Gifted and 2e people want to help. Twice-exceptional brains are wired in such a way that empathy is often a driving force. Yet it’s seldom that the 2e person receives from others, the amount that they can give.
It’s one of the greatest ironies and difficulties when 2e adults and kids feel undervalued or misunderstood. It’s part of the loneliness factor – wanting so badly to connect but coming off too intensely for others. Sometimes actions are misinterpreted as the opposite of what they intend or want. That’s why self-love is so hard for our community and so necessary to inspire best efforts and engagement.
Self-love allows the 2e person to give in the ways they want; and to understand when efforts are unrequited. Rather than beating themselves up, I would argue that the 2e person has a responsibility to be kind to their 2e self, so they can contribute in meaningful ways and maximize their potential.
There are three steps to self-love: 1. Know yourself, 2. Consider other people’s perspectives, 3. Advocate for understanding.
Know Yourself and Your Goals
First, be honest. What are your strengths and struggles? Recognize that sometimes they are two sides of the same coin. I promise your abilities are awesome. Because you are a rare breed, most of the people you interact with likely don’t have the same propensities. Therefore, you may have to define a goal to make sure you modulate when necessary. This is not about masking. This is about identifying a goal, taking into consideration your authentic self, and deciding what matters most.
- Do you talk a lot? You just have so many darn thoughts in your head and you want to share! Knowing this about yourself allows you to prioritize when to utilize your loquaciousness, and when to reel it in. It allows you to read the room because you know you’re more communicative than most.
- Are you a creative problem solver? Do you frequently notice a better way? If you recognize that you feel your solutions are often superior to the group’s, your friends’, your siblings, your co-workers, you might have to modulate or wait in order for people to truly appreciate your contributions. If you’re always first to suggest an answer or different approach, you may negate your influence.
- Are you a quick connector? Sometimes you know the answer before the person finishes their question! You see the answer well before anyone else sitting around the conference table, the cafeteria table or the kitchen table. This is an awesome ability. However, it’s likely unique.
- Are you sensory seeking or avoiding? You love or hate intense experiences. Maybe you wish you could just ‘let things go,’ but you can’t. You may have to think of your sensory experience like a bank account. Make sure you have enough wiggle room so you aren’t overwhelmed. If your sensory input is too much or too little for what you need, it’s time to take a break or seek the input you need to regulate.
- Are you fiercely loyal? Do people look to you to get things done. Or are you the one they seem never to ask for help? Do you feel scattered and unsure of yourself? Protect yourself and ensure that you are interacting from a place of strength. Avoid putting yourself into a compromising situation.
Whatever your strengths and struggles are, be aware of them. Like a thought during meditation, notice them, but don’t let them take over your mind. Often 2e people mire themselves in negative self-talk. This type of self-harm is a sure sign that the 2e person is comparing apples to oranges. You simply cannot compare your neurodiverse self to neurotypical others. Rather, look in the mirror and say, “This is me. I love these things about me! And some things are hard.” Once you hold on to who you are, you can move to step two and consider the other person or people that negatively affect you or whom you might overwhelm.
The secret is, if you know yourself, and you love yourself, you can forgive yourself and move on when you or others make a mistake that threatens your stability. While you still may feel frustrated, angry, or ignored at times, you will no longer feel as though you don’t matter or that you are irreparably broken. You can understand why you are affected in such an intense way or how you may have rubbed someone the wrong way. Once you get out of your own way by not going down the negative thought rabbit hole, you can gain a more holistic perspective.
Consider Others’ Perspectives
Everyone sees through their own eyes. Life experiences and messages you’ve received inform the way you see the world. You are the only one with that vantage point. That means that when you interact with others, they may not appreciate the incredible strengths and struggles you experience and likely, you are not grasping theirs. It’s okay for others not to inherently understand the way that you problem solve or feel your feelings. In a professional setting, if you feel you are not meeting expectations, those expectations are probably inappropriate for you. In a social setting, feeling out of sync indicates that you may be trying to connect with folks for reasons other than shared interests and values.
How can you gain perspective? Ask questions and give pertinent information. Avoid assumptions. If you don’t understand something – ask. For instance, “I want to be sure I’m not missing something. Your voice sounds angry or frustrated – is that how you feel?” Or perhaps you say, “I’m not sure I’m making myself understood – this is super important to me. I recognize it’s not as important to everyone, but I want to let you know how seriously I take this topic.” This type of approach leads to step three.
Advocate for Understanding
To gain clarity around someone else’s viewpoint, you must ask questions. To ensure others understand your perspective, you must explain your feelings or thought process. Sometimes this feels cumbersome or unnecessary because you feel so strongly, and you can’t imagine someone wouldn’t ‘get it.’ However, it is in precisely those situations that it is imperative to ensure everyone has a clear understanding – and you feel understood. Unfortunately, we are living during the ‘cancel culture’ fad. From educational institutions to media, we are seeing opinion silos. Few are asking for clarity or developing conversations to understand other perspectives. People are drawing lines and dividing themselves based on assumptions, gut feelings, and immediate access to echo chambers. For dialogue to occur, and to avoid only preaching to the choir, perspectives need to be shared in respectful and comprehensive ways. 2e folks should feel comfortable enough to share feelings and needs based on a deep understanding of themselves. When conversations and situations get tough, if the 2e person can stay the course and respond from a place of self-reflection, if they can avoid negative self-talk and operate from a place of kindness, it’s more likely they will meet their overall goals of connection and making a difference.