of different things. Maybe I can speak from personal experience here, I am clearly a multipotentialite, and I've had a lot of grief around not being able to pursue each of my areas of interest to the extreme degree. But as I've gotten older, and as I've done this work, and especially the theoretical work, I realize that's just not my path. It was never going to be my path. And so I have found a better way over the years of embracing the fact that I dabble in a lot of things and I get to have fun with them the way that they are. I don't have to have to turn each thing into a big career for it to be legitimate.

But honestly, I was really brave and, and pushed by life as well, in my 20s, to just go out on my own and say, “okay, I'm going to do this very differently. I just am not going to live by the normative scripts that I've been given. And however this goes, it's going to go differently than what anybody expected. So bye”. [chuckles] So you know, for the last 15 years, I've kind of been doing my own show. I think that a lot of people who are generalists or multipotentialites, jack of all trades, I think there's some point where they do have to go through their own positive disintegration about normative scripts, about how we should all be specialists and we should be so brilliant at that one thing, like ‘subject matter expert’ and all of the things that are pushed on us, especially in the Western world. 

There's a moment for most people, I think, whether they're gifted or not, honestly, you know, because you don't have to be gifted to be a jack of all trades, either. You can be a generalist or a multipotentialite and not be gifted, just, you know, have a knack for a lot of things and have a ton of interest and, you know, pretty good skill at learning a variety of things and a variety of disciplines.

There's some point where you've got to go, okay, this is a legitimate way to be. It's maybe not what society tells me I should be or it doesn't match what society told me potential realization would look like, but it's just a different form. That's a lot of, again, why I've done the theoretical work that I've done and why I like to train professionals, clinicians and stuff, because I don't think that this stuff is really talked about in typical clinician education. I mean, I didn't hear anything about any of this and I specialized in career psychology. This just wasn't part of the discussion. It was like: help people find their niche, their specialty, you know, give them tests, show them empirically where they should go and they should be happy. And, and that's it. Well, this doesn't fit my worldview, or my experience. So I have to find a better way to help other people understand, well first to find my own way, which like I said I did by just saying goodbye to normative life, and then supporting other clinicians to know what to do with clients that are coming in with these dilemmas.

Emma: As you said, that's part of the cultural problem, really, that if you don't know from the age of six that you want to be a surgeon and you train for it, you specialize in it and that's what you do and you become the very best at it, which takes that amount of epic focus and dedication on one thing for your entire life. Or you try a number of things and you go through them and you move on to something and people call you a quitter. So they think that there's that sort of stigma against dabbling in different stuff. No one's allowed to do the Leonardo da Vinci where he was a bit of an artist and a bit of an engineer and a bit of a scientist and did all these things and was still regarded as brilliant. That's an anomaly because today we don't see that. We think it's something that's got to be fixed.

Jen: Yeah. And if you don't mind me preaching a little, I will say that I think one of the big harms of capitalism, and I think that there are a lot of them is the kind of systematic move away from complexity and this idea that we should all fit into one life and that life should be pretty predictable. So this idea of being an artisan or being Renaissance, I mean, literally sometimes they call themselves Renaissance souls, but multipotentialite people, I've heard this as an alternative term for a generalist or a scanner. There are all these different names for it, but Renaissance soul is one of the ones that is often used. And I think that that's a cute term. It's very evocative of really what we're talking about, about a time before this, you know, present this, this modern normative script that says, you got to be a good worker. You have to make a ton of money. That's what's important.

I've met, I've worked with so many people who are multipotentialites doing really cool things, but because they're not earning the money that they would earn if they were only doing one thing in a niche as a subject matter expert or whatever, they're saying like, what I'm doing is no good, it's not worth it, and yet they might be having so much fun and getting so much joy, but they have their capitalistic mindset that says, if you're not earning X, and you're not living by this predictable script, then what you're doing isn't worth it.

Chris: Oh, I'm so glad that you brought this up, because to me, this capitalism issue is one of the problems when I was younger. As a kid, I came from a working-class family, and I was identified as gifted and right away I felt the expectations of like, oh, you could be a doctor and make a lot of money. For so long when I was young, I had this expectation of myself that I had to be the best in some field and make a lot of money. And that's how my giftedness would have to manifest.

I have to say that in my 40s, releasing all of that and being like, okay, I'm just going to completely detach money and earnings and status from my experience of giftedness and find my own path has been so freeing and rewarding. Now I am not making much money, but I am so happy and fulfilled in my work. And so yeah, I think that's a huge problem.

Jen: It is, and it's all intertwined with the internalized capitalism of expectation of how you're supposed to be. There's a term in an article that I just read on degrowth, living degrowth, how you live degrowth in your daily life. They talked about, I'm trying to think of what the term was, the ‘self-promotional narrative of modernity.’ I was like, that's the word that I've been trying to find the whole time, thank you. There's a whole self-promotional, internalized system in our own heads by this point that says “I am legitimate if I'm able to self-promote” and that includes self-promoting by capitalism's narrative that I'm an earner, and I'm a contributor to the economic system, and I'm contributing to economic growth, and I'm proving who I am by some sort of competition against other people. It just takes this whole humanity and diversity out, it kills it.

Really, for me, it's totally the metaphor of what it does to the natural world. It's like, destroy biodiversity and just make everything the same. If we didn't have that internalized pressure for this self-promotional narrative, as you said, Chris, and as I experienced in my 20s, I left it and I said, I'm just not going to do that. Even though everybody pressured me, I had a lot of pressure, and I'm sure you did, too, Chris. I was like, I'm not, I'm just not defining myself by a self-promotional narrative based on capitalism's expectations. So, I no longer felt the need to have a certain salary or work a certain amount of hours or have one specific thing. You know, I was like, okay, I am sort of free to do it as I want.

And that comes with its own constraints, right? I've had times where I haven't felt super safe financially over the years. I've had times where it was hard to get people to take me seriously because of being an outlier, not only mentally an outlier, intellectually an outlier, but like an outlier societally. So I think that I've had to take some extra steps. I've had to do extra work than the normal… than the person that's really buying into the system.

I've had to take extra steps to get people to take me seriously because a lot of what I say does not align with capitalism's aims. In fact, we had a recent incident where somebody wasn't happy with the way that we talk about giftedness because we don't care about ‘eminence.’ I don’t care if you just want to crochet a blanket with creativity for the rest of your life and you just want to sell blankets? Good for you, that is fantastic! I really don't care. I want you to find happiness in the authentic and meaningful way that's good for you and in a way that doesn't harm society and gives back in a positive way to society, but other than that, I don't care.

So I'm not going to be working with people in a way that says, yeah, well, to prove your giftedness, I'm going to help you earn a million and impress people and win prizes so that you can be better than other people. If you feel passionate about winning prizes, well, OK, that's fine, too. But for me, living your good gifted life just doesn't start there. Nor does it end there.

I mean, that can just be one little part of it, but it's just one little part. I think there's a lot of room to move when you start asking yourself about these things and reflecting: is this really what I want for myself? And is this, if I do this differently, then how do I do it? And when you start doing it differently, you start to get a lot of different answers to the question, because you have a lot of room for… you have a lot of space for reflection, getting into flow, creativity, of joy, awe, wonder. It's not all cake and ice cream either, but there's a lot more space for that and so then you can start to find a different way forward.

Chris: You've been a real inspiration to me, actually, because of course, you know, I came to all of this, and I started studying this theory. I was still a doctoral student at the time. And I thought, well, you know, where am I going to go with this? Am I going to get an academic job? Of course I'm thinking still in those capitalistic terms of where? Who's going to hire me to do this work and I have to admit that at some point you were someone who was in my consciousness.

I thought, Jen started InterGifted! I could start my own organization or non-profit around the theory or whatever and that's what I've done this year, because I'm like, no one is going to hire me to study this theory and work with it. I am just going to have to do this myself. So that is what I've done. And you just have been such an inspiration to me, Jen. That's kind of where I want to take us next is, you know, tell us about creating InterGifted. You clearly had an awareness that there was a need for community for gifted people, that's just a hole that you filled in the world and no one else has done it like you. I'd love for you to talk with us about that.

Jen: Oh, yeah, those were interesting times. It’s funny you ask, two days ago we celebrated our seventh birthday, let's say, or anniversary—seventh year of the community—which is, wow, a lot to look back on. Those were interesting times because I spent several years working exclusively with gifted entrepreneurs, people who were doing big projects and building big programs and stuff like that.

They were saying “I will just keep having sessions with you, even though we don't need to work on the project anymore.” I would say, “Well, that's nice, but I don't really want to be paid to be a friend.” There's something that feels really strange about that, besides any ethical considerations, even for myself, I don't think I want that. And they say, “Yeah, but who else can I talk to about these things and about how my mind works other than you?!”, because they were struggling to find people. 

I would say, “Well, you should join a group around you that has similar interests. Maybe you just listen for, you look and listen for people who are a little different, look for the ‘weirdos' and see if you check it out, maybe they're gifted too”. Some of my clients had some success with that, but overall, there was this deep, deep feeling of lack. Even if their project was going great, even if everything went well through the coaching, they were still really missing this fundamental element.

I was lucky because I was working with gifted people only. So I had a lot of gifted people in my life, and my husband's gifted. I was well surrounded, but I saw that they were really struggling, the clients were. At some point, one of my clients said, “Will you please connect me with some of your other clients?” And I thought, oh, I don't know, you know… it gets into a weird area. He kept asking again and again and again. So I said, “Okay, I'm gonna just give it a try as an experiment. But if something goes wrong with it, don't blame me.” You know, once you all meet each other, it's between you, it's not my responsibility anymore. So they also said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah”.

I was working in the French speaking side of Switzerland. I was working a lot with local people. And so they all there was a big group of them that met up. They started meeting up regularly, and they told me all the time that it was so fantastic, it was so cool, and I just saw the light in their eyes shine. The one who had originally proposed that I connect them, he said, why don't you start an international community, like an online community? I thought at that time, no way. I was so busy, I had a waiting list till forever for clients. I just said, no way, and plus, I'm not a techie person at all. Speaking of emotional intelligence (chuckles)instead of techie intelligence, I'm not a techie person. I do it because I have to, but I was very hesitant to do the thing.

I mentioned it to a couple of clients, and they all said, oh, we would do anything to help. One of the first ones, a techie guy said, “I'll make a website for you. I'll do that. I'll do that. I'll do that. I'll do that.” Another client gave me the name ‘InterGifted.’ Another set up the Facebook group. Another did this. Another did that. Within four months, everything was started. I realized at that time that, at least I thought at that time, okay, this is more for them than for me.

But of course, it's also become very much for me. The nourishment that I've gotten from it over the years has been incredible. It's also really hard at times because anybody who starts anything on their own knows you just… if you do leadership, you get the bullying, the abuse, all of the stuff that comes along with being visible. So I cannot paint it all as, again, cake and ice cream, but it has been so rewarding. It's been really fantastic to connect with all of these wonderful people and to be able to start the trainings. [To] meet people like you and see how the work that I've done and the opportunities I've had to learn about this, and pass that on, has been really powerful, really rewarding.

Chris: I mentioned in my keynote for the Dabrowski Congress that one of my goals with the Dabrowski Center is to create content for clinicians. My clinical degree is in social work, I know you're a psychologist. We have people who are counselors working with the gifted. But what we all have in common is that in our training programs, we were not taught about giftedness. It just doesn't come up. In the spring, I did two guest lectures at the University of Denver for one of my former professors in the Graduate School of Social Work. Both times, her students reached out to me after to say, “Oh, yes, this is interesting to me, I've had clients who were gifted. They wanted to know more.” When I was doing the keynote last month, I was like, no one is doing this. As soon as I was done, I thought to myself, well, that's not true. Jen is doing it, you know, but it can't be all on you.

I really want to help support you in my work and do more of this. It's something to talk about… what we can do, my organization can do, to support yours. I want to say that this is a problem that I've identified in the gifted world—that it feels like there's so much competition around people who do work, that they're getting paid for, in the gifted [sphere]. I feel like this is a dangerous road that I'm taking, but that there's not enough collaboration. We need to do a much better job of working together because we all have a goal that is to help people. The only way that we're really going to do that and achieve it is by coming together. You know what I'm saying?

Jen: Well, I don't think it's a dangerous path, I think it's an important path, honestly. I mean, maybe it's dangerous because maybe people will get pissed about it, but let them get pissed because it's the truth. Yeah, like I was saying, you have people that are really in the capitalistic mindset that's like “giftedness is only real and legitimate if it's being played out in the way that we want,” that contributes to economic growth, that contributes to… now I'll go the dangerous path, “techno-optimism,” for dealing with the climate and ecological and political and all of the problems that we are facing, the global crises, global and local crises that we're facing. 

I have found that I don't mix well with that mentality. You have these really different starting points for what is giftedness. I mean, it really comes down to a philosophical question, a basic philosophical question, what is giftedness? And what is giftedness for? And who is it for? For me, giftedness is an innate thing that is a full body, full self phenomenon, embedded in our social reality. It's not an isolated thing, like I said, it's not the hero, the gifted hero. It is an embedded person in a context, in an ecosystemic context. It's a resource for collaboration, but if you talk to somebody who has a highly competitive view of it, that thinks that it needs to be used to promote the individual above everybody else, if you have those mentalities, it’s not going to mix well.

We recently had this incident where somebody got very triggered by our approach, and I mean, it's not the first person who's ever been triggered by our approach, don't get me wrong. It's just a very salient, current example of these people who get extremely triggered. They don't like this idea that it's so open ended, that you can crochet ‘blankets for the rest of your life and I think that that's fantastic.’ So it's really difficult when there's such a drastically different starting point for what this philosophical starting point—what is giftedness, what is it for and who is it for—I don't know how reconcilable that is in the short term, honestly.

That's been a very difficult learning path for me because I tend to be very inclusive and very naive in the end. I've had to teach myself a lot of skills for, you know, for boundaries and such. But I tend to be a very naive person. I'm an empath, and I tend to be very sort of trusting. It has made it really difficult because people will come in who have that other mentality and I think, “Oh, well, certainly they can't be serious” of course they're going to come around wanting to collaborate and stuff. Now I've had enough bad experiences, sometimes to the point of abuse, that I have realized no, no, I have to have firm boundaries against that. I have to speak out against that.  I have to speak out against something that I consider destructive to the self, something I consider destructive to other people, socially and the world in general.

There's not enough, at least in my opinion, there's not enough resources in the world to feed all of the “gifted heroes” that we would need. If every gifted person wanted to be the gifted hero that's standing on top of everybody else, that's not a way toward health, individually or communally. It's been difficult for me to get ready to speak about it publicly because the attacks are ready to come, but I can't not speak about it publicly because it's a huge problem. I think a lot of people, a lot of gifted people, are living through that conflict, either with their surroundings, with the context they're embedded in, or within themselves, or both.

As we talk about, for example, clinicians who are not really knowing what to do and not knowing how to handle it, and not taking a leadership position on the matter, I think a lot of them are stuck there. They're not sure they haven't answered the philosophical questions for themselves clearly yet, so they have maybe one foot into the idea that your giftedness is more than just performing for society. Buuuuut on the other hand, it's a dangerous position to hold, so they keep their other foot in the other side. I do think a lot of it comes from unhealed wounding, collective wounding. If you just take the history of giftedness, the history of high intelligence, the history of IQ testing, it's a dangerous, horrible history.

Yes, some good has come out of it, so don't get me wrong, but it's a scary history that went to the extreme of enslaving people, justifying colonialism and neocolonialism, eugenics. I mean, it's really nasty. So there's a whole history that I think of these collective traumas that we've inherited, and there's a lot of unhealed wounding on that level, whether it's explicit or implicit. Then you just have the personal gifted traumas that people have not healed, clinicians included, and you have other traumas that aren't gifted specific that are unhealed.

Coming from that kind of place, it can be really difficult to just say, ‘Okay, here's my philosophy on giftedness, and I'm sticking with it. I can handle whatever abuse comes my way because of it, and I know how to protect my boundaries, and I know how to continue to speak out and advocate for this position’. A lot of people aren't ready. I wasn't ready, even a couple years ago. I was still trying to figure out how to legitimize those things, and how to be safe because I had plenty of unhealed wounds in that regard. It's one of the reasons why I've structured the trainings that I do the way that I have, because I really think that it would be ridiculous to ask a clinician, a gifted clinician to go be the best clinician they can for their gifted people, to their gifted clients, without having gone through their own gifted healing and integration for themselves.

A lot of times that's what's asked. You've been through my training, so you know it does both at the same time. It's training professionals for skills and how to work with gifted people, the common problems, the common solutions and techniques and so on, but it's also helping the gifted clinician to go through their own gifted awakening, so to speak, and then healing and integration. That makes it a lot easier to then take a stance on it. philosophically, let's say.

I have, over the years, learned to more explicitly encourage the people who go through my training to take a leadership role, to step out, to advocate for a different philosophy of giftedness, and to help the gifted collective to heal from the wounding of the collective trauma. Then, of course, the individuals they support one-on-one, to do that healing as well.

I think at some point, or at least I hope at some point, there will be a critical mass. Over the seven years I've been doing this publicly, I have seen a huge shift. Because at the beginning, it was really hard to convince anybody to take me seriously that there was a thing called ‘gifted shame.’ There's a thing called ‘gifted trauma.’ There's a thing called ‘gifted needs’ and they are legitimate. People were like, Oh, my God, how can you say those things? Aren't I so selfish or narcissistic? Now people are writing in saying, “Oh yeah, so I know I have gifted shame, and I can identify gifted traumas and I'm ready to legitimize my gifted needs” and I'm like yes! I can feel the shift happening bit-by-bit.

Then as you do your work, as I do my work, Emma, everybody… everybody who is at a point in their life that they're able to speak out and advocate, we all build each other up and we legitimize this way of interacting with giftedness. I also think that there's a contextual element, a parallel, or almost like a mirror to me, of what's going on in the gifted world is also what's going on in the world in general. Like neurodiversity, the neurodiversity movement is huge. Then also recognizing the value of biodiversity, understanding that our modern practices have really led away from diversity into sameness and we are trying to fight back to get that diversity and the dignity of being a unique self that doesn't necessarily fit into any particular mold.

I think that in a healthy way, not the not the “hero unique” self, I mean, just the authentic unique self that we are, that those bigger contexts then help this local context, local gifted context, to also start making those shifts. People going, “Yeah, I think it's actually more than just the IQ and the prizes that I won.” And to speak to that, the Mensa Foundation just did a colloquium on giftedness across the lifespan. For listeners who don't know, that's a really big deal, very, very big. Mensa has historically not…looked at giftedness as a holistic thing. Emotional development, existential development, it hasn't really been in there, so having this shift already shows something is moving in the collective on this. I think each person that steps up, that's able and ready to step up, each clinician or leader in the field, or to-be leader that's stepping up, we're all supporting each other to build this web that ultimately shifts the collective consciousness about the matter, and opens up these new possibility spaces where we can move into together, you know?

Chris: Wow, there's so much there. Just hearing you talk about all that made my mind explode [🤯audible blasting sound] a little. To go back to your podcast, ‘Conversations on Gifted Trauma,’ when I saw that you were doing that—it is so brave to name these things and have these conversations. I am so grateful to you for doing this. You really are a trailblazer in our field. And it's so important.

Jen: My therapist calls me an ‘early adopter’ [chuckles] I think maybe that's the…I just can't not be, and I don't do well pretending. I'm not very good at that. I can be good at that, but then I burn out really bad. That's another way of saying I'm very, I'm very bad at it. Um, I can't do it for any length of time without serious health consequences and so, well, I got to share my thoughts and got to share my experiences. I've been through a lot. You know, they say, big T, little t traumas and that kind of thing. I have a lot of the big T traumas and also little t traumas.

I've had to work really, really hard on my path for healing. My view on the matter is why not help other people? And that helps me as well to not be so quiet about what happened to me. A      lot of trauma perpetuates because of secrecy. People don't talk about it, people don't know how to talk about it. People don't know who to talk about it with, and it's one of the reasons I did it as a conversation, as ‘Conversations on Gifted Trauma’ and not just me teaching a course or giving lectures or something like that.

I wouldn't even know what to say in a course. I wouldn't know what to say in a lecture. It's about the conversations, and it's about cultivating this capacity for space and openness in a public way, in a way that other people can participate and listen and also ask questions afterward and help to further the dialogue. That's a huge part of healing. I don't wish the trauma on anybody and I never wished it on myself, but if talking about it together can heal me AND them, then that's what we should be doing.

Chris: I agree. I love it. And I love doing this. I never thought that I would do a podcast. It's thanks to Emma that I am doing it, with her. I had such a narrow view of what I would do in my work or how it would look, I'm glad that I was able to get out of that. I had thought…what videos could I make? What content could I produce or whatever? But no, having conversations with people about this stuff is the best. I love it.

Jen: Yeah, I mean, that's a big thing that when you're a trailblazer, or an early adopter, or just serious outlier, a lot of clarity comes from, and a lot of progress, although I don't think of progress as a particularly linear thing, but a lot of progress just comes from a very bottom-up exploratory approach.

I was thinking about this before when we were talking about multipotentialites. This idea that your career should be in one specific direction or whatever. I mean, if you would have said, what are you going to do with your life as a kid or when I was 20 or whatever, early adult, I would never have said, well, I will be the founder of an organization for gifted adults, we'll do things very differently. I'll do assessments that don't even exist right now, because this theory doesn't even exist. I wouldn't even have thought of those things. It was just the exploration, having that space to explore things differently outside of the typical nine to five, your salary is X amount, house and kids and car and dog and whatever else was expected.

There's so much for me. There's so much possibility, space, but it has to be approached, for the most part, in a bottom-up manner. ‘Let's just explore together and see where this goes.’ Let's explore this possibility, this space and see what happens. I'm just thinking of quantum science… it's a little bit like just not focusing on the particle, because as soon as you focus on it, then it's a particle. Just letting it sort of be the wave or be the possibility space, keep exploring and let it find out what it is, as opposed to seeing what it already should be, because how do you know from where you're at what it already should be?

When you're an outlier or early adopter or somebody like that, you can't know. You can have ideas, you can have intuitions, but you can't know. You just know this conversation needs to be had. Okay, let's have it! If you would have done “Okay, what content can I create? It has to be already decided.” Then somehow you're creating in the known.

I figure there's a lot of people who have no interest in creating in the unknown. A lot of people who have no interest in being an outlier or an early adopter or whatever. Great, let them create content on what's already known because that's where they will thrive. But I won't. I'll sit there biting my nails and having a panic attack if I have to think about how to work in the known space. I'm just not good at it. Let somebody else do it who's really good at it. You know, we all have our own ways.

Emma: And once again, the answer comes back to diversity, whether or not you're talking about your potential for content creation or the environment or neurodiversity or being a multipotentialite or anything else that we've talked in this entire conversation, the answer always seems to come back to let the outliers be the outliers. Let everybody be different, let everything do its own thing and things will work out okay. As long as we stop shoehorning stuff into the, “you must fit into this box” box, then life will sort itself out.

Jen: Absolutely. And it's difficult, the amount of pressure that we feel to exactly not do that. If we didn't feel so much pressure to get in that box, how many more positive disintegrations would spontaneously happen and in the best way possible?

Chris: Totally

Emma: So the message is, unless you're a cat, don't feel compelled to climb into the box.

Chris: Yeah, pretty much. Well, thanks so much, Jen. This was really wonderful. I knew it would be.

Jen: Well, it's been fun exploring with you both. And I appreciate very much the work you're doing. The way that you're raising awareness about positive disintegration, and all the themes that kind of come along with it. It's really powerful. And it adds very much to what I was saying about this web of professionals who are thinking in a similar way. Thinking in a similar way, but coming at it from different angles. This kind of collective approach is just fantastic. I think it's the way of the natural world, so it's really powerful. So thank you.

Emma: Thanks, Jen. And thanks to you too, Chris. Always a pleasure.

Chris: Thank you, Emma. Yes, it is always a pleasure.

Emma: And thanks to our listeners as well. We always appreciate you for joining us. The Positive Disintegration podcast is funded by the Dabrowski Center. If you like what you've heard, please consider donating through the link in the show notes. And if you're listening to us on Apple or Spotify, give us a rating or leave a review. If you want to get in touch with us, you can email positivedisintegration.pod@gmail.com or find us on Twitter or Instagram. And until next time, keep walking the path to your authentic self.