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I’ve been struggling with my blog. Not for a lack of subjects, but rather for a lack of voice.

A Macedonian phalanx with all spears bristling resembles the tormenting thoughts of the gifted.

"Do we have a message for you?!"

I’ve been jumpy and unable to concentrate, constantly looking over my metaphorical shoulder to see if I’ve overlooked something more important and urgent than attending to these words.

Yet I can’t see anything there beyond a gathered phalanx of self-destructive messages:

“Who do you think you are?”; “Stop trying to be so clever!”; “What makes you so special?”; “What right do you have to pontificate?”.

This experience does seem rather personal but I don’t imagine it’s unique to me. Its insistence tells me it must be what I’m required to address.

What follows is a mixture of fantasy and reality but I hope it’s interesting and useful nevertheless.

The source of self-condemnation

The root of those dismissive messages is not hard to find. Just recently a revered family figure responded to a thoughtful remark of mine by dismissing it to the assembled gathering: “Don’t take any notice. It’s only Christopher.”

And so it is . . .

And only Christopher has his complement in only Jason, only William, and only Andrew; in only Susan, only Sarah and only Britney.

And it’s no coincidence that ‘only’ rhymes with ‘lonely’. There are many lonely gifted people, absent-mindedly kept at arm’s length by the society they strive to subscribe to and support.

Down the street

As I write, my mind offers up a visualization of my inner experience of being haunted by these messages.

I’m in a terraced street, narrowly enclosed by nineteenth-century red-brick and rigid sensibility.

It’s the kind of street that led to these words from William Blake:

A huge ship bloacks the end of a narrow street, giving the gifted just one way to go.

"My way or the highway."

“I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

“In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.”

Yes, ‘Blake’ is an anagram of ‘Bleak’.

I am being driven out of this street by thousands of contemptuous words. The letters race at me, jeer at me. Sentences form and chase me, teasing me as if in a cartoon.

Feeling hurt and betrayed, I see I’ve been marked as a foreign body, an intruder. I try to explain but already I know the assaultive words are in service to the society of the street. I must be expelled to maintain the homogeneity of the larger society ‘they’ call ‘us’.

“You’re not one of us!”  The words are never said but fill the air as I’m pushed from the street. I feel the pain of separation but it’s not my connections I’m being parted from. It’s my efforts at forming connections, my struggle to fit in.

 I never really belonged. These houses were built for those who fit.

And I am unfit.

The imagery fades, its point made. But I can’t stop thinking . . .

It hurts, this virtual exile, but my gifted nature compels me to see through the pain so as to make sense of the experience. It’s odd. I’m being kicked out but I don’t feel like a victim. It’s as if I’ve been given my freedom.

The mutual pursuit of authenticity

Adam and Eve are driven out from Eden by an angry angel with a sword.

"Don't worry! We're leaving! We're destined to taste knowledge rather than live under your protective ignorance!"

Suddenly I see I owe a debt of gratitude to that persistent stream of incomprehension and dismissive disinterest.

By driving me away it protects me from work which, though honorable, I am not suited for. It defends me against relationships doomed to failure. It contains a certain knowledge of the universal benefit of rejecting that which is incompatible.

The fact that the messages are sharp and I experience pain is just a designed-in feature of human nature. It’s a quality that ensures that variations will be forced out into the open.

There they will either thrive or die but at least they will do their part.

We’re always ready to settle for a little comfort so it takes a lot of pain to move us. Especially when the future is unknown. It’s not as if there’s a guarantee of a place where “only Christopher” or “only” anyone else will feel as if they belong.

Nevertheless, we do belong. In the universe, on this planet, at this time. We are that special – and no more.

Just like you.

Your experience of ‘only-ness’ will be different from mine.

Perhaps you were accused of: “Doing a Jonathan” or: “Just being Gemma”.

Possibly your mother said: “Paralegal” every time you said: “Artist”.

Maybe you were condemned as “fresh” or “above yourself”.

A pretty girl is wearing a duck's beak, making her ugly.

"How come the other ducks can't see how beautiful I am?"

The variations are endless. But the message is the same as to the Ugly Duckling:

“Quack! Quack! Get out!
Quack! Quack! Get out!
Quack! Quack! Get out of town!”

Do yourself a favor. Hear the rejecting quacks and don’t try to distort yourself into being a duck just so you can stay.

Better for everybody to be a lonely swan on the lake than a scorned mallard wannabe in a miserable puddle in the gutter.

And it might just turn out to be better than you think . . .

See you at the swannery!

Hundreds of swans gather at a swannery

"There are more of us than you may realize!"

16 Responses to “Gifted and exiled: acceptance benefits all”

  1. John Martin says:

    Two things you said really resonated with me. The first was, “I feel the pain of separation but it’s not my connections I’m being parted from. It’s my efforts at forming connections, my struggle to fit in.”

    The other was this statement: “By driving me away it protects me from work which, though honorable, I am not suited for. It defends me against relationships doomed to failure. It contains a certain knowledge of the universal benefit of rejecting that which is incompatible.”

    I’ve been thinking a lot about these very issues myself of late, for I too have struggling to thrive in an environment where I’ve never felt like I fit in. However, I’ve mostly attributed these feelings to my own failings and inadequacies as a person, an observation that no one much bothers to argue whenever I mention it.
    So what is a gifted person to think? “Oh, you feel like you don’t belong? Maybe that’s because you don’t try hard enough. You don’t give people a chance. You’re standoffish and withdrawn. It’s all your own fault!”
    And so, in a sense, it is. And yet, in spite of this, there’s always another voice whispering to me, “But you don’t really belong. You don’t have much in common with these people. And if there’s a choice between trying to fit in and going off by yourself, you generally prefer time by yourself. At least then you can find peace for an hour or two. Turn down the light of self-consciousness for a while.”
    Yes, rejection is telling us something. It’s not always apparent, however, where that rejection is pointing. So you battle against the rejection and struggle to overcome it, and then, once you manage to accept it, then you have to figure out what the alternatives are–not a simple or straightforward journey, by any means.
    The best you can say, perhaps, is that at least the self-acceptance feels like a step forward, instead of a step back.

  2. Josephine Ball says:

    To paraphrase a thought I heard recently from two distinct sources:

    Don’t look at what the world needs in order to decide what you will do. Better, look at what brings you joy–that’s what the world needs!

  3. Lorraine says:

    When I feel like a misfit, I start thinking how wonderful it is to be unique and how wonderful it is to be “gifted” – I just have to be like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer – find the place where my talents fit the best.

    I have gratitude for what I once thought was a curse and I am deeply grateful for having experienced so many things in our wonderful world and never, ever being satisfied. I watched a movie about Thomas Edison – a gifted man I’m sure – he was fortunate enough to shut out the world and do what he did best – and we are all richer for it in so many ways.

    Like everyone else, we must find our place – our path – and there is no map so actually that’s true – it’s liberating.

    This article is a great read – and certainly a great opportunity for us all to appreciate our gifted selves!

  4. TBS says:

    Dear ‘Only’ Christopher,

    What a cogent, eloquent, and beautiful piece. I find your musings to be simultaneously challenging and reassuring. Thank you for daring to share…daring to relate in your ‘incomplete’ and ‘imperfect’ way.

    Yes, there is freedom in exile. So be it.

  5. Leanne says:

    well done Christopher! I have always thought that I must be an alien. never quite fitting in anywhere. but it is refreshing to know that we are not alone. we are many. thanks for sharing.

  6. Donna says:

    Well said, Christopher. Josephine, I love your post. I spend so much time worrying about whether or not I’m being useful, whether my use of air and light and space is justified, and it’s so convincing, that voice. It’s much better to be true to myself, listen to my own voice, stop trying to guess what the world needs of me. Reminds me of the title of a book I read a long time ago, “Don’t push the river, it flows by itself.”
    I used to hide my difference as much as possible and felt alien and conspicuous. Gradually I’ve learned not to hide. Although I still feel alien and conspicuous, I don’t mind it so much.
    I work in a job I am utterly unsuited for (it’s actually the worst job I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something), but the people I work with are mostly decent and always interesting, even when my bumper stickers clash with theirs. I’m a spy, seeing inside worlds I have no business being in and no aptitude for. Though I complain, there must be something in it for me, or i wouldn’t be there.
    I probably put myself in situations like this because I grew up as an outsider. So much of what “everyone” knows is a mystery to me. I’m greedy for inside information.

  7. Cindy H. says:

    Hi Christopher:
    Welcome to the swannery with the rest of us gifted renegade swans. At 53, I have just now found out I qualified for Mensa already at the age of 18. Nor did I realize that a high IQ included a spectrum of personality quirks and idiosyncrasies that I had held against myself making me feel like the proverbial odd duck and a flawed one at that. No wonder my quack never sounded authentic as quacking was not my natural voice.
    The cold and silent reactions from some friends who I told about my new qualification have left me wary who I share my good news with in the future. While I may be happy for friends when good things happen to them it doesn’t guarantee they will reciprocate when I have good news. Loving-kindness is not necessarily a two-way street. Alas, while loneliness squeezes in even more than in my awkward childhood, I can brush shoulders with others of my kind here as well as looking forward to Mensa acceptance when I am able to obtain the necessary certified paperwork.
    Its said that when the chips are down you find out who your real friends are. It seems the opposite is true as well, when ones chips are up, jealousy and resent can rear their ugly yet revealing head(s).
    Yet here is some food for thought. Don’t those of us from the swannery have more resources to deal with the rejection and other negative reactions coming from the “others”. Their behavior is sad and actually self-defeating. We have a vision and means of seeing that could benefit those who point their finger and shun us. So in the long run their behavior is not very sell serving is it. Upon learning about giftedness and much of socieity’s sad reaction to it, I was reminded of certain lines of Don McLean’s song “Vincent” from the 70’s:

    And now I think I know what you tried to say to me
    how you suffered for your sanity
    how you tried to set them free.
    They would not listen
    they’re not
    list’ning still
    perhaps they never will.

    At least we have each other to talk to in worthwhile swanneries like here so we don’t have to suffer in utter silence. Thank you for a great and welcome swan pond Christopher! Take care!

  8. Hi Christopher,

    thank you for your post! I know the feeling — and in a way, I think I’ve dealt with “not naturally belonging” by trying to figure out how this can be done, to belong and still let my own colors fly and I was (and am) very grateful for your coaching while doing some of that work.
    So, maybe, … next time … you feel like “aaa it’s just old me and my thoughts, why bother writing them down” … just maybe you can think of us out here who really enjoy reading them, BECAUSE they are by you. Words by someone who proclaimed to be “one with the right to pontificate” would probably be very boring to most of your readers :-) and definitely to me.
    On a content level, I’m currently interested in my conflicting feelings of: “ok, this is important, I need to find a way to say this sensibly, it will help many people if they come to understand a way of change that is based in interactional / discursive philosophy” and “what the *adskfjadjfaödf* I’m not mother Teresa, this is too *ldkfja* strenuous, if they want nonsense and difficult change, I might as well leave them to it” … I’m transforming it into asking myself: “How can I do what I really want and what I really think is important and take care of myself at the same time? And how would I notice when I am there?” — so far I’m at asking myself the question, answers will arrive some day, I guess :-)
    Hugs and thanks for posting this,

  9. Valentina says:

    Loved this post. What a coincidence: I was thinking about this theme last night, and this morning I read this. I have spent a great chunk of my life trying to fit in – or at least to look like I did – sort of as Donna did, in a ‘spy’ manner. The truth is I never very much cared to fit in: I had a great time being by myself, I loved painting, and I loved reading, or sometimes just thinking, and I was happy like that. Going to a bar or doing more ‘normal’ activities for girls my age would have been painfully boring for me. I loved science so much I surpassed even much older students by far, and won prizes.

    However, during my adolescence, a family member I lived with kept blaming me for everything that went wrong. Including problems in my family, or the fact that I had very few friends. He was extremely good at making me feel inadequate, guilty and shameful of myself, for no reason at all. It built up so much that at some point I was drowned in a sense of guilt and shame that was unbearable. I decided I had to change myself radically in order to ‘fit in’ and not be such a ‘horrible’ person. And so I did. I stopped studying, and doing the things I loved. Instead I started doing the things that were ‘normal’ for girls my age: shopping, going out on superficial hang outs, superficial dating. I became everything I hated and despised. I became the kind of person I would never have wanted to meet or deal with before. And without the things I loved, without the things I was passionate about, I started to feel empty, so empty that I had to turn somewhere to find a reason to go on. And I started to do drugs.

    One day I met someone who was utterly honest and sharp: this person was like looking myself at a mirror that could expose your deepest feelings and most hidden fears. He was also gifted. I hated what I saw and was disgusted with myself: I realized the mistake I had made.

    I tried to revert things, but a lot of damage was done that was irreversible. For example, the full scholarship I was granted in college was re-voked because I wasn’t studying anymore. I had lost my true friends, the only people who were supportive of me while I was me. And I had made tons of friends who were people who I couldn’t care less for, and who had only superficial interests in me.

    I had to clean up everything, and it took me years. I still today feel the weight of that mistake, but I learned a lesson: nothing is worth as much as being free to be yourself. Not social acceptance, not having friends or a family, not having a good job or a lot of money.

    It took me a long time but I was able to re-establish who I was, and to get back on my own track: some things were lost forever though.

    So I tried to pass on what I have learned to as many people I could, who were in a similar situation. I hope at least for that, it served something.

  10. Christopher,

    Many times I’ve felt the sting of rejection and disconnection too. I find that it was always my immediate (dysfunctional – oppressive and abusive) family members that were the worst offenders, and the ones that judged me fiercely and damaged me the most. Yet, paradoxically enough, the more I was criticized, the more determined I was to persist at keeping connected to them, despite the fact that many times my fealty was rewarded with derision.

    I never blamed my family. I always assumed it was me. I have only recently learned (through an ongoing therapeutic journey I’d begun last year with a trusted internet friend and that now includes formal therapy with a compassionate therapist well-versed in attachment theory and mindfulness) that it was these early family experiences that shaped my identity and riddled my psyche with anxieties that I could never quite dispel, and those anxieties (and the subsequent defense mechanisms created in an effort to keep them at bay) have carried over into every subsequent friendship I ever attempted to make.

    Thanks for addressing this difficult topic of isolation in the gifted individual. I think not only is it that much more difficult to make the connections in the first place, we feel the rejections MUCH more profoundly that ordinary human beings. I think others just don’t let it bother them so much and they move on to their next target. Their ability to mindlessly prattle on about nothing make it easy for them to fit in with the vast majority of others like them.

    And, after enough rejections, it does become increasingly difficult to keep making the attempts at reaching out. But, as you can see, you have made an impact, here, in the ether, at reaching out and impacting others. I’m glad to see the great responses. You are clearly an encouragement to others.

    I think you might appreciate this book:

    Solitude: A Return to the Self, by Anthony Storr. You can read most of it on google books. It’s rather illuminating, the role of solitude in creative individuals.

  11. Yes indeed, KC. Gifted individuals do seem to experience ‘minor’ rejections much more profoundly than most others. Thank you for your sensitive and thoughtful contribution here and for the story of your own experiences.

    I have read Storr’s book and enjoyed it tremendously. Thanks for the reminder. C

  12. Beautifully written and expressed.

    At 64, I am at last comfortable and accepting of who I am. The old negative messages don’t reach me anymore, freeing me up to live the life I have always dreampt of.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Not ducks and swans, ducks and geese. (There’s a flock of four dozen 30-lb. Giant Canada Geese where I work… they have right-of-way crossing the street, don’t take any guff from people or foxes that might bother them and produce a good amount of goose poop. Geese are a better metaphor than Swan versus the ducks, believe me. I don’t care what Streznewski or Mary Ellen Jacobsen say.)

  14. Leslie says:

    Thank you for posting this. In fact, thank you for sharing this blog, period! It is truly comforting to know that I don’t have to be the “only” one sharing the same type of life; always searching, yet never quite finding answers I have long been wondering about. Until very recently, I didn’t know where to start looking. In fact, I have grown accustomed to telling people “I used to be gifted, I don’t know what happened” and laughing along with them at my joke. I actually assumed that due to the variety of ways I have made a mess of my life I was no longer gifted, because most of the other people I was in gifted education with in elementary and junior high school were successful college graduates and I was still spinning my wheels. It is a joy to find a place where I belong, now that I have realized being gifted is just as much a part of me as being short or having brown eyes. Once again, thank you so much for sharing!
    “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~George Eliot

  15. Erin says:

    I love this post. I was on a web forum for Indigo adults, with whom gifted people share much in common (or perhaps they identify as Indigos) and I read a very good analogy for this experience. We are not the sheep. We will never be one of the flock. We will never fit in nor be accepted as one of them. The sheep recognize that we are different and we make them very uneasy. In truth, we’re the sheepdogs. We lead, we direct, we see dangers that the sheep do not, we think outside the box, we’re brave, we defend the weak, and we snap at heels to keep the flock safe. We’re very good at what we do, but it’s a lonely existence. We’re a whole ‘nother specie. And the sheep outnumber us many times over and their bleating can drown us out at times. We learn to sort of get along with them, but we never really…fit in. Which is just as well because we feel like disingenuous idiots whenever we try. So much better to just accept our true nature.

  16. Amanda Ng says:

    Sometime when it gets really hard, i chant to myself : ” fitting in is for school girls” but I liked school …lol

    It still hurts, but no company, is better then bad company ;)

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