The Games We Play
As a kid, I got the message, as many gifted kids do, that it wasn’t okay for me to know the things I knew. I learned that it made others uncomfortable when I understood something that they weren’t ready for me to understand. When I could tell someone was lying, or that they were putting on a brave face, or when I knew more about something than the teacher, I learned to swallow that information to avoid offending anyone. I mastered the common-among-gifted-children skill of asking questions to which I already knew the answer, as a roundabout way of getting permission to own and use my knowledge. I learned to live with the cognitive dissonance of knowing what I knew on one hand and parsing what I was allowed to reveal I knew on the other.
This is the frustrating between-place where gifted children often live. It’s great that you answer questions, just don’t answer so many. It’s great that you’re good at something, just don’t be too showy about it. It’s great that you are passionate about your interests, just don’t talk about them too much. When parents of gifted children notice that their kids have problems getting along with others socially, this is often a part of the difficulty. I’m sure that many reading this have seen that moment of confusion in their child’s face when someone tries to explain to them that there’s a point at which being helpful can cross over into being annoying.
It can be a difficult and painful skill to learn, but these games serve a purpose. These are the rules we follow in polite society so that everyone gets along. In fact, the entire concept of being polite pretty much revolves around making sure you’re saying all the things you’re supposed to say and nothing that you’re not (anyone who’s read Victorian-era literature or followed a political campaign knows how much of a game that can be). It’s important to understand and adhere to social expectations a lot of the time. It works. It’s an unfortunate and unintended consequence that gifted children often end up feeling guilty for being themselves in this system.
So if the game hurts but serves a vital purpose, what do we do? We find exceptions. We create safe spaces where we can get what we really want – authentic relationships with friends and, if we’re lucky, family and maybe counselors or teachers or coaches, where we can be wholly ourselves and be accepted for it. Relationships where we don’t have to filter ourselves for fear of offending or scaring others away. In my work as a counselor, I do this explicitly, we start talking about it in the first session: “I want you to be honest, to be yourself, even if you think I might not like it, especially then. And I promise that I will always be honest in return.”
I don’t know any way to help that doesn’t start with honesty and acceptance. And even if nothing else I do works, at least my client will learn from me that it’s okay to play the game sometimes, and that at other times at least some people in their life – the people who really care – want to put the games aside and be with them: the real, true, and wholly authentic them.