They Come Back! Overexcitabilities in Adults, was the title of a presentation that I delivered a number of years ago at different conferences on giftedness. Today, I am prepared to deliver a presentation entitled, They Come Back in Abundance: Overexcitabilities in Gifted Elders. Overexcitabilities (OE’s), or the term that I prefer, intensities, are the strong responses that many feel in the presence of certain stimuli in our environment. The construct of OE’s stems from the work of Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist who developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration. I reference below (and share a photo of) an excellent book in this regard for the reader who wants to learn more about Dabrowski, his theory, and OE’s. In this reflection I wish to share how intensities manifest themselves in some elders.
Psychomotor Overexcitability. This is the intensity that we see in gifted children who have an abundance of energy, talk almost constantly and very rapidly, and bubble with enthusiasm about a favorite activity, among other traits. In the gifted elder, this intensity is seen as the need to be doing, producing, accomplishing something from early morning until bedtime. One does not just sit, one engages.
Sensual Overexcitability is heightened response from sights, sounds, tastes, textures, and smells. For gifted elders who experience this intensity, the world as we know it today can produce discomfort, pain, or pleasure (i.e., visual media are too loud or too graphic, tagless clothing is a blessing, fine art and/or music can produce inexplicable pleasure). For elders in residential care facilities, sensual overload may produce anxiety or depression.
Intellectual Overexcitability is the intensity we first think of in regards to gifted individuals. For the elderly, the rage to know – the intellectual imperative – and the desire to continue learning does not diminish. In some cases, especially with more time for learning in retirement, elders need the opportunities to satisfy their love of learning.
Imaginational Overexcitability. Elderhood for me is a time of imaginational richness. I dream every night and I remember my dreams vividly. They provide fodder for my creative production. As with learning, the time freed up from not working fulltime allows for more poetry, more reading, and more creative activities in general.
Emotional Overexcitability. Intense emotional sensitivity never wanes, in my humble opinion. What I have noticed in my own life that changes is the self-acceptance to be able to feel an emotion deeply, no matter how deeply, and then to gently say to myself, “Ah! There it is. That is what I am feeling. I am grateful for both the negative and the positive feelings. They are gifts and I honor them.” That does not mean that one does not suffer loss, or pain, or other emotions. Rather, one recognizes one’s ability to feel emotions deeply and is at peace with it.
Dear Reader, this is just a brief overview of OE’s and there is much more to share. I hope to return to the topic in a future post. In the meantime, I suggest my friend Lisa Rivero’s blog, Write to Meaning. She has an excellent series about Dabrowski that she posted in November 2015.
Daniels, S. & Piechowski, M. M. (2009). Living with intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults. Scottsdale, AZ: Great Potential Press.
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