Understanding Overexcitability: Why Your Sensitivity Can be an Indicator of High Giftedness
Do you often find yourself getting easily irritated by mundane things like clothing tags that scratch your skin? Do repetitive or loud noises trigger an intense emotional response in you? If you answered yes, then you might be experiencing overexcitability.
Overexcitability is defined as an intense feeling caused by a heightened response to stimuli, according to Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychiatrist and psychologist who coined the term. For some, this heightened sensitivity can be more apparent during childhood where it can sometimes be deemed as fussiness and particularity towards certain foods or clothes, but it can continue into adulthood.
However, there is a positive side to these strange traits. Studies have shown that there is a link between overexcitability and being highly gifted and talented, particularly in creative fields such as art, language, and music. It seems that overexcitability is a heightened excitability of the nervous system that fosters intensity and sensitivity in gifted people.
Dabrowski identified five types of overexcitability in people, with gifted children and adults thought to exhibit one or more of these.
1. Psychomotor Overexcitability: The constant need to move and often portray their emotions through physical movements. These people may suffer from tics or nervous habits.
2. Sensual Overexcitability: This is the most common form where people may need to cut the tags out of their clothes straight away, don’t like certain foods because of texture and taste, and generally have a heightened awareness of all senses.
3. Emotional Overexcitability: People who exhibit emotional overexcitability use their emotions in an extreme way, both positively and negatively. It is more likely that people with emotional overexcitability will suffer physically from their emotions such as anxiety headaches.
4. Intellectual Overexcitability: Mostly found in children, this shows up as a love of learning, deep curiosity and always seemingly lost in thought.
5. Imaginational Overexcitability: These people have vivid imaginations which is usually manifested by vivid dreams and a love of music and drama. However, this can also cause a fear of worst-case scenarios and general fears.
If you identify with any of these overexcitabilities, do not fret. Acceptance, appreciation, and understanding are important to people who display overexcitability. Here are some ways to help minimize negative reactions to stimuli:
1. Acceptance and appreciation are the two things that gifted people want the most and receive the least. So accept and appreciate yourself and others, especially children who might be struggling with overexcitability.
2. Create a safe environment that limits the amount of offensive stimuli and your exposure to them. This can include wearing clothes that feel comfortable and avoiding loud noises or bright lighting.
3. Be open about your overexcitability and do not feel like you should be boxed as ‘fussy’ or ‘hard to please’. Speaking up can help others understand why you may struggle with certain things and help them to support you better.
4. Focus on the positives. Those with overexcitability can be self-aware, creative, curious, loyal, energetic, and enthusiastic. Shifting your focus to these traits can help you in overcoming negative emotions.
5. Celebrate your contribution to diversity and do not allow other people’s opinions to make you feel isolated. Your way of experiencing the world adds to the rich tapestry of human experience.
Overexcitability is an inborn trait and something that cannot be reversed. Instead of focusing negatively on things that stress you out, try to focus on the positives of your thoughts and reactions. If you identify with the irritability of clothes tags, then celebrate your uniqueness in your experiences, your talents, and your contribution to the world.