Summary of Greenspon's  The Gifted Self:  Its role in Development and Emotional Health

The self is described in a personal narrative or story about who we are and is nothing that can be referenced in the physical world because it is a construct or metaphor for the way we see the inner experiences of our lives.

There are two origins of the self:  1)  mastery over objects in the environment gives us a feeling of competence, and 2) comparisons to others and evaluations by others lead to judgments of our relative worth.  If positive, an accepting view of the self develops; if negative, shame may be experienced.

External evaluations can be verbal or non-verbal and can come in subtle ways.  For instance what a child sees mirrored in her parents' eyes can either be pride in the child and therefore positive; or a negative reflection such as pain or threat, based on the parents' own shortcomings and/or needs can cause feelings of unacceptance.  A questioning view of one's self can lead to fragmentation or confusion of the self.

When a parent or teacher is able to empathize with a child, he in turn develops that ability and a connection is made between adult and child.  The adult can then begin to understand what motivates the child's behavior. 

An off-hand comment by an adult can have serious effects on a child, not just because of the comment itself, but because of the relationship with that "essential other" and how the child feels the comment reflects how that person perceives them.  Essential others provide key elements of a child's self-view and these act as "essential psychological nutrients" feeding that child's development of self.

A dilemma arises in our culture as a child's development of self and being an individual conflicts with their need to fit in and go along with others, with their moral sensitivity of others' needs.  Gifted children often have to choose between acting on talents and abilities and connecting with others and "fitting in."  Sometimes that feeling of "differentness" can be a source of pride, or often a source of shame and can lead to underachievement, drug abuse, or sex as a gifted child struggles to find their identity.

Perfectionism, a common trait among the gifted can be seen as an interpersonal phenomenon and always involves some anxiety that, "If I can't do this perfectly, I'm worthless."  Outward manifestations of perfectionism can lead to the individual feeling "conditionally acceptable."

Labeling, although a source of much debate, can help a gifted child maintain a "coherent self" and helps him to understand difficulties he may experience.  Being able to accept his difference and understanding its nature will help that child develop his sense of self and alleviate shame that may carry on into adulthood.

Equity should not involve providing every child with the exact same educational experience, but provide experiences which challenge them equally.

In conclusion, humans are wired up to relate to each other and the healthy development of self of the gifted child depends on the positive reactions of essential others.


Greenspon, T. (1997). The gifted self:  Its role in development and  emotional health. Roeper

. Vol. 20, No. 3, Pgs. 162-166.




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