Breathing in I Calm My Body: Intensities in the Gifted

Caroline loves to read — not as a pastime, but as part of her lifeline to the world. She once told me that when she was forced to stop reading in class, it was like her lungs were collapsing, and it was difficult for her to breathe. This seven-year-old has been described as extremely intense and sensitive. The loss of something that comforts her and intellectually feeds her manifests itself in a physical reaction.

Children who feel things with great intensity experience the world in a different way. Gifted young people are often more aware, stimulated, and affected by their surroundings. Emotional or physical reactions to events can last longer than expected and are often replayed in the child’s mind.

Intensities can be characterized by:

  • Extreme feelings: positive or negative feelings; complex emotions; connection with the feelings of others; grand laughter and tears
  • Physical reaction to emotion: stomachaches and headaches; blushing; rise in body temperature
  • Strong affective memory: re-living or re-feeling things long after the triggering event; nightmares; elaborate daydreams connected to actual events

Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski studied the mental health of gifted youth and adults. He described the areas of heightened stimulation observed in gifted individuals as “overexcitabilites.” The five areas of overexcitabilites are:

  1. Psychomotor: extreme physical activity and movement; rapid talk; pacing; use of hand gestures
  2. Sensual: perceptiveness of sensory experiences; unusual awareness and enjoyment of sensation
  3. Imaginational: clear visualizations; metaphorical speech; dreaming; magical thinking
  4. Intellectual: need to question or analyze; delight in the abstract and theoretical; puzzle and problem solving
  5. Emotional: intensity of feeling and relationships; natural empathy and compassion; susceptibility to depression, anxiety, or loneliness

Dr. Michael Piechowski, who studied alongside Dabroswski, has dedicated much of his life to researching the emotional and spiritual aspects of gifted children. In his book Mellow Out,’ They Say. If Only I Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright, he stresses the need to “give voice to the emotional life of bright young people, to show how their intensities and sensitivities make them more alive, more creative, and more in love with the world and its wonders.”

Piechowski, along with other gifted experts, teaches gifted children a variety of techniques for coping with their overexcitabilities. For Caroline, this required her teachers, parents, and siblings to understand and embrace her overexcitabilities. At the same time, Caroline learned exercises to calm her senses and help her focus.

Guided imagery and meditation are excellent tools for those like Caroline learning to master their sensitivities. A good place to start is with a simple exercise. Have your child close his or her eyes, breathe deeply, and say with the breath,

“Breathing in I calm my body,
Breathing out, I smile.”

Learning to use the mind to control the body through exercises like this — along with overall awareness and understanding — is an important step in mastering intensities.

For more strategies, see our post 15 Strategies for Managing Your Gifted Child’s Intensities.

Does your child experience any of these overexcitabilities? What coping techniques have worked for you? Please share with us in the comment section below!

We are excited to share this post as part of the New Zealand Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. Gifted children worldwide share many unique characteristics, including intensities. It is important for those who are in the lives of these gifted individuals to better understand these characteristics in order to help nurture and support their intellectual, social, spiritual, emotional, and physical growth.

#NZGAW Blog Tour

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10 responses to “Breathing in I Calm My Body: Intensities in the Gifted

  1. Oh! I see myself and my children in here!

  2. We do deep breathing and sometimes back rubbing. I really like the description on guided meditation in you post. I feel we have most at our house, however #1 seems the hardest for others to cope with, especially in a classroom setting.

  3. Thank you for this amazing blog!
    Kind regards,
    Roya Klingner
    Head of the Global Center for Gifted & Talented Children

  4. overexcitable

    Reblogged this on Overexcitable.

  5. Jessica Hawk-Tillman

    My son displays all 5 overexcitabilities in spades (often in combination!). As he’s gotten older, he’s been told by many people that his sensitivity is unacceptable “for a boy”. Teasing and even bullying began for him around age 8. It’s very hard for many people of understand.

    We do lots of deep breathing, and when he’s particularly feeling stuck with negative feelings / reliving negative experiences in his head, he visualizes “breathing in positive thoughts, and breathing out the negative thoughts”. Journaling has also worked well for him, to get feelings crowding his head onto paper. He’s been able to use the “3 Whys” technique to find the root of some of his feelings as well.

    Understanding these personality traits goes a long way. When those in his life “get” him, they’re a lot more likely to help him through tough times, versus punishing or bullying him. He does a great job standing up for himself, and I’m right there with him!

    • Hi, Jessica – It is so unfortunate that your son is encountering such negativity and misunderstanding. Unfortunately that is common, and we are trying to combat that. It is wonderful, though, that he has found techniques that work for him to help with his intensities. Thank you for sharing and for stopping by!

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