Our house is bouncing constantly with overexcitability. If you are unfamiliar with that term,
“Overexcitabilities (OEs) are inborn, heightened abilities to receive and respond to stimuli. They are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity. Each form of overexcitability points to a higher than average sensitivity of its receptors. As a result a person endowed with different forms of overexcitability reacts with surprise, puzzlement to many things, he collides with things, persons, and events which in turn brings him astonishment and disquietude.” (Dabrowski, 1964)
There are five types of overexcitabilities: emotional, psychomotor, intellectual, sensual, and imaginational. On a regular basis, the members of the family alternate between high levels of emotion, the need to move, and a desire to learn and do everything as often as possible. We each have various levels of sensory comfort and discomfort, and there is no shortage of imagination.
It can make life interesting.
For this post, I am going to focus on the emotional overexcitability, which is most likely my strongest of the OE’s, and we all enjoy a healthy dose of it.
I have a tendency to take on others’ emotions and react accordingly. I can’t watch or read the news on particularly bad months. I feel the responsibility to make the world a better place, and my heart aches when I am unable to do so.
I cannot make it through an airport without tearing up. It’s a family joke at this point – but the soldiers in uniform meeting their families, the mother with two small children holding handmade “Welcome home, Daddy” signs, and the father nervously putting his 8 year old daughter on the plane by herself, wiping away a tear as the gate closes, send my emotions into hyper-drive.
I am a big, sappy dork, and the more I accept it, the more pronounced it gets.
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B’s emotional OE often comes in the form of a desire for social justice. She has a sense of urgency and action, rather than tears, when it comes to those who need help. She zeroes in on the homeless, the animals, the families in need. She is unselfish and willing to do whatever needs done. She is extremely environmentally conscious and cannot fathom why we don’t all drive electric cars and use solar and wind power as much as possible already.
Her relationships with family members become volatile quickly. She flies into a rage, she defends with abandon, she loves with her whole heart and soul. She views herself more like a twelve or thirteen year old might, worrying about the blemishes on her face, what she is wearing in public, and how other people will see her.
She is intense. The asynchronies involved make emotions even more complicated, as she feels and thinks like an early teen, but reacts like the six year old she is.
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C is our lover. She is one of the most empathetic children I have known. From a very young age, she would act out in response to my emotions. It took a few years to discover this was the impetus behind her behaviors, and now I refer to her as my emotional barometer. It can be exhausting, as my bad day becomes her very bad day. We are both learning to adjust to each other.
C dislikes most movies, especially movies that have a component of bullying, unkind/unfair behavior, or too many bad guys. She can assess when she has a lot of emotion boiling up inside and will ask to watch Spirit (a 2002 Disney movie about a stallion that leads his herd across the frontiers and meets many challenges), so she can “cry [her] sadness out.” I don’t know if I will ever become accustomed to the depth of her emotional understanding.
Her mood swings are hurricanes, but the cycle is becoming predictable. She begins with the quick and violent fury, followed by the passionate cry, then comes the hysterical laughter, and finally the apologetic hugs. She is learning her cycle as well, and I am hoping that with maturity, she will be able to fine tune it.
Both girls have a strong memory for feelings, and expect deep friendship among those they meet. They remember children’s names months after chance encounters at a random playland or the park. They form quick attachments to children of all ages, and are heartbroken when these fleeting acquaintances do not want to expand their friendships. B is overjoyed to begin working with the 8-12 year old group at gymnastics, with whom she fits in much more easily than her previous class. At just barely four, C’s best interactions are with the eight year old boy she plays video games with at the gym while I watch her sister’s class. But, again, asynchronies make these relationships unpredictable when emotions begin to overwhelm.
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So, how does our family function with this circus of emotional intensity? How does my logic-embracing husband handle all of us?
I keep a favorite quote on my refrigerator from Corin Goodwin, and read it often.
“The times when kids need your love most may be the times when they behave in the most unloving ways. Try to understand what is happening in their heads and their hearts, and address that first.”
Empathy and understanding are our foundations. We do our best to meet our children in their moment and support them. I have adjusted my strategy from a “how can I fix this?” perspective to a “how can I help you right now?” perspective. This approach gives my girls ownership of their intensity, and validates their feelings. They do not want advice or distractions. They want me to appreciate their sensitivity and let them express it.
We discuss our feelings a lot, and the girls are becoming more self-aware. We use “I feel” statements, and “You feel/you need…am I understanding correctly?” questions. Yoga is helpful for regulating all of us, and playing outside together clears the mind. We embrace the ecstatically happy moments and hold on tighter during the soul-wrenching sad times.
More than anything, we accept each other, overexcited emotions and all. I hope with age and maturity, the girls will find that this abundance of intuition and feeling is a super power. Emotional overexcitability opens your eyes and heart to a glimpse of the world that most people never get to experience, and I am grateful for my view.
This has been successful for our family. What works for yours? Please let me know in the comments.
This blog post is part of the December GHF Blog Hop – Parenting OEs, 2Es, and Everything in Between. Check out the other talented bloggers insights on parenting gifted children here!
Overexcitability and the Highly Gifted Child from Davidson Institute for Talent Development
Sensitivity in Gifted Children from Ian Byrd
Emotional Sensitivities from Gifted Kids Ireland
Parenting Emotionally Intense Children from Talent Development Resources – (this article discusses how it feels to live in a society that does not value feelings – great perspectives!)
Dabrowski, K. (1964). Positive disintegration. London: Little, Brown & Co. (Out of print).