Working with the Gifted and the Highly Sensitive
My client was pacing up and down the room, occasionally balancing on the edge of the carpet as if it was a tightrope. I was watching her movements from the couch I was sitting on, with my notepad in hand, the way you will often find me sitting with a client. She was verbally processing her busy schedule and academic goals, and I occasionally interjected a question or an observation, encouraging her to further explore something she said. To the imaginary observer, we must have looked like a strange pair—one moving about like a caged tiger and the other almost motionless—but we had long come to trust the power of each other’s unique styles. So, I let her move, and she let me sit and listen, and we processed.
About an hour into the conversation, she finally sat down across from me without interrupting the flow of conversation for even a second. The thoughts and words had started to slow, the emotions had quieted down, and so had the movements. We started to work on defining action steps.
My client is a beautiful example of an individual with a trait that the Polish psychologist and physician Kazimierz Dąbrowski called “psychomotor overexcitability.” People with this trait release emotional tension through movement in a way that may seem extreme to the more even-tempered. It is important to note, however, that this quality does not stem from a psychological disorder, but rather a healthy variation in the person’s neurological wiring. Overexcitabilities are above-average sensitivities of a person’s brain and nervous system to different types of stimuli, resulting in a notable intensity of their inner experience and/or outward behavior. They are frequently found in people with above-average IQ, and some of them overlap with the concept of the “highly sensitive person,” as researched by psychologist Dr. Elaine Aron.
Dąbrowski identified five different forms of overexcitability: psychomotor, sensory, intellectual, imaginational and emotional. A gifted and/or highly sensitive person will manifest several of these to varying degrees. Because they usually have a very rich and complex inner world, I call these individuals intricate minds.