Stiff, scratchy wool pants with a tight waist.
When people say they really don’t read… ever.
Restless hands and legs sitting in a silent, packed church.
The smell of burnt popcorn.
...are you stressed-out yet? I sure am.
As gifted people with OE's*, we work hard to avoid these kinds of things. Some buy really specific clothes from really specific places...seven at a time. Others keep piles of books by the bedside, office desk, travel bags, and in the living room. Some keep paper clips in their pockets. And others still create elaborate microwaving rituals (or simply give up eating popcorn).
We know these as overexcitabilities (OE’s). They’re not quirks or defects, but important and perfectly normal parts of giftedness. But how did we learn to do these things? What drives us to behave in atypical ways, to break rules and social norms? To draw unwanted (and sometimes negative) attention to ourselves?
The fact is, our behavior is driven by our values, and our values are determined by our survival needs. In intercultural communication, we look at what people do (behaviors) and why they do it (values). Values, the why’s, are this critical link between what we need to be safe and what we do in the real world to ensure that safety. And if we have gifted behaviors (OE’s), we must have gifted values driving those behaviors.
In fact, there are two gifted values that drive OE’s:
Our unique neuroanatomy (see p.8) means we may have thresholds in atypical places.
We experience certain stimuli more intensely which means we reach breaking-point (a.k.a. overstimulation) and pain or injury sooner than others. We seek protection from things and situations that others don’t need to, and it’s those unusual things and extra situations that cause us to stand-out, that put the “over” in “overexcitabilities”.
The important thing here is that everyone seeks protection. We just have a few extra criteria.
That same unique neuroanatomy that drives us to seek protection, can also drive us to seek stimulation. Greater sensitivity means more intense experiences and, sometimes, that can be a good… no, a great thing. Colors, smells, ideas, energy coursing through every fiber of our being- they’re natural, exhilarating highs.
And guess what? Everyone, gifted or not, seeks that out too. We just seem to get a little extra juice from the experience.
There are two important things to remember here. First, these aren’t the only gifted values that exist. The best way to identify gifted values for ourselves is to look at our individual OEs and decipher the values-behaviors connection from there (more on that very soon). Second, it's important to remember that we all seek protection and stimulation to different degrees and in different ways. There are no two identical types of giftedness because giftedness doesn’t exist and manifest in total isolation. The way our giftedness manifests itself in the real world is a combination of our neuroatypical needs and our other identities all coming together in one amorphous, complex, subconscious calculation. It’s not something we’re consciously privy to as it’s happening, but by understanding how our giftedness makes its way into the world through our gifted values, we learn to more fully embrace the things that make us different.
Our OE’s have a purpose and a wisdom about navigating the world. We depend on that navigation system to try and take care of us and bring us joy. We can learn to understand it and support it. And we can make small tweaks here and there to make the whole experience of giftedness better. Our OE’s are part of a greater plan for survival that we all share.
And so it is that what makes us different also makes every one of us, gifted and not, the same.
* Not all gifted people have OE's, and not all people with OE's are gifted. In this post, I examine the intersection of OE's and giftedness as it's experienced in real-world situations by people who share both these traits.
I want to know- what do protection and stimulation mean to you? How does seeing this wisdom behind your OE's change or expand the way you think about your giftedness?
Leave comments below or even send me an email! I'd love to hear your thoughts.