We never outgrow our “2e-ness.” Just as one can say “Once you’ve met one 2e kid, you’ve met one 2e kid,” the corollary is true for 2e adults. People identified as twice exceptional are as extraordinary, fragile, and intricate as snowflakes. Sometimes snowflakes are recognized as wonders making the world more beautiful. Other times people consider snowflakes as complications; making their day and commute more challenging. Similarly, when people interact with 2e kids and adults, some recognize their complexities as providing boundless potential to contribute to society and the world. Others, however, are intimidated or experience annoyance and challenge to their own comfort zones in their homes, their classrooms, or the workplace. For 2e children or adults, the key to success is recognizing and celebrating their own strengths despite destructive messaging, and using these assets to formulate strategies to support their challenges.
Just as gifted and 2e kids experience push back, negative interactions and often feel misunderstood, so too with gifted and 2e adults. By the time they become adults, however, they have created coping strategies. Some strategies are healthy and others are not. Gifted and 2e adults may carry baggage – messages about their “quirkiness,” their “weird habits,” their “annoying behavior.” As an adult, re-living these messages from a spouse, in the workplace or even from their own children, can be deeply painful.
This pain becomes a constant hum in the background of life – sometimes louder sometimes quieter depending on how they “self-medicate,” what is expected of them, and for whom they are attempting to produce. Exercise, sleep, a good novel, intimacy or success professionally – all help to take some of the burn and self-doubt away. But self-abuse, substance abuse, and anger are also responses to constant messaging that somehow the gifted or 2e adult is broken.
A four-step process for gifted and 2e adults seeking to improve their personal and professional relationships is particularly impactful. These steps include: education, reflection, attribution, and implementation.
First is to unlearn the negative messaging gifted and 2e adults received their entire lives (internally or externally) about their sensitivities and differences. It is particularly powerful for gifted and 2e adults to learn that the “typical” gifted experience includes asynchrony, perfectionism – the other side of which is often anxiety – and overexcitabilities or intensities. When they understand that their life experience is shared by others, a whole new determination springs forth as they shed the heaviness that comes with the yoke of thinking different means wrong.
Once enlightened, 2e adults can reflect on how their giftedness interacts with their learning difference or disability to sabotage relationships and success. Is much of their frustration due to confusion over a mixture of coexisting abilities and challenges? Does this confusion lead to defensiveness with loved ones and colleagues? Do they reject support? Are they risk-averse due to high expectations they’ve set for themselves? Do they impose these expectations on their children? Co-workers? Spouses? Do they have a hard time communicating needs based on intensities and sensitivities for fear of rejection?
Once they experience the “aha moment” of being different in the same way as many others, the next step toward success is to consider how their unique combination of gifted and 2e traits manifests and affects their life – at home, at work and socially. With this new understanding 2e adults are ready to strategize – to recognize their situational responses and modify, based on expectations and perspectives, so they can relate to their loved ones and colleagues. Considering “What makes you tick?” and “What makes you ticked off?” in various settings and with various people, increases self-awareness and focuses goal setting.
The final step toward success is creating strategies based on understanding and strengths. It is imperative to set overall goals – often reflective of the adult’s strong moral compass and deep passions. Gifted and 2e adults need to learn how to communicate their needs, how to discern who can relate and understand their uniqueness and what to do when faced with an unenlightened or rigid person. Once the goal is identified – a light to focus on – the adult begins to build a tunnel toward it.
Embracing their differences as opportunities for positive change, allows gifted and 2e adults to face the world with a positive outlook and strong sense of self-esteem. This new-found confidence and clarity gives the adult permission to shed their defensive cloak, to become un-stuck, and to move forward with determination and affirmation of their snowflake-like beauty.