This is fourth in my series on the five gifted OEs (according to Dabrowski's theory of positive disintegration) - emotional over-excitability.
One dry autumn Saturday shortly after the kidlet started kindergarten, I came home from the grocery store to find water dripping onto my husband's car. Now normally, in a wet climate like we live in, this would not be a problem... except that the car was in the garage. I quickly went inside, found my husband (deeply engrossed in a book, if I remember correctly - the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), and asked him why water would be dripping inside the garage - from where is it coming? My husband went out to make sure I wasn't creating some catastrophe out of my own vivid imagination (this is how it seems to me, but I know he just has to see it for himself). Sure enough, water was dripping. "Where is the kidlet?" I asked. "I dunno" was not a surprising answer. I went upstairs.
Sure enough, there was the kidlet - in his bathroom, ankle-deep in water, with the faucet running full-blast in the sink as he bailed out the water onto the floor. I'm sure I freaked out, but eventually we managed to discover what it was the kidlet was doing. He was figuring out how water overflow worked, and trying out remedies for flooded spaces. You see, that was the autumn of 2005, and the evening news had been all about the devastation caused in New Orleans and the surrounding communities by Hurricane Katrina.
What does that have to do with emotional OE? Well, because gifted students experience the world with more intensity, news items, things they see on the street, or other information that contain an emotional element will seep deeply into these little souls and cause an emotional reaction. Some gifted children will show a great amount of empathy - showing a caring and helpful side that rivals professional care-givers. But you won't find the kidlet throwing his arm around a friend, telling him it's okay that he struck out in his last at-bat, or introducing himself to someone new. The kidlet's empathy comes out in very different ways - like his Katrina experiment. He wants to know how and why that happened, and how it can be fixed. I call it his "engineer's empathy" (no offense, please, to the lovely engineers out there). His empathy comes out as problem-solving. And he feels it deeply.
I mentioned in an earlier post that the kidlet was quite fond of John Kerry and was hoping he would win his bid in the 2004 Presidential Election. He actually picked Kerry out from amongst the throng of hopefuls before the Democratic primary even had been settled. And, before you think his parents were instilling their opinions into their child, please note that his daddy isn't even a Democrat, and his mommy hadn't yet made up her mind, but was leaning toward another candidate. So kidlet forged ahead with his pick prior to the Iowa caucuses - and ended up being right on target for who the Democratic nominee would be. The kidlet watched the evening news carefully for any and all information about the election, but Kerry did not end up being elected. I told the story in another post about how, a year and a half later when he was in kindergarten, the kidlet surprised his teacher by drawing a picture of John Kerry ("you know, the man who was SUPPOSED to be President!"). What I didn't say was that several months after that, daddy was going through the names of the Presidents with kidlet, when kidlet added in, "daddy, you forgot John Kerry." Daddy explained that Kerry had not won the election, so he was not President. The kidlet cried and cried. He had known, but the pain of the loss still cut deep.
I could share so many memories when the kidlet's emotional intensity has shown his empathy toward people, animals, events... But there is another side, too. And this one is not so nice. He is also a volcano - all of the intensity of emotion can come out violently at times when he doesn't know what to do with it. This has been a huge frustration for us, his parents, because we still look for the catalysts - why is it that some times he manages his emotions well, even if they are felt very deeply, but other times they erupt into a molten mess? I will blog about asynchrony another time (it is our biggest challenge, and for us it's the emotional part of our child that is lagging so far behind), but in terms of emotional OE all I can say is - he feels with his whole being. Frustration is not just something he feels in his head, it takes over his body. Sadness shakes him to the core. Anxiety expresses itself in every fiber of his being. Joy is uncontainable.