I just read an article entitled, “Why Do Smart People Do Foolish Things?” You can read the article at this link (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-smart-people-do-foolish-things/). Recently, it occurred to me that accomplished, intelligent adults who falter are stigmatized much in the same way that gifted children are when they fail to achieve or are affected by mental illness or what society views as other “deficits.” The pervasive mentality that “there are others who would give anything for what you have” shames both children and adults for being imperfect. I strongly believe this message leads to greater internal pressure and self-judgement for both children and adults. We can and should encourage the development of critical-thinking skills, but we must also continue to protect children and ourselves from others’ opinions of who we ought to be.

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration centers on the developmental process that underlies our conception of “What is” and “What ought to be.” Dabrowski believed that individuals who “fall apart” must find some way to “put themselves back together again.” Disintegration is the inner turmoil that arises when we become aware of the distinction between who we currently are and who we have the potential to become. We must come to terms with this disparity in order to achieve positive growth in our lives and journey toward a state of contentment, compassion, and self-acceptance. When we become stuck in “what ought to be” and cannot move beyond this inner struggle, existential depression and other negative symptoms may arise. 

Now back to the article! While developing critical-thinking skills in children and ourselves is very important, we must ensure that we are not obsessing over “who we ought to be” or “who others think we should be” to the point where we become too self-critical and put an intense amount of pressure on ourselves to achieve that perfect vision. This disharmony and inner-turmoil can have detrimental effects.

Try these coping strategies with yourself or with the gifted children in your lives who are stuck on “what ought to be.”

  • Focus on the present! Generate a list that responds to this prompt: What can I do today to work toward becoming who I want to be in the future?
    •Make an action plan! What are small steps you or your child can take this week, month, or year to positively influence your life and the lives of the people around you?
    •Represent in a format of your choice (writing, art, etc.) what makes you or your child unique in an imperfect world. Include personal strengths and areas for growth.