I recently re-read Anne Frank’s diary. If you haven’t read The Diary of a Young Girl through adult eyes, I’d recommend it. I took away a completely different understanding of her circumstances, her life, her youth than when I read it as a teen. And, as an adult who now grasps the complexities of giftedness in a way that I didn’t as a teen, it was impossible not to see Anne’s own giftedness, both in her words and in her own complexity of thought, altruism, emotional intensity, psychomotor intensity, precociousness, and so many other ways.
It most definitely goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway just to be completely clear, the teens I work with today are in no way under the same intensity of oppression and global threat as Anne, her family, and so many millions of people were in the 1930’s and 40’s. And yet, it was impossible not to hear the voices of “my” teens in the words and internal experiences of Anne.
“No one understands me!” This phrase is part of me, and as unlikely as it
may seem, there’s a kernel of truth in it. Sometimes I’m so deeply buried
under self-reproaches that I long for a word of comfort to help me dig myself
out again. If only I had someone who took my feelings seriously”
(location 4005 of kindle version)
Sure, some people would write this off as the typical teen anthem, and I suppose some of her sentiment could be attributed to the developmental tasks of adolescence. But her words also show her reflection that it isn’t just the typical teen angst. I cannot count the number of times I heard very similar words issuing forth from gifted and 2e teens in my office. And these are the words that can stem from and spark existential depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and a host of other mental health concerns.
Our initial instinct may be to pacify. “Oh, that just can’t be true. People understand you. I was young once, too. What about Taylor? She seems to get you? You just haven’t found your people yet.” And while all these things just might be true, they simply aren’t helpful. In fact, by saying any of these things, we are simply confirming to the adolescent mind that they were right. “See – no one understands you, this idiot thinks Taylor is more than just a volleyball friend.”
So, I challenge you to bite your tongue. Pacify your pacifications. And just walk into the trenches with them. Commiserate. Join them. Express how sad that must be to feel misunderstood and lonely. Tell them that it’s normal for outliers to feel that no one gets them, because, frankly, very few people do.
We’re talking about, at most, 5% of the population who could fully understand a gifted teen. Make that a profoundly gifted teen and that percentage shrinks exponentially. Make that a profoundly gifted teen with another exceptionality who’s experienced trauma and is living in an environment of food insecurity and threat of homelessness, and there may be one other person on the planet who is wired similarly. And, our kids need to be told that. They need to be told that it will be more difficult for them to find the people who understand them or take their intense emotions seriously. Knowing that the interpersonal struggle is expected relieves them of the internal assumption that they are the problem.
So, no pacifying. Explain that, in reality, very few people will understand them. And, let them know while you don’t understand all about their experience, you care about them and will listen continuously with without judgment for a lifetime in order to understand them better. It’s amazing what a little active listening can do. Simply reflecting back the words a teen said, providing them validation, truly focusing on them, helps them feel more understood. And, in truth, it actually does help you understand them better.