Gifted people sure do think a lot.
Logic, reason, introspection. Thinking is one of their greatest strengths and a source of delight as they ponder the complexities of...well... just about anything. They love to problem-solve, find a creative solution, deconstruct an idea, let their imaginations soar, and debate and disagree.
But this remarkable asset and companion can be a torment when it goes awry.
What causes overthinking? (And what can you do about it?)
Take charge at all costs
Overthinking can stem from a need for control. Some overthinkers are the high achievers and perfectionists who stand out in a crowd. They grab the controls on any project, seem to have all the answers, and master every detail. They take pride in their knowledge and barely come up for air as they race to keep up with the latest information and theories.
In an effort to stay in control, these gifted overthinkers seek fool-proof plans to ensure that problems will not arise...or that their presumed flaws will not be discovered...or that they will perform perfectly. This fuels perfectionism, repeated checking. and obsessing about what might go wrong. If they miscalculate, they berate themselves for both the outcome and their failure to devise a perfect plan. And while perfectionism is not exclusive to gifted individuals alone, overthinking can increase the likelihood that this pattern will develop.
When gifted overthinkers strive to be the best, and base their self-worth on accomplishments and praise from others, they not only abandon their intrinsic love of learning, but set themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment. Learning to accept failure experiences and using these as a springboard for future growth is essential for all of us. When overthinkers become entrenched in perfectionistic expectations and the rigid pursuit of external goals, they often end up with nothing more than anxiety.
Hijacked by shame
Some gifted children, teens and adults just can't leave an idea alone. They obsess, worry and overthink. They rework every potential glitch in their plans. They torture themselves with "what-ifs" and worst-case-scenarios.
Thinking - once a joy and refuge - becomes hijacked by shame.
Yes, shame - defined by Merriam-Webster as "a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety" - takes hold. Shame is the culprit that fuels overthinking for some gifted people. Of course, genetics, biochemistry (in obsessive-compulsive disorder, for example) and external pressure all play a role. But in many instances, shame-based fears drive these thoughts.
What is particularly distressing is that most often, their self-doubt and shame is completely unwarranted. Gifted overthinkers worry that their perceived flaws will be discovered, that they will not perform up to par, and that they are undeserving of their talents or recognition. Shame fuels obsessing and overthinking, which in turn, drives even more shame-based fears. They are deprived of relishing their accomplishments and even the activities they enjoy.
Sometimes shame-based fears develop in response to events unrelated to their giftedness (such as depression, traumatic events, or family problems). But all too often, gifted children become ambivalent and ashamed of their talents from an early age. Shame builds when they are chastised for "showing off"... or shamed for correcting a teacher... or teased about the occasional low test score... or when they realize that other children think they are weird.
Gifted children and teens learn to mask their abilities if they want to fit in, as exposing who they are - gifted, with flaws - seems too much for others to bear. These lessons are the building blocks of shame. Overcoming shame-based overthinking requires support and reassurance from caring adults (including teachers who understand and respect the needs of gifted students), finding a niche of like-minded peers who truly accept them for themselves, and sometimes counseling to address low self-esteem and negative thoughts and feelings.
Too many choices
With a mind that races from one fascinating idea to the next, gifted people can be distracted by their own imagination and creativity. It is easy to ignore the tedious task at hand when one's mind conjures up material that is so much more interesting. In fact, some gifted children are misdiagnosed as having ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) because of their high energy level and difficulty focusing on a task.
Gifted overthinkers may become overwhelmed by the choices they face on a given project. They freeze on tests when presented with too many options. They second-guess their answers. They also obsess over the many ideas they can generate when starting a paper, unable to make a clear choice. Rather than appreciate their ability to create so many ideas, or analyze information from different perspectives, they feel anxious and overwhelmed instead.
Too many choices also can create conflict for gifted people with multiple talents and abilities. Often labeled as possessing multipotentiality, they must choose from an array of possible career paths. Making any selection eliminates other options, and many struggle with the implications of letting go. Attempts to juggle and organize competing interests, and tackling more than one pursuit or career goal may contribute to overthinking and distractibility.
The busy minds and multiple interests of some gifted overthinkers can create an organizational bottleneck. Their greatest challenge is learning to pace themselves, slow down, and develop mindfulness skills to focus on one task at a time. Regardless of how well they think they can multi-task, keeping a distracted focus takes its toll, and learning to pay closer attention to one interest, task and person at a time is essential.
Taming this particular beast
Overthinking can become a stubbornly entrenched pattern that creates the illusion of safe harbor. It reassures the overthinker who assumes that by acquiring just enough knowledge, and reviewing every possible option, the right solution will appear. What eludes overthinkers is the realization that mistakes happen and they will survive with their self-esteem in tact.
In addition to counseling, techniques such as mindfulness, challenging negative beliefs (i.e., cognitive distortions), and values clarification can help. Overthinkers benefit from challenging shame-based messages (from self or others) and setting priorities for what is intrinsically meaningful and of greatest value.
When overthinking strikes, it may be helpful to ask yourself, or have your children or students ask themselves the following:
This article is reprinted with permission from https://giftedchallenges.blogspot.com/ and is used here with permission.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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