The Curse of Genius

Malala Yousafzai, Ludwig van Beethoven, Jane Goodall, Nikola Tesla, and Michelle Obama are each virtuosos in their own right. They represent the Mount Everest of individual prowess.


Defining giftedness is a tricky topic that few people fully comprehend. Weinert (2000) references Karl Marx’s notion that talented individuals were nature’s gift to society because of their potential to make useful contributions.

A gifted individual, in terms of intelligence and abilities, is someone who possesses exceptional talents, capabilities, or potential in one or more areas. These individuals often demonstrate divergent intellectual, creative, or artistic abilities that are significantly advanced compared to their peers. Typically, only the top 10% or even rarer can be considered gifted.

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If we’re being technical, Giftedness can manifest in various ways, including:

  1. The Smart Guys – Intellectual Giftedness: This refers to individuals who have exceptional cognitive abilities, such as high IQ scores, advanced problem-solving skills, and a capacity for abstract thinking. They may grasp complex concepts quickly and display a deep curiosity and thirst for knowledge. For example, Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking.
  2. The Creatives – Creative Giftedness: Creative individuals possess an extraordinary imagination, originality, and innovative thinking. They typically excel in artistic pursuits such as music, writing, painting, or other forms of expression, and often produce works that are distinctive and of high quality. Examples of such individuals include Leonardo da Vinci or Fela Kuti.
  3. The Book Worms – Academic Giftedness: These individuals demonstrate exceptional academic performance across a range of subjects or have a particular affinity for a specific field. They may exhibit a deep understanding of complex concepts, excel in academic competitions, and have a strong thirst for intellectual challenges. Think of the formidable Wangari Maathai (I’m quite biased with this one, can you tell?)
  4. The Jocks – Psychomotor Giftedness: This refers to individuals who display exceptional physical abilities and/or coordination. They may excel in sports, dance, or other physical activities, often surpassing their peers in terms of skill level and performance. Some examples include Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo.
  5. The Leaders – Leadership Giftedness: This refers to individuals who possess exceptional abilities and talents in leadership roles. These individuals demonstrate innate qualities and skills that enable them to effectively guide, motivate, and influence others towards achieving common objectives. Examples of such individuals include Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and many more.

So where does the so-called “curse” come in?

Source: Photo by Patrick Kool on Unsplash

Contemporary discourse on giftedness and mental health is complex and multifaceted. While being gifted can bring abundant rewards and opportunities, it can also present unique challenges that can impact an individual’s mental well-being.

Here are some important points to consider:

  1. Perfectionism and self-criticism: Gifted individuals often set astronomically high standards for themselves and may experience deep-rooted self-criticism. The pressure to excel can lead to perfectionism, which can add to anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy.
  2. Intensity and overexcitabilities: Gifted individuals may experience heightened emotional, sensory, and intellectual intensity. This can lead to increased sensitivity to stimuli, overthinking, and a tendency to feel overwhelmed or emotionally drained.
  3. The end of the world: Gifted folks often engage in deep philosophical and existential questioning, which can lead to existential crises or a heightened awareness of life’s complex nature and in tandem the numerous uncertainties that are characteristic of the human experience. This introspection can contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety, or a sense of not fitting in with others.
  4. Underachievement and boredom: Gifted individuals may struggle with a lack of challenge or stimulation in traditional educational settings, leading to boredom and disengagement. This discrepancy between their abilities and the educational environment can result in frustration, apathy, or a sense of unfulfillment.
  5. People Relations: Gifted individuals may have difficulties forming social connections due to differences in interests, intensity, or a lack of peers who share their intellectual or creative passions. As a result, they may experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, or difficulty finding a sense of belonging.

It’s important to note that not all gifted individuals experience mental health issues, and the impact can vary greatly from person to person.

Creating supportive environments, providing access to appropriate educational opportunities, fostering social and emotional development, and having understanding educators can all play crucial roles in mitigating challenges and promoting positive mental health outcomes for gifted individuals.

If you or someone you know is a gifted individual struggling with mental health concerns, it is imperative to seek assistance and support from mental health professionals who have experience working with gifted individuals.

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