The Gifted Adult: Learning to Make it Easy When One is Complicated

The Gifted Adult

Learning to Make it Easy When One is Complicated

By Monique de Kermadec

Éditions Albin Michel, Paris, 2011

Translated and chopped into little morsels by the blog owner (please DO read the entire book, if able to, it’s so worth the effort!)


Too large a number [of gifted adults], though, live in embarrassment, when it is not a case of depression. Their difference, poorly experienced and poorly understood by their environment, encloses them in a gangue from which they cannot extract themselves. Who are they? They are not uniquely those men and women whose IQ, quantified, classes them in a gifted category. They approach the world and its problems in a way that is original and personal. They react in unusual manners. They learn in an atypical manner, and their interests tend to center off the beaten track. Like all other ostensibly different persons, they are targets for discrimination. (Page 12)

During my years of practice, in my office, but even more as a therapist, I have encountered more than a thousand abnormal men and women. They have taught me that if each of them were different in essence, literally extra-ordinary, all shared certain strengths, certain weaknesses, certain originalities in views and approaches. Almost always, they have in common that they have encountered the same problems naming and analyzing their suffering, and resolve harmoniously their disappointments in love, friendship, family, or in the working world. (p. 13-14)

It is this desire for freedom, the hope that their difference shall no longer be an embarrassment that they all have in common. (p. 14)

How can one discover a gifted adult?

The difference can be perceived as an advantage or a handicap, depending on the reaction of the surroundings, and predominantly that of the individual in their relationship with these surroundings. If the exterior world judges, the person who feels different will themselves emit a judgment of this difference. (p. 18)

The person who is different learns very early, often in the greatest solitude, to protect themselves psychologically from the intimate difficulties that they encounter. Some go forward and succeed. Others put in place a division between, on the one hand, their deep personality and the values to which they are attached, and, on the other hand, a personality for presentation, a sort of masque that they put on to blend into the shadows and integrate. Others again remedy with self-derision in order to be accepted and systematically avoid bothersome questions that could upset their “normality”. But these acrobatics change nothing about their situation: whatever they do, they will always be different.

The difference that I evoke is not a vague impression born from a difficulty in adapting to the world, and even less a psychological pathology. It is that of a particular population, which I call gifted adults. It induces a discomfort characteristic for the gifted adult, and from year to year, if it is not corrected, gathers into dejection, apathy, or depressive behaviour that leads to affectional, social and professional failure. The danger is even greater when the diversity is exacerbated by a society which, paradoxically, is less and less supportive. The treatment becomes a standard that marginalises the individual, thereby increasingly excluding the individual. (p. 19-20)

And when the individual amasses – along with their abnormal IQ, another difference, being homosexual, or a woman, or a foreigner – then the “other” that the person portrays to the world, this “other becomes the purely other, the nothing but other, the only other” as expressed by the psychologist Claude Geets in “La peur de la difference”[1]. The two cumulated differences amplify the suffering: an extreme lucidity is associated with an extreme intelligence, and, from this, a very great vulnerability, two major sources of psychological fragility. The intense personality of the gifted adult, their complexity and their capacity to self-motivate can be dormant, gagged, contained, but it never dies. They remain “quantitatively” and “qualitatively” different. (p. 20)

[1] Claude GEETS, « La peur de la différence », Pensée plurielle 2003, no 5, vol. 1, p. 7-16

When this diagnosis is confirmed, the majority of adults that are endowed with an intellectual over-efficiency deny it to start with. Gifted, for them, is only applicable to children and, like innocence, this talent ought to pass with age. They also think, like many, that a gifted adult would stand out through an exceptional success, be sanctioned by a dazzling university career, or by a triumph in one of the most reserved domains, like mathematics, physics or high level enterprise. And yet, it is sufficient for this hypothesis to be posed and for them to verify it, and all the tangles of prohibitions, all the incomprehension and all the culpability that have bound them since childhood fall apart. They then understand that it is necessary to accept what makes up their difference, and to tolerate the sweets and the bitter pills of their intelligence. The sweets, it’s what they have, in secrets sometimes hidden at the bottom of their memory, always dreamed of becoming or realizing one day. The bitter pills are the findings that a great intelligence, if applauded and acclaimed in theory, is trampled, contested and often hated in everyday life. (p. 21)

There are, and there will always be, on the road of every gifted adult, individuals who are incapable of understanding the originality and richness of this personality and that, upon leaving, are determined to throw a wrench into the machine. (p. 22)

The majority has not been tested during childhood. As they ignore their giftedness, when they encounter difficulties or get to know failure repeatedly during their lives as men or women, they are inclined to underestimate themselves and to downgrade themselves, even to load themselves with guilt and shame.

One must know that the giftedness does not disappear nor diminish with age. There is, instead, a tendency towards expansion and, along with it, the characteristics that makes it really inadaptable to a communal life. Thereby, the hyper-sensibility and the perfectionism intensify. (p. 22)

Gifted adults have a tendency to see their proper capacities as normal, while they recognize as brilliant those that have capacities that are different from their own. (p. 23)

What is a gifted adult?

A gifted adult is a gifted child who has grown (up). The individual’s precocity is congenital. He is born endowed with this intellectual superiority, and he keeps it. It is thus impossible, if one seeks to advance, to skip the question of precocity, as it is impossible for a clinician to go any further with a consultant whom he suspects, without a diagnosis through the use of precise tests, all developed and proven, and where the results are interpreted in regards to standards adapted to the individual that consults. (p. 24)

The tests have been developed to calculate the global intellectual capacity of each individual, as well as their aptitude to adapting to new circumstances and to discover solutions to difficulties that are presented to them. (p. 26)

There are gifted adults in all social classes. (p. 27)

The giftedness is, above all, a state of spirit, a view of the world, a total of truly particular traits that one can verify in practically every case. (p. 27)

The more he is cut off from an intellectual milieu that resembles him, that’s to say the more he is differentiated, the more the gifted adult develops a malaise, a distress due to the diffuse sentiment of difference, or apathy.

Gifted adults will be more at ease with machines than face to face with interlocutors of flesh and blood: the great majority has opted for computer activities, electronics, finances or accounting. An important part of them has chosen health professions. The next subsets, in descending order of importance, are those who have opted for educational occupations. Between those are a significant number of psychologists that have devoted their careers to gifted children. Finally, one counts, in small, but still significant numbers, men who have chosen to embrace a military career. Yet the most stunning piece of information that lavishes the consultation of this directory remains the particularly elevated number of gifted adults that do not declare any professional activity, whether out of shame, or whether they are actually unemployed. (p. 31)

Portrait of the gifted adult

For the majority of gifted adults, one notes a heightened intensity of emotions and of the expressions of their sentiments.

One also notes a hyper-perception of the five senses and a real gift for lucidity.

One will also rediscover, in all, a great clumsiness in society, in particular in their public talks.

For each of these [four types of intelligence], the characteristics below are placed in order from the most frequent to the most rare:

Concerning cognitive intelligence

  • Exceptional capacity for reasoning and a taste for reasoning
  • Spirit of synthesis and immediate comprehension (magical thinking)
  • Thirst of learning
  • Attraction towards complexity, having trouble deciding which problem to solve
  • Independent spirit in learning, a tendency towards autodidactism
  • Large vocabulary, ease of elocution, enjoyment from and attraction towards words and verbal expressions
  • Rapid comprehension of novelties
  • Excellent long term memory
  • Easily masters mathematical and scientific concepts
  • Voracious appetite for reading
  • Elaboration of abstract thoughts
  • Capacity to travel simultaneously, intellectually, on several tracks or different disciplines
  • Hypersensitivity (overexcitability)
  • Accentuated sense of humour and ability to see the comical aspects of a situation
  • Accentuated sense of observation, clear-headedness regarding the sentiments of others
  • Passionate sentiments, compulsive affections
  • Extreme sensibility to subtle atmospheric changes
  • Introversion
  • Tolerance for ambiguity
  • Capacity to envisage a problem from different angles, different points of view
  • Sense of the marvellous and the capacity to marvel
  • Open to new experiences
  • Emotional stability, serenity
  • Marked tendency to question or contest authority, to pose embarrassing questions
  • Propensity towards non-conformism
  • Feeling of difference, of a permanent state of being on a different wavelength from others
  • Feeling of isolation and solitude
  • Very great propensity towards compassion
  • Very great propensity towards empathy, helping others to understand themselves
  • Very great propensity towards innovation
  • Great originality in imagination and creation
  • Insatiable curiosity
  • Unusual ideas
  • Tendency to connect ideas that are traditionally opposed or independent from each other, to marry concepts
  • Vibrant and permanent imagination, deployed in all domains of activity, from the most intellectual to the most pragmatic and every day.

Concerning emotional intelligence

Concerning relational intelligence

Concerning creative intelligence

In order to complete the table of the gifted adult, it is necessary to add their moral qualities:

  • Gifted adults are perfectionists with a tendency to set the bar very high, for themselves and for others
  • They are more sensitive to personal defeats than to rewards discerned by society
  • They are preoccupied by mystical questions, by research into truth and the discovery of a reason for living
  • They love defeats and risk-taking
  • Injustice and immoral conduct makes them indignant. They also hold strong moral convictions, a sense of integrity and of honesty
  • It happens that, for a small number of them, that they are visionaries ant that they have presentiments of their lives, of a destiny or a personal mission to undertake
  • They passionately love ardent discussions, sincerity and tolerance
  • They are generally endowed with great energy, a formidable capacity for attention and effort, of exceptional concentration in the domains they are attracted to
  • They can work until exhaustion
  • They sporadically need contemplation and solitude
  • They are hypersensitive to their environment, in all senses of the word: changes in temperature, incongruent sounds, perfumes, dissonances, flavour faults, furniture fabrics, the fabrics of clothes
  • Due to lack of self-confidence, they have a tendency to deride themselves, to criticize themselves and even denigrate themselves.


More will follow!

[1] Claude GEETS, « La peur de la différence », Pensée plurielle 2003, no 5, vol. 1, p. 7-16


2 thoughts on “The Gifted Adult: Learning to Make it Easy When One is Complicated

  1. “Finally, one counts, in small, but still significant numbers, men who have chosen to embrace a military career.” Yes, while it’s not required to be smart to be military… it takes intelligence and being able to think in order to be good (i.e., win and not get killed) at it.

  2. Hi,

    I would love to read this book, however, I cannot find the English translation. Do you know if one exists?

    Thank you!

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