8 Tough Issues That Impact Adults Who Used To Be Gifted Children

Calling all former gifted kids.

man sitting alone thinking panitanphoto / Shutterstock

In my practice, I get a lot of highly verbal, high achieving and/or intellectual clients, which I can attribute to the fact that these are the people who tend to research their own issues at length and come upon my articles.

Often, these clients have had the experience of being categorized as a "gifted child."

There are many commonalities among kids that were intellectually or academically advanced. If this describes you, understanding these points can help give you a clearer handle on certain challenges that may come up in your adulthood.


RELATED: Top 6 Childhood Complaints I Hear From Adults In Therapy

Here are 8 tough issues that impact adults who used to be gifted children:

1. You may always feel weird

The accommodations for gifted children used to be things like being allowed to read their own book at the back of the class while everyone else did their work. I speak from experience.


This leads to a feeling of being a weird Martian outsider. 

If you have the bad luck of also having a dysfunctional home life, you are almost assured of feeling like an anthropologist studying human nature rather than a normal kid.

2. You are much more likely to be highly sensitive

Gifted kids are often more observant and deeper thinkers than others around them. They may also be physically sensitive to sensory stimuli.

Being a highly sensitive child can also make you feel self-conscious and strange because while the other kids are happily playing, you are overwhelmed with sensory input.

3. You often feel as though you are not living up to your potential

In my fourth grade yearbook, some teacher wrote, "Publish! Publish!" I mean this is nice and all, but WTF?


If you are lauded for your intelligence and potential throughout your childhood, it can be difficult not to undervalue your later success and wonder what your "real" potential is. Even my most conventionally high-achieving clients with "gifted" childhoods can be plagued by self-doubt and tend to undercut their success.

RELATED: Confessions Of A Burnt Out Former "Gifted Child"

4. When academics are "easy," you can be blindsided when other things (including more advanced academics) are hard 

If you’re used to schoolwork being effortless for a decade-plus of schooling, you can assume that everything will be easy for you throughout your life.

When you come upon obstacles that truly challenge you, you can feel helpless, panicked and anxious.


5. Your self-concept is (too) heavily centered around being smart

This can make you do annoying, interpersonally aversive things like play devil’s advocate. It can make you one-up others in conversation and interrupt them so that you can cite some relevant research study or make a clever joke.

It can make you only pick mates based on their intelligence, so that you can be an intellectual powerhouse couple, at the expense of other personality traits that are also necessary for a happy marriage.

6. You can be closed-minded or judgmental (even in spite of awareness that you’re being this way)

When you’re used to being praised for the intelligence and creativity of your arguments in all of your papers throughout your life, it makes sense that you might conclude that your way of thinking is the "best" way. Even if you intellectually understand that there are other valid viewpoints, it can be hard to take them in.

Furthermore, if these competing viewpoints are not expressed in an intellectual, verbally compelling way, you may reject them out of hand.


RELATED: If Your Child Has These 3 Qualities, They're Incredibly Gifted

7. You may have overly high standards for your kids

If your kids are not as good test takers as you were, or they struggle with reading or math, you may find yourself completely at a loss, as well as impatient and irritated. Most gifted kids who grow up and become parents unconsciously (or consciously) imagine that their children will be just like them.

I myself called up the elementary school across from my house when I was still pregnant with my oldest child to ask how they handled early readers. This worked out well because she was reading at 3.

However, since I have three kids, I always have an example at the ready where I messed up one of them somehow. My second child, who is no less intelligent, learned to read in kindergarten phonetically. To say that I was a bit impatient sitting with her while she sounded out words is like saying that Cruella De Vil was a pretty sweet lady overall.


8. You may be most comfortable with your cerebral side, and not focus enough on the other sides

Often, adults who used to be gifted kids are very comfortable with their brainpower but feel awkward in expressing their physical/sexual/romantic/emotional sides. They don’t have as much practice with these aspects of themselves and stick to their wheelhouse of being intellectual.

At the extremes, men who were gifted kids can reject their emotional side so much as to be alexithymic. People who only focus on one aspect of their personalities can end up feeling unfulfilled overall.

To echo point #1, they may also feel like strange outsiders who are looking in through the window of life at other people who are effortlessly comfortable and secure.


If these describe you, therapy can help you dig deeper and understand how to feel more confident, authentic, and fulfilled.

Note: The intellectual analysis, pattern discovery, and back-and-forth badinage of therapy will be easy for you, but the emotional disclosure and sitting with discomfort may be the much greater challenge. It is worth it to power through this and can be ultimately the most important work you do.

RELATED: 'Gifted' Student With 4.0 GPA Calls Herself A 'Failure' After Being Rejected From All California Universities

Dr. Samantha Rodman Whiten, aka Dr. Psych Mom, is a clinical psychologist in private practice and the founder of DrPsychMom. She works with adults and couples in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.