Intelligent People And Depression

Experts tell us very smart people may suffer from what might be termed a personality dissociating disorder.  They become spectators of their lives; as if they are watching them from a different place.  Another way to help you understand may be to compared them to a narrator who uses a voice in the third person to see his reality with meticulous objectivity but without feeling fully engaged in it.  This approach to life contributes to them exhibiting “blind spots” or serious failures in their perception of what is a real threat and what is a high level of PTSD or OCD expressing itself.

Daniel Goleman wrote a book in which he further explains this concept and its connection to the development of Emotional Intelligence.  Studies like the one carried by Alexander Penney from the university of Lakhead in Canada, point out that very intelligent people are characterized by having a “ruminant” mind.  This means people with very high intelligence have a predisposition and are at risk of constantly being on the alert.  They are prompt to excessive concern and self criticism; perceiving reality in a much different way than the average person.

These people exhibit an idealistic personality; a world which functions in a way that is healthy and productive for all.  When confronted by the reality of a world which can be chaotic and/or are exposed to trauma, their minds tends to focus on the deficiencies within their lives and the world as whole.  They can go from experiencing moments of “genius”; in which they exhibit no sign of turmoil; to moments of severe depression where their minds cannot find a way to integrate the solutions conceived within the brain.  They tend to feel as if the world to a world is focused on destroying itself and them with it.   Because they are often misunderstood as children, they are prompt to being victims of abuse, which naturally distorts the way they see life.  They find their surroundings untrustworthy, as well as finding most people use to living with a “dog eat dog” attitude and out of tune with their humanity.  Most of the time they would like nothing more than to “fix” the world and to help people “live” instead of “living competitively”, yet because they can’t integrate their thoughts in a way that would permit the average person to understand them, they tend to shy away.

While in their moments of “genius” they are capable of becoming very productive; such moments however can be followed by moments of severe dissociation from reality, allowing the mind to “ruminate” on painful experiences, which can replay themselves like a broken record.   As intelligent as they are; without the proper guidance and tools, they lack the adequate emotional skills necessary to revitalize themselves; to find a calm place in their mind amidst the outer jungle and its disparity, which confuses them so much and which can often leave them drained. 

There is a popular tendency to see all these geniuses of art, mathematics, science, philosophy and others, as taciturn creatures, as peculiar people who are very attached to their oddities.  Often perceived as misfits or freaks, they are erroneously equated with people whose personality is more destructive rather than constructive.  

It is important to highlight that high intelligence does not necessarily contribute to the development of some kind of mental disorder or illness. It is true their brain exhibits a different way of processing things, however it is not until “trauma” is induced that they run a higher risk of developing a serious emotional disorder, due to constantly living anxiously and worried.

” The creative brain” is a very useful book in helping one understand how the mind and brain of some of the most intelligent and creative people work.  In it, neurologist Nancy Andreasen carries a meticulous study which shows that there is a fairly significant tendency for highly intelligent people or geniuses in our society to develop different disorders; specially after trauma: bipolar disorders, dissociation, depression, anxiety and panic disorders.

Aristotle himself revealed intelligence walked hand in hand with melancholy. Geniuses such as Sir Isaac Newton,  Beethoven, Mozart, da Vinci, Arthur Schopenhauer or Charles Darwin suffered periods of neurosis and psychosis. Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway or Vincent Van Gogh took the scary step of ending their own lives.  All of them are known figures within our society; boisterous one moment and silent the next.  Misunderstood lonely people, who lived in their own personal universes, deeply disconnected from a reality which seemed too chaotic, meaningless and disappointing.

Sigmund Freud studied with his daughter Anna Freud the development of a group of children with an IQ higher than 130.  He discovered that almost 6% of them ended up developing a major depression disorder. 

In the year 1960 a long study with children with high abilities was conducted.  Their IQ level exceeded that of  170 points.  These children were given the name “termites” and participated in one of the most famous experiments in the history of psychology.

Many years later; as adults; they expressed their intelligence had not provided them with a life full of satisfaction.  Although some of them achieved fame and a relevant position in society, a good part tried to commit suicide more than once or fell into addictive behaviors, such as alcoholism.  It was from this study that some vary important conclusions were drawn and some interesting questions arose.

a) The often significant relationship between high level of intelligence and neuroticism was demonstrated.

b) The smartest people are not the happiest.

c) Intelligence is not synonymous with success, specially when the child is raised in less than optimum conditions.

d) They can be friendly but only towards those they genuinely enjoy.

e) They tend to develop very few; if any; meaningful friendships.

f) They don’t like overly friendly people.

g) They tend to examine and study human behavior since very early on; this gives them a great ability to quite accurately read people from afar.

h) They are very sensitive to the problems of the world.

i) They can be very shy but can become confrontational when they see someone else getting hurt or they feel someone is lying.

j) Not only do they worry about inequalities, hunger or wars; very intelligent people are displeased with selfish, irrational, diplomatic or unreasonable behavior.

k) Rather than being sympathetic, they are empathetic.

h) Can exhibit behavior connected with autism.

The study was able to provide us with a window into the world of some of the most intelligent people.  Their subtle or strong link with autism, and how hard it must be for them to try to understand a world which is out of order.  It also arose the “Key” question of whether or not people with high intelligence would have developed a mental illness/disorder if they had not experience traumatic events in their lives.  For a highly intelligent child, just not understanding their world would be traumatic enough; how much worst for those who had to face neglect, abuse, etc.  This pose the second “key” question; had there not been abuse would they have develop the ability to be empathetic vs sympathetic? or in some cases, would they have remained locked in their bubble unable to understand any emotion?

In conclusion it is important to provide children who exhibit high intelligence with surroundings which provide peace to their natural anxiety yet help nurture their talents.  These children are in greater need of learning emotional intelligence in order to balance their IQ.  It is extremely important for parents to learn the key factors of emotional intelligence in order to help their child feel less lonely in a world which does not understand them but rather punishes them for being different.  If more children who exhibit a high IQ were provided not only with the love and nurture which every child deserves,  but were also provided with the tools to help them cope with their high level of stress and anxiety, we would end up with adults who have so much to offer our lives and our world.

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By Sofia Falcone

I passionately believe one person can make a difference. I write from my own experiences and interests. It is my greatest hope that by writing about my own challenges, victories, hopes and learnings, others may feel inspired to believe more in their inner power and to fully embrace themselves!

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