The Gifted Adult

Complexity: qualitatively different

Mary-Elaine Jacobsen

Multiple interests

Feigns fulfillment on a single track; endures monotonyRenaissance-level creativity; skilled “switch-hitter”Pressured and over-extended in every direction
Resists change; stuck in the tried and true; wedded to the obsoleteEnergized by ideas, research and problem solving; lifelong learnerInformation junkie; seduced by novelty
Talents underdeveloped; tinkererIngenious; excels in several areas; blends skill with finesseSuperman or superwoman syndrome; jack-of-many-trade and “master of all”
Limited; constrained; stagnant; imperturbableVersatile; trailblazer; entrepreneurialErratic or unstable; never finds a niche


Self-negating or self-loathingHolds firm to visions of the ideal; discerningly pushes for excellence; lives by solid standardsDistorted self-image; grandiose
Superficial or shallow; avoids self-examinationCan objectively assess own behaviours and motivationsThinks there’s no need to change or grow, though others should
Fatalistic view of mistakes and failuresOptimistic; accepts self and others as works in progressMinimizes failings; blames others; doesn’t learn from mistakes
Unable to protect self; assailable; prone to self-injurious behaviorsMonitors and maintains health and well-beingAnxious hypochondriac; compulsive self-evaluation; chronic mental torture


Restricts knowledge to what can be “proven”; all-or-nothing thinkingTrusts and applies ways of knowing beyond the rationalBypasses common sense; acts on half-baked hunches; distorts reality
Distrusts and dismisses extrasensory abilitiesUtilizes integrated extrasensory abilitiesManipulative and unscrupulous use of extrasensory powers
Fears the intangible and irrationalAppreciates that life doesn’t always make immediate sense; honours paradoxParalyzed by elaborate images, unrealistic ideas, and fanciful pursuits
Takes everything literally; bounded by concrete experience as ultimate verificationComprehends the seen and unseen worlds; relies on gut feel and a priori knowledgeDwells in figments of the imagination; obsessively superstitious; seduced by false mysticism and occult powers; delusional

Transcendent experience

Soulless; empty; inner battles between body, mind, and spirit; unprincipledSpirit-centered; integrates body, mind, and spirit; dedicated to higher principlesNeglects real; life in favor of the ethereal — lost in the cosmos; excuses bad behavior with spiritual rationalization
Stunted growth; follows path of least resistance; unfulfilledEnlightened; self-actualizing; steadfastly pursues wisdomSelf-improvement junkie; obsessed with psycho-spiritual “glamours” and power
Hollow; lacks inner life; seeks external validation for internal experienceCultivates and values inner guidance; spiritually matureIndiscriminate spiritual faddist; overdependent on spiritual or religious authority figures
Unimaginative rationalist; bureaucrat who manufactures red tape and unnecessary policies and systemsVisionary; grounded futuristic thinker; pragmatic idealistToo far out to be trusted; ungrounded magical thinker


Clouded awareness; distrusts own observations; slow to catch on; tunnel vision Penetrating awareness; keen observation; seasoned discernment Hyper-vigilant; trusts no one; randomly scrutinizes everything
Prosaic; unrefined and uncultured; indifferent to aesthetic forms or motifs Prolific creator; appreciates the arts and aesthetics; revitalized by nature and beauty Promotes art for art’s sake; settles for bargain-basement appreciation of the arts; discounts and destroys nature or creativity
Stuck in the past; out of step; possibilities immobilized Fluid processing; integrates past experience with future possibility; one step aheadFixated on the future and uninformed by the past; misses signals and overlooks the obvious
Slanted or naive perceptions; unprocessed or incomplete insight; culpable Uses insights for the collective good Exploits awareness of others for own gain; manipulative or Machiavellian

Exceptional memory

Mind clogged with minutiae; Trivial Pursuit master or detail-obsessed; flood of data camouflages lack of knowledge or truth Extraordinary and wide-ranging knowledge base; sharp recall serves as powerful reference tool Pompous and pontificating know-it-all; mental pack rat
“Walking wounded”; constantly relives the past and reopens old wounds; keeps repeating same mistakes Enriched by reminiscence and introspection; capable of self-healing; values life lessons derived from past experience Shuns responsibility; all problems are someone else’s fault; projects rage onto others for disappointments and hurt; blames past experience and relationships for current problems
Avoids in-depth analysis; Pollyannaish; unrealistic or incomplete thinking Skillfully manages thought processes; expert synthesizer Consumed by racing or overwhelming thoughts; fretful worrywart
Trifling or narrow-minded; selective memory; valuable ideas dismissed prematurely Reexamines history and retains key ideas for future application Flooded with random ideas and images; unable to identify salient information


Threatened by uncertainty and unpredictability; rushes to restrict or suppress emerging ideas Comfortable with ambiguity; willing to let ideas evolve and mature Indulges tangents or confuses distraction with productive process
Constantly revisits same ideas; goes round and round Advances and implements innovative ideas Hooked on novelty—“ the latest thing”; fosters whim without wisdom
Dogmatic and demands instant results; undermines innovation with impatience Accepts process; understands chaos is prerequisite for creative accomplishment Thrives on chaos and confusion; feeds off perpetual drama
Wedded to mindless simplicity; distrusts fresh ideas Distinguishes “different and valuable” from “simply different”; artfully applies the simple and elegant solution Overcomplicates everything; rushes ahead with undeveloped ideas

Complex thinking

One-dimensional or dead-end thinking; repetitive or illogical Outstanding problem solver; enjoys research, analysis, and theoretical constructs Analysis without end; no closure
Relies on uniform solutions for all problems; glosses over complex interrelationships; cannot detect or analyze complex analogies Detects patterns and relationships; efficiently stores huge amounts of data; bridges the abstract and concrete Assumes faulty connections; forces connections and premature closure; demands for consensus result in mediocrity
Slow to process; more cogitation is always better; exasperated decisions Naturally inquisitive; rapid conceptualization; draws sound conclusions; effective truth seeker and problem finder Finds problems everywhere; careless analysis and hastily drawn conclusions


Jacobsen, M. (1999). The gifted adult: a revolution guide for liberating everyday genius. [Kindle version]. Toronto: Random House, Inc.