Many gifted individuals - especially those at the highest levels of ability - seem to have an ability to function as specialized and highly sensitive receptacles for incoming stimuli. Human Geiger counters, so to speak.
They see, hear, sense, feel, think, imagine all to a degree that is often completely invisible to others. With these intensely tuned perceptions, they can then create, innovate, perform, and astound. They can also deeply suffer.
Dr. Kazimierz Dabrowski, in his seminal work on personality development entitled The Theory of Positive Disintegration, included within it the first discussion of his observations that would from then be referred to as overexcitabilities (literally translated as superstimulatabilities). These overexcitabilities (or OE's), when explained simply, are the corporeal sensations - both psychologically and neurologically - experienced by gifted individuals in their interactions with their external environments.
A large number of people, many of them specialists in the gifted field, have already articulated the experience of those with OE's. I've included a few of my most favorite links at the end of this post.
While OE's may not be the equivalent of superpowers, some people like to think of them in that way. However, the potential negatives associated with OE's cause many gifted individuals to struggle, sometimes their entire lives, in coming to terms with them. Having these super senses can unfortunately make these individuals feel vastly different from others, and thus always in search of a way to fit in. Some never truly find their tribe.
Dr. Dabrowski, in a portion of his poem entitled "Be Greeted" - a poem I highly recommend everyone read in its entirety - he writes:
"For your awkwardness in dealing with practical things, and
for your practicalness in dealing with the unknown things,
for your transcendental realism and lack of everyday
for your exclusiveness and fear of losing close friends,
for your creativity and ecstasy,
for your maladjustment to that 'which is' and
adjustment to that which 'ought to be',
for your great but unutilized abilities." - Dr. Dabrowski
Pearl S. Buck, author and 1938 Nobel Prize winner in Literature, described with accuracy the experience of a creative mind in this passage of her speech.
"The creative instinct is, in its final analysis and in its simplest terms, an enormous extra vitality, a super-energy, born inexplicably in an individual, a vitality great beyond all the needs of his own living - an energy which no single life can consume. This energy consumes itself then in creating more life, in the form of music, painting, writing, or whatever is its most natural medium of expression. Nor can the individual keep himself from this process, because only by its full function is he relieved of the burden of this extra and peculiar energy - an energy at once physical and mental, so that all his senses are more alert and more profound than another man's, and all his brain more sensitive and quickened to that which his senses reveal to him in such abundance that actuality overflows into imagination. It is a process proceeding from within. It is the heightened activity of every cell of his being, which sweeps not only himself, but all human life about him, or in him, in his dreams, into the circle of its activity." - Pearl S. Buck
Gifted individuals with OE's tend to experience several, if not all, of the following five categories of overexcitability. The interactions between the strengths offered by each category described can contribute further to more potentially profound accomplishments. The weaknesses, however, can combine to produce sensations that may place a gifted individual at a risk to himself or herself.
CATEGORIES OF OVEREXCITABILITIES:
PSYCHOMOTOR: This is expressed as a heightened motor excitability, leading one to greatly need to utilize motor muscles (movement, speech). These individuals appear highly energetic and talkative, causing them to be at risk for ADHD misdiagnosis. The motor strengths can also lead them to perform at the highest levels in sports, the arts, and other realms.
"On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists." - Michael Jackson, recording artist
EMOTIONAL: This is expressed as a heightened emotional excitability, leading one to experience emotions to an immensely deep level. Individuals show amazing empathy and compassion, but also experience within themselves the fullest range of emotions from highs of ecstasy to profound lows of depression. Maintaining a sense of balance and control over the over-arching emotions can be a difficult life journey.
"The emotions are sometimes so strong that I work without knowing it. The strokes come like speech." - Vincent Van Gogh, painter
SENSUAL: This is expressed as a heightened excitability of the five senses, leading one to perceive their surroundings to a level unimaginable to others. Discordant sounds, colors, tactile materials, tastes, and smells may cause a great degree of discomfort. On the other hand, pleasing sensations can lead to deep satisfaction and joy. Their discriminatory perceptions can further lead them to create remarkable artistic and musical works, and to excel in fields requiring their high level of skills.
"The music is not in the notes, but in the silence between." - Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, musician
INTELLECTUAL: This is expressed as a heightened excitability in the pursuit of knowledge, as it pertains to a better and more thorough understanding their world. They strive to comprehend all aspects of a problem, and focus on solving some of the greatest issues of society. These individuals can be innovators and visionaries, but can also be burdened by the fallibilities of humanity and the deep unfairness of the world and devastating world events.
"You see, one thing is, I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it's much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don't know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we're here." - Dr. Richard Feynman, physicist
IMAGINATIONAL: This is expressed as a heightened excitability of imagination, leading them to be world-builders via story and art. They may be divergent in thought and profoundly creative in expression. They also may be visionary, dreaming of a more utopian world, but may sometimes become bogged down in fantasy to the exclusion of reality.
"Everything you can imagine is real." - Pablo Picasso, artist
OE's are REAL. Awareness of OE's is essential to the proper social and emotional support of gifted individuals. Gifted individuals are too often shunned, isolated, erroneously labeled, and made to feel broken through their experiences with OE's.
Gifted individuals with OE's are not broken. They are not, however, ordinary. They have the capacity within them to be... EXTRAORDINARY.
ADDITIONAL READINGS and VIDEO and BOOKS
"Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration: Some implications for teachers of gifted students". Sal Mendaglio, Ph.D. (2002, SENG).
"Overexcitability and the Gifted". Sharon Lind (2001, SENG).
"The Excitable Ones". Lisa Rivero (March 2015, Mensa Bulletin).
"Dabrowski's Over-excitabilities: A Layman's Explanation". Stephanie S. Tolan (1999).
Dabrowski's Overexcitabilities. Global GT-Chat/TAGT (2015).
Dabrowski Congress. Calgary, Alberta (2016).
Mellow Out, They Say. If Only I Could. Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D. (2nd Ed. 2014).
Living With Intensity. Susan Daniels, Ph.D. & Michael M. Piechowski, Ph.D. (2008).
This post originally appeared on Kuzujanakis.com with the title "OE's, Oh, No!...OE's, Oh, Yes!"