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Writing About Writing About Giftedness & Trauma

By Dr. Patty Williams on May 30, 2023

BISN founder and president Dr. Patty Williams is a trauma therapist who specializes in EMDR, ND-Affirmative DBT, and IFS modalities. Through Bright Insight Support Network, she works to counsel, coach, and advocate for gifted, twice-exceptional, and neurodivergent persons, along with other marginalized populations.

Writing About Writing About Giftedness & Trauma

Why THIS Book

I am five chapters in… FIVE CHAPTERS IN… to my book about giftedness and trauma. I finished a dissertation and plenty of poems… even a couple of short stories… but never a book.

Why this book? Why am I writing THIS book, why does it matter, and how am I able to potentially finish it when other attempts to finish books failed? Well, I suppose a big part of it is that I am a trauma therapist who is also a gifted person with a trauma history. And maybe I am getting over impostor syndrome now that I have some weighty letters after my name.

Most likely though, the reason it is THIS book is because I am an expert on this topic. I’ve researched it and tested many theories. I’ve presented on the topic for years. And I feel like I can help. I have something to say. So now it is time.

I started out my book with a forward that I would like to share here. I think it is important and interesting enough, though I am biased as it has everything to do with me and my passions.

Regardless, here you go:

A Trauma Therapist First

As the author of this book, it is important for me to explain my background. Currently, I hold several titles. I am a mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, and neighbor. I am also a rescue farmer, professor, researcher, presenter, advocate, therapeutic coach, volunteer, administrator, facilitator, and leader. Most forefront though, I am a trauma therapist who works primarily with gifted, twice-exceptional, neurodivergent, and other marginalized populations.

As a trauma therapist, I use Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Neurodiversity-Affirmative Dialectical Behavior Therapy (NDA-DBT), Internal Family Systems (IFS), and other types of psychanalytic, solution-focused, and somatic approaches to help individuals process trauma from the top down (immediate behaviors and cognitions) and from the bottom up (psychodynamic impact of underlying elements, often held in the body and nervous system). Processing and working on trauma from different perspectives allows clients to not only cope with trauma and triggers but also process past experiences and move through trauma to resolve it. And while some clients fully file away and even partially forget the negative impact of traumatic experiences, the goal of trauma processing is to decrease the intensity, duration, and frequency of negative symptoms such that we can ‘look back but not stare’ at past difficulties and events.

It is as an experienced trauma therapist with her master’s in clinical mental health counseling and a doctorate in developmental psychology that I approach the topic of trauma. However, it is also as an academic, parent, advocate, and twice-exceptional individual with a history of developmental and complex traumas that I consider the interaction of trauma and giftedness. I will explain some of this briefly, though all terms will be more fully discussed within this book.

I grew up as the oldest middle child of four in an initially low-income family. We lived in the poorest and most violent neighborhood in Anchorage, Alaska where I also attended school and learned to ditch it more often than I showed up, though I graduated with honors. As a teenager, I also learned to forge my father’s signature and found out that if your name is in the computer twice, even if one of you is barred from graduating, the other may still get to walk and even speak on behalf of the student body about making a difference.

Over the years, I saw my parents obtain affluence, however, my siblings and I have had strained relationships with food and weight, criticism, social and employment statuses, spending and income levels, and even political and parenting philosophies. Some of this is to be expected in any family, however, I could trace many of these issues from my parents’ families and their own childhood struggles and generational traumas from exposure to abuse, war, poverty, immigration, economic depression, racism, mental health struggles, and more. And while some of my problems growing up as an angsty, demand-avoidant teen could relate to my personality profile and innate expressions, certainly some were due to an integration of ecological systems that lacked support and praise.

Indeed, in addition and intermixed with environment and nurture, was a bit of gifted nature seen through the lens of overexcitability (Dabrowski, 1966). As, again, will be addressed further in the chapters of this book, these overexcitabilities include psychomotor, imaginational, sensual, emotional, and intellectual super-sensitivities, along with an existential nature and deep spirituality as a child. When the world is taken in with such deep feeling, thinking, and sensual experiencing, what is not or is minimally traumatic to one person, could be super intense to another. This was my world.

Flash-forward to young adulthood, I believed most of my struggles could be blamed on my parents and my developmental trauma, and certainly they will be the first to tell you that they were not perfect. However, as I learned more and more about giftedness, demand avoidance, rejection-sensitive dysphoria, and processing styles, I also learned about how my nature further interacted with my nurture. So, while my parents are not off the proverbial hook, there is certainly more to the story of ‘why me.’ Part of that story has to do with also being the stereotypical strong-willed daughter, while even more has to do with the twice-exceptionality that often masked both my giftedness and my other neurodivergencies such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, and auditory processing difficulties. Then, throw some complex trauma into the mix, and you get what I got… an intersection of intensity.

A Note About Self-Care, Triggers, and Check-Ins

It is possible that you, the reader, also have an intersection of intensity, or giftedness and trauma. As such, it is important to note how even reading about trauma can evoke strong emotions and possibly distress. There may be stories and information in this book that are relatable and stir up some stuff. This is not uncommon and it is not necessarily bad. However, awareness of this is wise, as is a gentle plan of action. I purposefully do not go into great detail about triggering topics that are known to cause more visceral reactions. However, difficulty is sprinkled throughout the book. We will titrate in and out so your mind will not be bombarded with anything heavy. Triggers may still present so please take care of yourself.

I invite all who enter these pages to engage in self-care inclusive of some solid grounding. Check in with yourself and your nervous system as you read through these chapters. And if you need a break, honor that need. To help with this task, I have a check-in section at the end of each chapter such that you can explore the impact this information has on you. Feeling and connecting with this material is valuable, and so is your peace. Be well.*

*From the unpublished manuscript, Intersection of Intensity: Exploring Trauma and Giftedness By Patty Williams, MSMHC, Ph.D. (2023)

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