Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals

by Eric Disco
May 19

When asked in workshops how many people were in Gifted and Talented in school, a majority of students raise their hands.

The smart kids are often introverted. 75% of people with an IQ above 160 are introverts even though introverts are a 3 to 1 minority in society. Being too smart seems to cause problems for guys socially.

In this article, Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals, Author and Psychiatrist James Webb, talks about how gifted kids tend to get depressed from literally THINKING TOO MUCH.

These youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged. For example, why do we put such tight sex-role or age-role restrictions on people? Why do people engage in hypocritical behaviors in which they say one thing and then do another? Why do people say things they really do not mean at all? Why are so many people so unthinking and uncaring in their dealings with others? How much difference in the world can one person’s life make?

When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns, but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. These youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns.

The reaction of gifted youngsters (again with intensity) to these frustrations is often one of anger. But they quickly discover that their anger is futile, for it is really directed at “fate” or at other matters which they are not able to control. Anger that is powerless evolves quickly into depression.

In such depression, gifted children typically try to find some sense of meaning, some anchor point which they can grasp to pull themselves out of the mire of “unfairness.” Often, though, the more they try to pull themselves out, the more they become acutely aware that their life is finite and brief, that they are alone and are only one very small organism in a quite large world, and that there is a frightening freedom regarding how one chooses to live one’s life. It is at this point that they question life’s meaning and ask, “Is this all there is to life? Is there not ultimate meaning? Does life only have meaning if I give it meaning? I am a small, insignificant organism who is alone in an absurd, arbitrary and capricious world where my life can have little impact, and then I die. Is this all there is?”

I went through a period in high school (okay, it was college too) where I wore all black and brooded about death a lot. I think it was a healthy reaction to what I was going through.

The solution Dr. Webb discusses is also intriguing: Kino! Kino is another word for friendly touching. Touch allows us to communicate understanding and breach the isolation that all of us feel.

How can we help our bright youngsters cope with these questions? We cannot do much about the finiteness of our existence. However, we can help youngsters learn to feel that they are understood and not so alone and that there are ways to manage their freedom and their sense of isolation.

The isolation is helped to a degree by simply communicating to the youngster that someone else understands the issues that he/she is grappling with. Even though your experience is not exactly the same as mine, I feel far less alone if I know that you have had experiences that are reasonably similar. This is why relationships are so extremely important in the long-term adjustment of gifted children (Webb, Meckstroth and Tolan, 1982).

A particular way of breaking through the sense of isolation is through touch. In the same way that infants need to be held and touched, so do persons who are experiencing existential aloneness. Touch seems to be a fundamental and instinctual aspect of existence, as evidenced by mother-infant bonding or “failure to thrive” syndrome. Often, I have “prescribed” daily hugs for a youngster suffering existential depression and have advised parents of reluctant teenagers to say, “I know that you may not want a hug, but I need a hug.” A hug, a touch on the arm, playful jostling, or even a “high five” can be very important to such a youngster, because it establishes at least some physical connection.

This is exactly what I teach in workshops. Use any excuse to touch: High five girls as much as possible. Give hugs. In so many ways, this gives comfort to both of you and makes everyone feel better.

I would take this one step further and say that people want sex, not just because they’re horny, but because they long physical contact. We live in a society deprived of physical contact, whenever you can do it, it has the possibility of developing a truly deep and unique connection with another person.


posted in Body Language, Initiative and Inhibition

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