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This is not an amusing piece, but it is very thought provoking. I f you
have the time, it is worthwhile.
Identity and Fulfillment
by Douglas Eby
Jodie Foster commented in an interview that before her Academy Award
performance in "The Accused" she doubted her talents as an actor, that she
"felt like an impostor, faking it, that someday they'd find out I didn't
know what I was doing. I didn't. I still don't."
Some exceptionally capable women experience being called "gifted" as very
uncomfortable, as a burden, even distasteful, and so avoid even allowing
the thought they may, in fact, be gifted. One fairly commonly reported
reaction is thinking or feeling oneself to be an "impostor".
In her research on gifted girls and women, Lee Anne Bell ("The Gifted Woman
as Impostor", Advanced Development Journal, Jan., 1990) has noted that this
Impostor Syndrome is the "doubting and discrediting of one's abilities and
achievements" and is especially disabling for gifted women. She also
recognized that part of the discomfort women express with achievement "may
not be a result of impostor feelings as much as a desire to equalize
relationships and... disassociate from the male model of achievement."
Another contributing factor, she says, is that "women tend to define
competence as perfection and are often guided by standards that are
unnecessarily high." Referring to earlier clinical work, Bell notes that
many accomplished women, with notable academic distinction, status,
recognition and professional attainments, do not internalize their
successes, but perceive themselves as slipping through the system
undetected as fakes.
Pretending to be less capable, less intelligent is a ploy that has probably
been used by many gifted women. When she began directing in the forties,
Ida Lupino sometimes claimed not to know the best way to line up a shot or
specify a line reading, explaining "Men hate bossy women. Sometimes I
pretend to know less than I do." Other women, such as Barbra Streisand,
have endured widespread negative reactions to working in positions of
power. A specialist in psychological issues facing gifted people, Dr. Linda
Silverman notes in one of her books (Counseling the Gifted and Talented,
1993): "Because of their enhanced ability to perceive social cues and their
early conditioning about the critical importance of social acceptance,
gifted girls are much more adept than gifted boys at imitation. They fit
in by pretending to be less capable than they really are, disappearing into
Many gifted women were never identified as such, and don't appreciate
their own high potential for expression in many areas. Many people,
including the gifted, have been impaired by psychological and
circumstantial factors, such as gender, race, dyslexia, mood disorders,
cultural background. These issues affect self-actualization at many
levels. Abuse is a prominent factor in the inhibition of giftedness. One
form of abuse is depicted in the film of writer and director Mina Shum,
"Double Happiness", in which family attitudes undermine the resolve and
drive of a young woman, Jade, who is struggling to become an actress.
Jade's father continually says, in effect if not directly, "You're just a
girl so shut up; you don't have a right to an opinion." This sort of
disrespect and erosion of esteem is of course not limited to any particular
culture or group, but it may be especially destructive for the gifted, who
are often hypersensitive, and especially vulnerable to emotional abuse.
Some people hold a stereotyped view of what giftedness means (as strictly a
matter of exceptional IQ, for example) and feel that an identity as
"gifted" is incompatible with their self-concept. Others may have a fear
of failure to live up to the label, or have a deep aversion to being
thought elitist, "superior", or "hogging all the glory", feeling guilt,
shame, or other pain.
Developing a meaningful identity is a long process for everyone, and
ideally includes for the gifted a realistic self perception as being a
multitalented person, multipotential and exceptional, with capacities in
various overlapping domains of giftedness: cognitive, affective, physical,
intuitive, and social. But achieving this multifaceted perception of
identity seems to be especially difficult for many women with exceptional
Reprinted with permission by Douglas Eby.
More on Gifted Women
Mary Rocamora, a counselor and director of the Rocamora School in Los
Angeles, which provides classes in transformational work with gifted and
talented individuals, identifying emotional patterns and improving creative
expression, notes that gifted and self-actualizing people have relentless
curiosity, experience divergent thinking, have a high ability to be open to
life, thrive on challenge, and are able to feel great joy in the process of
living, not merely achieving goals.
Mary also defines one of the most significant barriers to expression:
"Shame is the 'leading cause of death' of the potential for actualizing
giftedness. The systematic destruction of any child's self-esteem is
devastating, but for the gifted it is particularly so. The gifted I've
worked with tend to have had an extremely intense reaction to being shamed
or humiliated in early childhood. For some clients, any attempt to achieve
anything can trigger fear and deadness, a sense that any effort to be
Somebody is simply a futile effort to avoid accepting that you are really
Nothing. The drive to express their inner creativity is heightened in many
gifted individuals, and when the drive to create meets the wall of shame,
it implodes into numbness, rage, depression and hopelessness ("Counseling
Issues with Recognized and Unrecognized Creatively Gifted Adults", Advanced
Development Journal, Jan., 1992).
High intelligence is only one indicator of giftedness. Gifted individuals
often live with perfectionism, introversion, idealism, extreme sensitivity,
obsession, visionary perception and divergent thinking, which may be
defined as "a preference for unusual, original and creative responses...
divergent thinkers are often innovative in a number of fields... but may
encounter difficulty in situations where group consensus is important, and
do not work well for someone else" ("Warts and Rainbows: Issues in the
Psychotherapy of the Gifted", by Deirdre Lovecky, Advanced Development
Journal , January, 1990). The gifted may be unusually open to paranormal
or spiritual experiences. The inner experience of giftedness can be
mistaken for mental illness - inner conflict and turmoil are signs, not
usually of pathology, but of the emotional and intellectual complexity and
reactivity that accompany giftedness.
One of the problems of being exceptional may be social isolation: true
peer relationships are rare and demanding. Hypersensitivity to destructive
influences from others may demand protective isolation, even from family
members. Affecting the lives of a number of accomplished creative people
is a family undertow: others telling them they are responsible for the ones
in the family who aren't so successful: "Your younger brother can't get a
job - it's up to you to support them, because you have all this money."
The family of some successful performers can be like quicksand, and very
toxic. Women are typically trained to support and nourish relationships,
and may find even the thought of isolation distressing. Talented women may
hide their abilities in order to survive socially - to avoid being seen as
"elitist" or "stuck up" or merely different.
The gifted are, by definition, hyperfunctional - they may have low
tolerance for frustration, experience hypersensitivity to mediocrity in
themselves and others, engage in misapplied perfectionism, easily get
overextended, experience a deep reluctance to delegate, and project
exorbitant standards onto others, especially those less gifted. Being
multi-talented may result in making vocational choices based on
convenience, prestige, money and other considerations, rather than core
personal values. Being gifted can lead to an overextension of personal
energy, to compartmentalizing talent in order to produce rewarded results,
to self-limiting career choices and lifestyles, to self-sabotaging
relationships, and impoverishment of self-nurturing. Emotional sensitivity
and intensity, more than logical choice, may direct life and career
Social reactions toward women, especially those who are gifted, are often
demeaning and hostile. Labels like "scattered" and "bitchy", rather than
"multifaceted" and "ambitious" may result from insecurities people feel
around exceptional people. The gifted woman's family may experience strong
envy and antagonism. leading to active, though perhaps unconscious,
discouragement of her realizing or even pursuing her unique potentials.
Hostility toward women and toward exceptional ability can lead to
compromised self-confidence. Traditional expectations for the gifted and
for women are still often inconsistent, even mutually exclusive. Films and
other media often reduce talented women to dependent glamour images,
asexual harridans, or into invisibility. The expressions of intelligence
and creativity are often not rewarded in the same ways for women, and the
reward of eminence is more likely for men. Sharon Stone has commented "If
I was just intelligent, I'd be OK. But I am fiercely intelligent, which
most people find very threatening. Another actress Cheryl Miller also notes
that even today: "It's considered not feminine to be intelligent. Whenever
I speak, people are shocked, and then they're threatened, and I'm perceived
as being too strong, and so forth."
Gifted women have vital and unique contributions to make, but may need to
more fully acknowledge and work with whatever is in the way of that
expression. As dancer Martha Graham said, "There is a vitality, a life
force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because
there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you
block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost.
The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good
it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions.
It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the
Reprinted by permission of Douglas Eby.
Douglas Eby writes in various magazines and online about issues that affect
the lives of gifted and talented women, has an MA in Psychology, and leads
support groups for gifted women in Los Angeles.
| Thomas: How long were you a nun?
paulf | Isabelle: Fifteen years.
@hk | Thomas: That's a long time.
.super | Isabelle: When I make mistakes, they tend to be big ones.
.net | -- from _Amateur_
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