Do you ever wish you could press the pause button on your life? Slip away with a pile of books for a long weekend at a luxury spa hotel, perhaps? Then return, refreshed and ready to swing back into the groove?
I’ve found myself dreaming about that pause button over the last few weeks.
So instead of starting a new story, today I decided to dig deeper into the subject of overexcitabilities by having a little Q&A session with myself. Getting things clear in my mind feels soothing. (Is that an OE thing? ?)
What are overexcitabilities?
Overexcitabilities (OEs) are innate personality traits. You’re either born with them, or you’re not. They’re with you for life, and with any luck you get more practised at managing them as you get older.
The nervous systems of people with OEs are both more sensitive, and more responsive, to stimuli. Individuals with OEs have a greater awareness of things, inside and outside of them, than most other people.
When were overexcitabilities first identified?
Overexcitabilities are a part of the personality theory developed by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980). Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration is now credited to be the leading personality theory of the twenty-first century. Weirdly, not many people have heard of it (including me until a year ago), but I’m trying to do my little bit to spread the word.
How many people have overexcitabilities?
Psychologists estimate that about one in five people have OEs. Between two and four percent of people experience OEs in a way that brings challenges to daily life.
According to the latest research, OEs mostly occur in individuals with an IQ of over 110.
OEs are usually more intense in high-able individuals, but not every person with a high IQ has OEs.
Are there any risks associated with overexcitabilities?
People with the increased sensitivity, awareness and intensity that OEs bring experience the world very differently from other people. This means they behave differently.
Unfortunately we live in a society which, whatever people might say about valuing creativity and innovation, rewards conformity, especially in children.
Children who behave differently – especially when they ‘over’-react, are ’too’ sensitive, can’t stop asking questions or aren’t able to sit still – face disapproval.
One of the biggest risks to a child who has OEs is that they grow up with a negative view of themselves. Many become extremely unhappy or depressed. Some even express suicidal thoughts.
People with OEs also often experience asynchronous development, twice-exceptionality (high-ability combined with a learning difficulty like dyslexia), or sensory processing and anxiety-related issues.
Is there a positive side to having overexcitabilities?
Individuals with OEs experience life – including the good bits – more intensely.
Depending on the particular combination of OEs you have, beautiful art can be intensely moving, fine food can taste exquisite, small acts of kindness can instil deep appreciation, heavenly worlds can be imagined, passions can be pursued to their joyful fullest, and sports can be enjoyed with ferocious intensity.
According to Dabrowski, OEs are one of three factors that are necessary for advanced personal development. Innate ability is also required, and the third pre-requisite is the capacity for self-directed emotional growth.
It is this third factor, in particular – self-directed emotional growth – that we can nurture. If we allow our children to grow in tune with their authentic passions and confident of their ability to attain their goals, we can give them a huge boost along the way towards creating their happiest possible lives and contributing to the world around them.
How can we help children value their overexcitabilities?
There are many things we can do to help our sensitive, intense children appreciate who they are and find their place in the world.
We can advocate for them in a society that doesn’t always understand their needs. We can stop holding them to standards they struggle in vain to meet. We can help them stay in touch with their intrinsic motivations. And we can show them ways to manage their intensity.
But perhaps the most important place to start is with ourselves.
OE character traits are genetic – if your children have overexcitabilities, the chances are that you have them too. For me, learning to understand and appreciate my own OEs is an important first step towards helping my children manage and value theirs.
I’ve found that improving my energy levels and resilience is the best way for me to manage my own OEs. I’ll share more next time about how and why I do this.
Do you have any questions about OEs?
How do you help your children appreciate their quirkiness?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.
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*Simone de Hoogh is one of the founding directors of PowerWood, the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation which supports people dealing with OEs. Much of the information in this post comes from the PowerWood General Information About OEs flyer. You can find a copy of the flyer here. If you’d like extra copies of the flyer to distribute in schools, health practices etc, leave a comment or email firstname.lastname@example.org.