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Overexcitabilities: Myth or Reality?

This week at Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT our guest was Dr. Chris Wells, the director of qualitative research  at the Institute for the Study of Advanced Development  of the Gifted Development Center in Westminster, CO. Chris has been studying OE and the Theory of Positive Disintegration with Michael M. Piechowski for the past 2 years. Her archive of Piechowski’s works (and other works related to TPD) can be found here. She is also the Executive Editor of Third Factor Magazine, a webzine for intense divergent thinkers striving to live up to their ideals of both critical thinking and compassion.

Dabrowski (1972) wrote: “One could say that one who manifests a given form of overexcitability, and especially one who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multi sided manner.” ~ Dr. Chris Wells

What is overexcitability and what are some positive descriptors?  Dąbrowski identified 5 areas of OEs: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional. “It is the zing you experience when you are with certain people who seem to radiate excitement.” OEs represent intellectual curiosity, profound empathy, abundant physical energy, capacity for fantasy & deep aesthetic appreciation. (Silverman, 2016)

Dabrowski and Piechowski at the 1973 APA conference in Montreal.

OEs, most famously researched by Kazimierz Dąbrowski, became associated with giftedness through his work with Michael Piechowski. After Dąbrowski’s death, Piechowski continued his work through to the present time. OEs are often misunderstood and misrepresented by enthusiasts who fail to consider the possibility of co-morbid conditions such as ADHD, SPDs, ASD, etc.

Dabrowski studied the relationship between OE and eminence from his earliest work and he also studied gifted children in Poland. A few of his books mentioned this connection. His colleague, Michael Piechowski, brought the OEs to gifted education. Piechowski’s original OEQ research was conducted at the University of Wisconsin-Madison at the Laboratory for Superior Students. A 1979 book by Nick Colangelo and Ron Zaffrann included a chapter on “Developmental Potential” by Michael ~ Dr. Chris Wells

Why is the concept of overexcitabilities so controversial? Controversy lies on the fault lines between those who see innate abilities and those who see GT as achievement only. There are researchers who only accept findings that can be measured with control groups; otherwise, it doesn’t exist. There are numerous studies involving OEs which differentiate between gifted/non-gifted. Studies have validated the existence of OEs; i.e., Gallagher 2013 and Silverman, Falk & Miller 2015.

For many years there were attempts to connect OE with gifted identification. Research has NOT supported OE as useful in GT identification. Misunderstandings about OE arise when it is removed from the context of positive disintegration.It is possible to study and measure OE without bringing in the entire theory of positive disintegration. But without the theory as a lens, there seems to be increased potential for misinterpretation.  OE has been measured almost exclusively with self-report instruments, including Piechowski’s open-ended Overexcitability Questionnaire (OEQ) and later, the OEQ-II. There have been some criticisms of the OEQ-II that are currently being considered and addressed. We’re working on an update to the manual and the instrument itself.  ~ Dr. Chris Wells

OEs should not be used as an excuse for bad behavior. Far too often OEs are portrayed in a negative light. They shouldn’t be used to excuse bad behavior, but recognize exceptional behavior. Behavior should be viewed in relation to a full-range of potential causes which may coexist with OEs.

Michael [Piechowski} says that “Being intense is an ineradicable part of the gifted self.” Patience and compassion are both essential for responding to OEs. The support of caring adults is critical. ~ Dr. Chris Wells

How should parents and teachers respond to overexcitabilities? Parents should embrace their child’s OEs and provide a supportive environment where their child can express their feelings and abilities in a positive way. Teachers can support a student’s OEs by providing a responsive and challenging curriculum, quiet time when necessary and opportunity for movement if needed.

Please check out the links below for more resources and find more insights from Dr. Wells in the transcript of this chat at Wakelet.

Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented  is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Thursdays at 8E/7C/6M/5P in the U.S. and Fridays at 2PM NZST/Noon AEST/1 AM UK  to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Wakelet. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news and information regarding the gifted community. Also, checkout our Pinterest Page and Playlist on YouTube.

Head Shot 2014-07-14  About the authorLisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime  advocate for gifted children and also blogs at  Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:



Interview With Prof. Kazimierz Dabrowski (YouTube 22:38)

Overexcitability: Where It Came From, Where It’s Going

Conceptual Evolution of Overexcitability: Descriptions and Examples from the Work of Kazimierz Dąbrowski (pdf)

How Exactly Overexcitability Relates to Giftedness: A Fine-Grained Look via Findings of a New Meta-analysis

Discovering Dabrowski’s Theory

Openness to Experience rather Than Overexcitabilities: Call It Like It Is

Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children

Overexcitability and the Gifted

Overexcitabilities: Gifted Students Unexpected Intensities (YouTube 1:01)

The Intensities of Giftedness

The Truth about Overexcitabilities (Silverman)

Five Unexpected Traits of Gifted Students

Off the Charts: Asynchrony and the Gifted Child

Young Minds, Grown-Up Worries: 5 Resources for Parents and Educators

Overexcitabilities (pdf) Piechowski 1999 in Encyclopedia of Creativity Vol. 2

Overexcitabilities — Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them

Overexcitabilities (pdf Piechowski 1999)

Therapy for the Highly Gifted and Highly Excitable

Excitable Reads: Mellow Out by Michael M. Piechowski

Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities

Gifted Personality from 3 Perspectives (pdf)

Sprite’s Site: Stories of the OEs

Personality Development through Positive Disintegration: The Work of Kazimierz Dabrowski (Amazon)

Michael Piechowski (Research Gate)

Photos courtesy of Chris Wells. Image courtesy of Unsplash

Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities

Dabrowski Quote


Overexcitabilities was a topic that had not been discussed on #gtchat since October of 2012, and obviously one that needed revisited considering the overwhelming number of votes it received in our weekly poll.

Kazimierz Dąbrowski is a familiar name in the gifted community as well as in the field of psychology. His theories of Positive Disintegration and Overexcitabilites, although not originally posited for gifted individuals only, were adopted by gifted advocates and academics as a way to explain many of the behaviors they saw in the gifted; particularly the concept of overexcitabilities.

Dąbrowski died in 1980, but two men who worked with him, Michael Piechowski and William Tillier, are closely associated with his work; albeit with significantly different interpretations. For a historical perspective, links have been included with this post to more fully cover this debate as it was not covered during the chat.

So exactly who was  Kazimierz Dąbrowski and how did his theories come to influence the gifted community? He was a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist and physician who lived from 1902 to 1980. His theories, as mentioned above, serve as a framework for understanding certain gifted characteristics. Dąbrowski believed ability/intelligence plus overexcitability predicted the potential for higher-level development. (Lind) For an excellent review of his influence on gifted theory, see this article by Sharon Lind at the SENG website.

Interview with Dąbrowski recorded in October 1975 in Edmonton (Canada) by PJ Reece

Concentrating on overexcitabilities, there are 5 types: Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. Creative and gifted individuals appear to express overexcitabilities to a greater degree through increased intensity, awareness and sensitivity. These characteristics can often lead to misdiagnosis in gifted children by professionals unfamiliar and untrained in recognizing these traits.

Strategies have been developed for coping with overexcitabilities. Talking with and explaining the concept of overexcitabilities with those experiencing them tends to be a good coping strategy. In the case of children allowing them to ‘move’ and expend their energy in a safe and caring environment can be a huge benefit; especially in classroom settings. Provide stimulating and challenging coursework in educational settings for children with intellectual overexcitability can affect their lives in dramatic ways as well as prevent underachievement and boredom.

For a transcript of this chat, visit our Storify site.


Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7/6 C & 4 PT in the U.S., midnight in the UK and Saturdays 1 PM NZDT/11 AM AEDT to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Page provides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community.

Head Shot 2014-07-14About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:



Interview with Prof. Kazimierz Dąbrowski 1975 (YouTube 22:38)

Five Unexpected Traits of Gifted Students  from Byrdseed Gifted

Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration & Giftedness: Overexcitability Research Findings (pdf)

Living With Intensity: Understanding Sensitivity, Excitability & Emotional Development of the Gifted (Amazon)

Dąbrowski’s Over-excitabilities A Layman’s Explanation by Stephanie Tolan

Identifying Gifted Adolescents using Personality Characteristics: Dąbrowski’s Overexcitabilities (pdf)

Overexcitabilities & the Gifted Child from Duke TIP

Living with Intensity Understanding Giftedness through Dąbrowski’s Eyes

Overexcitabilities & Why They Matter for Gifted Kids

Overexcitabilities A Parent’s Guide to Understanding Your Gifted Child (pdf)

Dąbrowski’s Theory & Existential Depression in Gifted Children & Adults (pdf) by Dr. James T. Webb

Relationships between Overexcitabilities, Big 5 Personality Traits & Giftedness in Adolescents via @sbkaufman

Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities or Supersensitivities in Gifted Children

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (Amazon)

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration (Amazon)

Overexcitabilities & Sensitivities: Implications of Dabrowski’s TPD for Counseling the Gifted

Foundations for Understanding Social-Emotional Needs of Highly Gifted from Davidson Gifted

Mellow Out, They Say If I Only Could: Intensities & Sensitivities of the Young & Bright (Amazon)

Dąbrowski 201: Intro to Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration by William Tillier (pdf)

Point-Counter Point Piechowski and Tillier: Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration

Response to William Tillier’s “Conceptual differences between Piechowski and Dabrowski” (pdf)

Can Giftedness be Misdiagnosed as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder? Empirical Evidence (pdf)

Thank you to Leslie Graves (President of the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children), Dr. Brian Housand (NAGC Board of Directors, #gtchat Advisory Board, Amy Harrington (SENG Board of Directors), Jo Freitag (Gifted Resources), Corin Goodwin (Executive Director of Gifted Homeschoolers Forum), Dr. Marianne Kuzujanakis (SENG Director and Medical Liaison) , Amanda Morin, and Jerry Blumengarten (Cybraryman).

The OEQ 2 Inventory (pdf)

Gifted Articles: Overexcitability on Livebinders

Educating the Educator – Gifted Education (AUS): Overexcitability

Dąbrowski’s Theory of Overexcitabilities

Photo of Kazimierz Dąbrowski

The Intellectual and Emotional Experience of Being Gifted and Talented

Overexcitabilities and Asynchronicity and Perfectionism! Oh, My!

Gifted: Overexcitabilities and Asynchronicity

Nurturing the Gifted Mind: Intellectual Overexcitabilities

Save the Gifted

Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Brochures

Reducing the Risk of Medical Misdiagnosis from SENG

How to Help Your Grade-Schooler Manage Overexcitement

How to Help Your Middle- or High-Schooler Manage Overexcitement

GHF: Tips from an Occupational Therapist

Overexcitabilities on Livebinders from Leslie Graves

Cybraryman’s Coping Strategies Page

Cybraryman’s Yoga Page

WCGTC World Conference 2015

Sprite’s Site Do You Know the Dabrowski Dogs?

Sprite’s Site Doggy Classroom Dynamics

Sprite’s Site Travelling with the Dabrowski Dogs

Sprite’s Site Critical Thinking

Sprite’s Site Be Creative with the Dabrowski Dogs

Graphic courtesy of Lisa Conrad.

Exploring Existential Depression

Exploring Existential Depression

 “Existential depression may be characterized by a unique sense of hopelessness in feeling that our lives may actually be meaningless.”

~ John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

It has been a solemn week in the gifted community after learning the news of Robin Williams’ passing. Without a definitive reason for this tragic loss, it was still a stark reminder of an issue – depression – on which many in the community have sought to shed light; but were often ignored. In an effort to raise awareness, gtchat followers chose to explore the reasons for existential depression, its effect on the gifted community and ways to deal with it.

Existential depression occurs when a person ends up questioning life, death or the meaning of life; and by doing so, lapses into depression. Characteristics of giftedness such as – idealism, intensity, sensitivity – predispose bright individuals to existential depression. Intensity paired with multipotentiality can equal frustration with existential limitations of time and  space. (Webb)

What are some sources of existential depression? Idealism that often leads to disillusionment can be one source. Bright children may develop metacognition before developing experiential tools to deal with emotional issues. As children with existential concerns grow up, they may find it hard to find others who share their concerns; they lack  interconnectedness. Perfectionism and one’s inability to live up to ideals can lead to existential depression. A full transcript may be found here.


Global #gtchat Powered by the Texas Association for the Gifted and Talented is a weekly chat on Twitter. Join us Fridays at 7/6 C & 4 PT in the U.S., midnight in the UK and Saturdays 1 PM NZ/11 AM AEDT to discuss current topics in the gifted community and meet experts in the field. Transcripts of our weekly chats can be found at Storify. Our Facebook Pageprovides information on the chat and news & information regarding the gifted community.

Head Shot 2014-07-14About the author: Lisa Conrad is the Moderator of Global #gtchat Powered by TAGT and Social Media Manager of the Global #gtchat Community. She is a longtime advocate for gifted children and also blogs at Gifted Parenting Support. Lisa can be contacted at:



Existential Depression in Gifted Children

An Examination of the Literature Base on the Suicidal Behaviors of Gifted Students (pdf)

Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals from SENG_Gifted

If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Need Psychotherapy?

Can You Hear the Flowers Sing? Issues for Gifted Adults

Coping through Awareness: A Transformational Tool for Coping with Being Highly Gifted

Self-Knowledge, Self-Esteem & the Gifted Adult by Stephanie Tolan

Through a Stronger Lens: The Days of Discontent

What is Existential Depression?

Change Your Story, Change Your Life by Stephanie Tolan

Robin Williams: Depression Alone Rarely Causes Suicide

Robin Williams’s Comedic Genius Was Not a Result of Mental Illness, but His Suicide Was by Scott Barry Kaufman

Robin Williams & Existential Depression by Dr. James T. Webb



Searching for Meaning Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment & Hope

Searching for Meaning cover

Living with Intensity

Parenting Gifted Kids: Tips for Raising Happy & Successful Children

Man’s Search for Meaning

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want

Plato, Not Prozac! Applying Eternal Wisdom to Everyday Problems

The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration

“Mellow Out”, They Say. If I Only Could

Mellow Out Book Cover

The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength & Overcoming Life’s Hurdles

Exploring Existential Meaning: Optimizing Human Development Across the Life Span

Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness & Well-Being

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life

Counseling the Gifted and Talented

Gifted Grownups: The Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential

Existential Counselling & Psychotherapy in Practice

Original photo courtesy of Pixabay

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