The emotional intensity in the gifted is not just a matter of feeling “more”, but it is an entirely different way of experiencing the world; vivid, absorbing, penetrating, complex, encompassing, commanding. This intensity can be expressed in a variety of ways:
- as intensity of feeling - positive feelings, negative feelings, both positive and negative feelings together, extremes of emotion, complex emotion that seemingly move from one feeling to another over a short time period, identification with the feelings of other people, laughing and crying together
- in the body - the body mirrors the emotions and feelings are often expressed as bodily symptoms such as tense stomach, sinking heart, blushing, headache, nausea
- inhibition - timidity and shyness
- strong affective memory - emotionally intense children can remember the feelings that accompanied an incident and will often relive and 're-feel' them long afterward
- fears and anxieties, feelings of guilt, feelings of being out of control
- concerns with death, depressive moods
- emotional ties and attachments to others, empathy and concern for others, sensitivity in relationships, attachment to animals, difficulty in adjusting to new environments, loneliness, conflicts with others over the depth of relationships
- critical self-evaluation and self-judgment, feelings of inadequacy and inferiority
The most important thing parents, educators and others can do to nurture emotionally intense gifted children is to accept their emotions: they need to feel understood and supported. Explain that intense feelings are normal. Help them to use their intellect to develop self-awareness and self-acceptance. Discuss feelings openly; the negative as well as the positive. It can be helpful to use an "emotional thermometer" to initiate discussion eg "on a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling today? "Take time to listen to children's ideas, opinions and feelings. Be non-judgmental: don't interrupt, moralize, distract or give advice.
Most importantly, make sure these children know their emotional intensity a strength, a superpower, and that their ability to feel deeply is valued.
Piechowski, M.M. (1991) Emotional Development and Emotional Giftedness. In N. Colangelo & G. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of Gifted Education. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon
Piechowski, M.M. (1979) Developmental Potential. In N. Colangelo &T. Zaffran (Eds.), New Voices in Counseling the Gifted. Dubuque, IA : Kendall/Hunt.