Jennifer Harvey Sallin started InterGifted in 2015 to connect gifted adults around the world. In this article, Jennifer shares her personal story of positive disintegration, giftedness rediscovery, and her road to founding and growing InterGifted's community and support network.
by Jennifer Harvey Sallin (updated July 2020)
I started my career as a psychologist and coach in the early 2000's, working in vocational psychology and career coaching and various leadership roles, and all the while feeling stifled by conventional life expectations. I was successful in my work, but I constantly felt there "must be more". While friends settled down into their lives, I felt myself yearning to continue exploring the world and expanding my mind, and I struggled to find peers who appreciated and mirrored my unusual way of being in the world. It was a turbulent time that led me to deeply question who I was, what was worth devoting my life energy to, and if I would ever feel that sense of belonging I saw others feeling but had never felt myself. Starting in my mid-twenties, I went through a period of Positive Disintegration during which I felt there was no other way to answer my questions than to disassemble everything I had built up in my twenty-five-plus years of life in order to hopefully reassemble it into something that felt more genuine, fitting and sustainable for me.
To aid me in my process, I began a dedicated meditation and mindfulness practice. After a couple of years of intense self-reflection, I decided to leave my work and my native country to get distance from my past in order to discern what I wanted to keep in my present and future. I lived like a vagabond for two years, spent a lot of time in deep study and healing work, and eventually felt I had reached some sort of core self that felt like a "me" I could continue to live with and build a life on. Reassembling my life based on my more authentic, but far less socially acceptable, values and needs was not easy. In spite of knowing better what my core values and needs were, I still struggled to find personal connections and social spaces that shared similar values, points of view, and the social nourishment I needed.
A lot changed when I remembered something I had long forgotten from my childhood. I had been identified as intellectually gifted in grade school, and had been in the gifted program. After the program had ended in fifth grade, no one had ever talked to me about giftedness again. I had skipped a grade for some of my school subjects, so I knew I was "ahead", but that had never translated to anything other than "quicker" or "more advanced" than peers my age. Even when I had been in the gifted program, no one had told me what giftedness really meant, nor that it would be a main driver of my personal values and my social needs -- nor that it would make those values and social needs so challenging to live out in a world that was set up by and for the neuromajority.
When I rediscovered giftedness, I went through a whole set of emotions and states of mind: excitement, denial, anger, acceptance, and a commitment to rebuilding. So much that I had struggled with for so long finally made sense, and that felt like both a huge relief and a big burden at the same time. I dug into the literature about giftedness, hoping to get direction for how to make the most of life as a gifted adult. For the most part, however, the literature and resources were directed to educators and parents, and talked about strategies for educating and raising gifted kids. Since I was in my late twenties, I needed more information specific to gifted adults trying to figure out how to get to know and thrive with our "gifts" in a majority non-gifted world. I also wanted to find a way to have more gifted people in my personal and professional life, and needed direction for how to make that happen.
STARTING A GIFTED COMMUNITY
All of this led me to shifting my focus to working solely with the population of gifted adults. I turned my attention as a psychologist and coach to understanding the unique psychology of gifted adults: what resources and support did they need for self-understanding, healing, social nourishment, and thriving? In the next five years, I did an enormous amount of research on the subject and worked to support gifted adults all over the world in their personal development and thriving. Clients were immensely relieved to find support attuned to their unique minds, but one thing I couldn't offer them was an extended gifted community where they could meet their complex gifted social needs. I had been lucky enough to meet and marry a gifted man, and now that I was working with gifted clients all day, every day, I had plenty of my gifted social needs met on a daily basis. Watching clients struggle to create that for themselves was painful for me.
One day, a client asked me whether I'd be willing to connect him to my other clients, so they could be friends. I said no, due to confidentiality concerns. But he kept asking, for over a year. When other clients began asking as well, I felt I had to do something. I mentioned to some clients that I'd be willing to start a gifted community, and many of them eagerly volunteered to support me in any way they could. At the beginning of 2015, I began working on the idea, and by August 2015, we had officially launched.
To help me reach gifted expats, ExpatClic interviewed me about my life's journey as an expat and as a gifted person who had started a gifted community. In the interview, I shared what it means to need gifted-specific support and how people can recognize giftedness in themselves. I knew this was an important point since many gifted people don't recognize themselves as such. Many gifted women (and a fair share of gifted men as well) have learned to downplay their intelligence in the service of getting along. Many don't recognize themselves as highly intelligent because they don't love math or because their intelligence shows itself more in creativity or emotional complexity rather than in brilliance in academics. As I explained in the interview, giftedness is not a one size fits all concept. It's more like variations on a theme: the theme is "Intensity and Complexity", the variations are intellectual, emotional, sensual, creative, physical, and even existential.
Because of the format of the interview, it was important for me to talk about myself and my own giftedness, but that was really difficult. Although I talked about giftedness all the time in my work with clients, until that moment, I had hardly ever mentioned it outside of work. Publicly saying, "I'm gifted" in the interview brought up the social shame of feeling that by saying a basic fact about how my mind works, I was saying something arrogant. By then, though, I knew giftedness itself has nothing to do with arrogance.
I wasn't embarrassed and I didn't feel arrogant to say I'm a woman, so I knew I needn't feel that way about saying, factually, "this is how my brain works". Giftedness describes something physiological that happens in our brains and nervous systems. It is neither "good" nor "bad", it's just the way one's mind works. It's a reality I wish I had known all along: it's not arrogant to be sincerely who you are. So I talked openly about my own gifted mind, without shame, and hoped it would encourage other gifted people to let go of their shame in turn. I want gifted people everywhere to feel free to be and talk about themselves as they are - not in arrogance, but in truth and authenticity.
GROWING OUR GIFTED COMMUNITY
Since 2015, InterGifted has grown from having 50 members in the early days to having nearly 1,000 community members. Our main community has over 700 members, complemented by the members in our other peer groups and programs. Learn more about our community, peer groups and programs and events.
In our InterGifted Coaching Network, we have developed extensive services for providing qualitative giftedness assessments for adults, gifted-specific coaching for adults and kids, and gifted specific self-development groups, courses and workshops offered by our coaches. You can learn about those services here: assessments, coaching, groups & courses.
I've personally been training, mentoring and supervising many of our InterGifted coaches, as well as offering trainings, mentoring and supervision to therapists, coaches, psychiatrists and other helping professionals who support gifted people. You can learn about my Gifted Psychology 101 training courses here and my newest Giftedness Profiling Training course here.
Along with our coaches, I've written a lot about giftedness on our InterGifted blog. I've also been writing about giftedness and personal development for my own blog Rediscovering Yourself. With our community, I've published several ebooks on the journey of gifted adults, which you can find here.
Over the last years, I've also partnered with several of InterGifted's coaches to form partner programs which develop specific aspects of the giftedness journey that I feel are essential to gifted thriving -- namely gifted mindfulness, the cultivation of gifted authenticity, and full engagement with the world. You can learn about those projects here: The Gifted Mindfulness Collective, I Heart Earth, and Intrepid Integrity (currently on hiatus).
I Heart Earth is a project with my collaborator and InterGifted community leader Karin Eglinton. In recent years, I've been keenly aware of and affected by our world situation -- ecological collapse, the climate emergency, and our individual and collective disconnection from nature. The work Karin and I have done via I Heart Earth has been an important way for me to advocate for our world and to invite and urge other gifted people to use their resources and gifts to do the same. I also take time to advocate for the earth via my Facebook page and my Instagram art account.
Karin has been an important leader of InterGifted and an important part of my life in these last years. She helps me lead InterGifted, manage our community, support our leadership, and provide coaching, mentoring, assessments, therapy search services and other guidance to our gifted community. Since last year, Karin and I have devoted some of our time to creating a podcast to discuss gifted-specific trauma: what it is, how to recognize it, and how to heal from it. You can learn about the podcast and listen to it here. We have also started microblogging on our InterGifted public Facebook & Instagram pages, to address important issues related to giftedness, healing, thriving and connecting with the world. You can learn more about Karin here and on her art blog Mermaid Forest.
A NETWORK OF GIFTED OASES
I'm grateful to see, ten years on from the time I was struggling to find gifted friends and literature for gifted adults, a lot has changed. It's becoming far more normal for a gifted adult to say they're gifted and to believe they deserve to get their gifted-specific needs met. There's a global community of people -- gifted, twice-exceptional, and multi-exceptional -- who are looking for opportunities to heal their experiences of shame and confusion about being different, and to explore and create social connections that are nourishing for themselves and for others. It feels a bit like there's now a gifted oasis where there used to be a desert.
That has implications for the world, because if people with high intelligence are socially starving or otherwise struggling to meet their basic intellectual, emotional, social or other needs, they're not able to be consistently generative participants in the web of interbeing. With a gifted social oasis to refuel at, we have a better chance of meeting our unusual needs, and in turn being able to contribute to the health of our local and global social and physical ecosystems. As I've trained leaders via InterGifted, and have watched many of our members move into the gifted services domain, I can see gifted oases popping up throughout the world. I'm happy that I've been and continue to be able to be part of the "gifted oasis network".
About Jennifer Harvey Sallin
Jennifer is the founding director of InterGifted. She is a psychologist and coach who specializes in training and mentoring helping professionals who serve the gifted, and provides assessments for gifted adults and coaching and mentoring for highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted adults. She writes extensively on giftedness and self-development, and you can find her articles here on InterGifted's blog and on her own blog at Rediscovering Yourself. Learn more about Jen here.