Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
May 25, 2024

What Is “Gifted Child Syndrome,” and How Does It Impact You as an Adult?

If you were considered a “gifted child” when you were younger, you were probably praised for your accomplishments in school. Everything may have felt easy for you, and teachers and parents may have heaped affection and words of affirmation onto you for doing well.

But being gifted in school can come with drawbacks, including what’s known as gifted kid burnout. Let's talk about symptoms of gifted child syndrome, and what that can mean in adulthood.

gifted kid burnout

What Does “Gifted Kid Burnout” Mean?

Gifted child syndrome, also known as gifted kid burnout, is an assortment of mental health struggles in kids due to high expectations and pressures in childhood.

These pressures might have looked like:

  • Praise from teachers because of your performance
  • Harsh criticism for mistakes
  • High expectations to do well no matter what
  • Only receiving parental affection or pride if you got an A or A+ on an assignment

Some kids develop burnout as a result of the high pressures and expectations. Others don’t, but the impacts creep up on them later in adulthood. Certain personality traits, including neurodivergence and sensitivity, may increase a child’s likelihood to both be gifted and to develop habits like anxiety and perfectionism later on in life.

Symptoms of gifted kid burnout include the following:

  • Exhaustion and fatigue
  • Impaired performance
  • Irritability at school or with schoolwork
  • Unexplained physical aches or pains, such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Intense distress caused by receiving low (or average) grades or making mistakes

Regardless of whether you experienced these symptoms as a child, it's likely that external pressures contributed to the development of mental health challenges later on.

Gifted Child Syndrome in Adults

High expectations and a focus on grades and outcomes in childhood can result in problems as an adult. For instance, if everything was easy for you when you were younger, you may have felt wholly unprepared for success once you reached college or young adulthood. As a result, you may struggle more as an adult, because you never developed helpful skills such as studying or time management. 

Other impacts of gifted child syndrome in adults include anxiety, perfectionism and over-achievement, and people-pleasing.

Gifted child syndrome in adults

Anxiety

Anxiety is really about fear of the unknown, or fear that you won’t be able to handle a situation. High expectations and pressure from external sources – such as parents, teachers, and peers – can cause you to put a lot of pressure on yourself. If you were taught that your worth is tied to your accomplishments, or that your needs for attention and love were only met if you performed at a certain level, it’s likely you developed anxiety as an adult. 

Perfectionism and Over-Achievement

Perfectionism can develop for lots of different reasons, but high among them is pressure to succeed in childhood. If you learned to equate mistakes with failure or disappointing others, you likely developed perfectionism in an attempt to avoid dealing with that pain. Your own expectations for yourself may be extremely high as an adult. Making mistakes or being anything less than perfect may feel terrifying, because subconsciously you may be afraid of the rejection or disappointment that accompanied mistakes when you were young.

People-pleasing

If you were gifted as a child, it may have felt like others’ love for you was conditional on your performance. As an adult, you might secretly worry that the only thing you have to offer is being “good” or “smart” or “helpful” or “gifted.” It can feel terrifying to be your real self and to trust that people will really love you for you. Therefore, you use people-pleasing as a coping mechanism to avoid rejection or criticism. 

These traits, learned in childhood to cope with high demands, can be frustrating and impact all areas of your life: your relationships, job, and home life.

They increase levels of shame and burnout, impact how you talk to yourself, and skew your sense of belonging in the world.

However, with time, practice, and support, you can learn healthier and more sustainable ways of relating to yourself and the world around you.

Struggling With Gifted Child Syndrome in Adulthood? Therapy Can Help. 

If you want support breaking free from the cycle of perfectionism, people-pleasing, anxiety, and over-achieving as a result of being a gifted child, I’m here to help. As a coach and therapist for anxious millennials, I specialize in helping my clients dial down the anxiety in their lives.

I’m here to help you:

  • Understand the root causes of your struggles
  • Address old narratives about yourself and your worth
  • Challenge and change beliefs that are keeping you stuck 
  • Process underlying or hidden trauma
  • Redirect and reframe cognitive errors such as black-and-white thinking
  • Replace unhelpful coping mechanisms with better, more helpful ones
  • Implement healthy stress management techniques
  • Find peace in showing up exactly as you are, even when it’s less than perfect

Learn more about my therapy services (including EMDR and talk therapy) if you’re located in Idaho or Iowa. For all other locations, check out my coaching services. My coaching program offers all the same expertise, tools, and guidance as therapy in a more direct and goal-oriented approach that you can benefit from anywhere. 

Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together. 

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

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