the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, the maxim “Know Thyself” (γνῶθι σεαυτόν)
chastened all to attend to the most difficult calling of the human experience:
to go within, dismantle facades and defenses, and bring light to one’s
Self. Introspection often begins when
presumptions are affronted by experience, with dichotomy between ideal and
actual in the world or in the mind.
Individuals of high intelligence are not exempt; their inner landscape
may be even more challenging. Not only
do inner processes potentially increase in speed and complexity, but oftentimes
the border between our Selves and the world (perhaps the “chiasm”) is more
permeable with a greater capacity to penetrate and be penetrated.
is one of a constellation of traits which we might include under the emerging category
of neurodiversity. Most famously,
autism, but also dyslexia, synaesthesia, visual-spatial orientation, and
intelligence are coming to be understood as difference in the development of
the nervous system as a whole, a difference in wiring. Connections exist in
unexpected places, are more or less numerous, or differ qualitatively. Some
brains and bodies contain wiring that bears a greater load, like an electrical
circuit with lesser resistance channeling a greater current. This may result in increased fluid
intelligence; this may also result in a nervous system which allows more of the
world in thus affecting the type,
quality, and number of processes initiated inside.
asynchronous development in which advanced cognitive abilities and heightened
intensity combine to create inner experiences and awareness that are
qualitatively different from the norm. This asynchrony increases with higher
intellectual capacity. The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly
vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching, and counseling in
order for them to develop optimally.” – The Columbus Group, 1991
of “giftedness” are as diverse and numerous as twentieth century educational
philosophies. The primary division is
between those definitions which are achievement-oriented, emphasizing the
contribution which the highly intelligent person might make to society, and
those which are attribute-oriented.
While educational organizations are now commonly choosing to align
themselves with the achievement and talent model which may be more appreciable
to potential investors, organizations focused primarily on the affective or
social-emotional ramifications of intelligence emphasize experience which
diverges from the quantifiable norm.
Mensans are by definition at least two standard deviations above the
norm representing the top 2% of IQs with a cutoff score around 130 depending on
the assessment; two standard deviations below the norm, persons with IQ 70 and
below are considered intellectually disabled and are widely supported by
governmental and educational bodies especially in the areas of cognitive, behavioral,
and psychosocial functioning.
outlying, both groups have divergent intellectual, psychological, and
behavioral characteristics. Those of
higher intelligence often exhibit alertness, sensitivity, intensity, and
idealism which extend to encompass individuals’ orientation towards themselves
and the world. An environment which
fails to accommodate such outliers invites maladaptation: Frustration, anxiety,
boredom, or depression bloom under hostile conditions, and adversity arises even
under the most ideal. However,
intelligence may offer a key catalyst for transformation. Kazimierz Dabrowski proposed that “disintegrative”
periods may be positive and lead to the development of the personality – requiring
both integration and self-knowledge – if the person possesses sufficient
responsiveness, especially of intelligence, emotion, and imagination, alongside
strong developmental potential and additional dynamisms.
the extent of the impact of such differences is foundational for self-knowledge
and pivotal when raising a highly intelligent child. Intensity characterizes every action and
interaction, often leaving the parents of gifted children exhausted,
bewildered, and isolated. Organizations
like Mensa, Serving the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) Model Parent
Groups, online networks, and other means of sharing information with others
facing similar challenges create opportunities for both parents and their
highly intelligent children to develop fluency with the theoretical frameworks
and mediating practices which allow for development and flourishing. Willing to venture unfamiliar shores for
their children’s sake, parents often discover their own intelligence. Exploring others, we discover ourselves. Go forth and hasten inward to ascertain the
pervasiveness of intelligence’s effect on your Self. Yet Thales would caution:
It is difficult to know thyself; giving advice is easy.
reading: Daniels and Piechowski’s Living
with Intensity, James Webb’s A Parent’s
Guide to Gifted Children
Heather C. Nicholson, M.S.
Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Gifted Education, has recently moved to Chicago from the mountains of
western Virginia. She is the City of
Chicago Coordinator and a board member of the Chicago Gifted Community Center,
alumna of PEG at Mary Baldwin College, and new Mensan.
This article was originally written for and published in Chicago-area Mensa's publication ChiMe in March 2015.