In 1986, Deirdre Lovecky, a renowned psychologist who specializes in the needs of gifted children, wrote the original article “Can You Hear the Flowers Singing? Issues for Gifted Adults.” At that time, Dr. Lovecky was exploring the characteristics and needs of gifted adults – something few had done at the time. Part of her writing addresses the perceptivity and sensitivity that enables one to a have a certain awareness that others may not have. This may indeed be an ability to metaphorically, or perhaps literally, hear the flowers singing.
So, as I am preparing to give a keynote at an upcoming conference for and about gifted women, I pulled her article out once again. Written thirty-three years ago, the article potentially holds as many insights for gifted adults as it had then. Lovecky asserted at the time that, while the personality and social and emotional needs of gifted children had been widely described, there had been comparatively little focus in the literature on the characteristics and social emotional needs of gifted adults.
Since then, a handful of books have been written on this subject, and they are listed at the end of this article. In her article, Lovecky set out to delineate and describe the social and emotional aspects of traits displayed by gifted adults. Using anecdotal and observational material, she described traits observed in 15 gifted individuals – several of whom were clients and several of whom were colleagues and friends. Her findings continue to be relevant today.
Dr. Lovecky discovered five traits this group of gifted adults had in common. The five traits are: divergency, excitability, sensitivity, perceptivity, and entelechy. Let’s have a look at each of these qualities individually.
Divergency involves a preference for unusual, original, and creative thinking. Divergent thinking is of positive social and emotional value. Gifted adults who are strong divergent thinkers are able to find creative solutions to problems and to challenge stereotypes. They tend to be open-minded and enthusiastic about novel and original ideas. While they are open to divergent thinking in others, they may have difficulty working with others when a need for forming consensus is required. Divergent thinking is often essential to developing creativity in one’s life and in one’s work. And divergency is helpful in terms of both interpersonal and intrapersonal problem solving. Research suggests that divergent thinking is also essential to imagination. And, while children are naturally divergent in their thinking until the fourth grade, it is then that imagination, divergent thinking and creativity begin to trend downwards. For readers with children, my book Raising Creative Kids develops these concepts and recommends strategies for further developing divergency in the children we parent and teach. Gifted adults may nurture their own divergency first through awareness and then through conscious and deliberate practice.
Excitability confers energy – seemingly boundless energy at times – that fuels drive and passion and persistence. Many entrepreneurs and inventors have been reported to have this trait. And the energy that comes with excitability can fuel personal pursuits as well as professional projects or career-focused goals. Commonly this energy can be sustained to propel activity and engagement with new pursuits and projects. The downside is that once interest wanes or boredom begins to set in, the energy may well dissipate. Related to excitability is the conceptualization of the five forms of overexcitabilities (OEs) as developed by Kazimerz Dabrowski. These are: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional OEs. More information related to OEs can be found in the book Living With Intensity that I co-edited with Dr. Michael Piechowski, and in which I have coauthored several chapters.
Sensitivity as it pertains to gifted adults results in an awareness of the feelings and emotional tone of others. Gifted adults who are sensitive in this way are aware of nuances in the feeling tone of other people and often within the environment as well. One highly gifted and sensitive adult that I’ve worked with said, “I can walk into a room and tell if there is a calm in the space or if a disagreement has taken place or some other distress has been experienced.” Sensitivity is frequently seen as the flip-side to excitability – or overexcitability. Sensitivity requires an awareness and perhaps a stillness that allows for feelings and insights to emerge from deep within.
Perceptivity, according to Lovecky, is “the ability to view several aspects of a situation simultaneously, to understand several layers of self within another, and to see quickly to the core of an issue.” Gifted adults with the quality of perceptivity tend to be intuitive and to be able to understand the feelings and motivations of others. Individuals with perceptivity are often skilled at sensing both truth and incongruency – in oneself, in others, and in the environment. Adults gifted with perceptivity may be aware that others hear flowers signing even before they are. Indeed, perceptivity undergirds both interpersonal and intrapersonal awareness along with social and environmental awareness. The gifted adults’ perceptions may be unnerving to others who don’t share these abilities.
Entelechy comes from the Greek word for having a goal. Entelechy contributes to self-development and to self-actualizations across the lifespan. Entelechy helps to further focus one’s caring and motivation. Aware of one’s self-development and self- actualization, gifted adults with entelechy are often aware of these processes in others as well. Teachers, therapists, and doctors, among others, are often high in this trait as they care for the well-being of others, too. Entelechy provides the capacity to connect with others on a deep level and to express deep feelings in the context of relationship.
These five characteristics clearly confer many advantages. They also present some challenges. Being a gifted adult who is also sensitive and intense in these multiple ways often results in a having a sense of being different than. Unless a gifted individual is able to connect with others who also encounter the adult gifted experience, loneliness and isolation may result. Organizations and activities for gifted children – while not as common as one might hope – are accessible. Fewer opportunities present themselves for gifted adults to gather together.
Sometimes, we may yearn for that one significant friend with whom we can share all of our selves, our experiences, and our interests. If, however we have wide-ranging interests or interests we hold with great passion and depth, one friend may not match with all of these parts of ourselves. And so, Lovecky suggested that gifted adults – due in no small part to their depth and complexity – may need multiple friends, each of whom connects to some interest, quality, or activity that we hold dear. Like gifted children who have different friends for math club, soccer, drama, and afterschool play, we too may need to have friends that match well with different aspects of ourselves. Fortunately, over the years organizations such as SENG – Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted – PG Retreat, the Davidson Institute, and others have provided opportunities for adults to connect. Many are organized for parents and families with gifted children. SENG is a n organization that provides an umbrella for gifted adults as well.
In closing, it’s occurred to me that when I head off to speak at the upcoming gifted women’s conference, I am going to pose the question “Can you hear the flowers singing?” to the group before sharing with them the related content contained in Dee Lovecky’s classic and timeless article. I’ll let you know what I hear from this conversation in an upcoming newsletter. All the best, S
Lovecky, D. (1986) Can you hear the flowers singing? Issues for gifted adults. Journal of Counseling and Development, 64, pp. 590-592.
Susan Daniels & Michael Piechowski (2008). Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults.
Ellen Fiedler (2015). Bright Adults: Uniqueness and Belonging Across the Lifespan.
Mary-Elaine Jacobsen. (2000). The Gifted Adult: A Revolutionary Guide for Liberating Everyday Genius.
Barbara A. Kerr and Robyn McKay (2014). Smart Girls in the 21st Century: Understanding Girls and Women.
Paula Prober (2016). Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth