Jared DeFife Ph.D.

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Bright Minds, Anxious Hearts: 9 Secrets of a 'Magnet Mind'

What happens when gifted kids grow up to become bright, sensitive adults?

Posted Jul 08, 2017

Passionate for learning, emotionally intense, frequently indecisive, often anxious, and highly achievement striving.

Welcome to the dynamic inner lives of those with “Magnet Minds”…people who have a deep and almost inexplicable pull to new knowledge, big ideas, strong affectionate bonds, and powerful emotions.

Source: Canva

Over years of personal and professional experience and in my clinical practice, I frequently encounter these bright, gifted, and sensitive souls who deeply struggle with problems like fitting in, finding and keeping a quality partner who challenges them intellectually (and tolerates them emotionally), choosing a meaningful and fulfilling career path, overachieving, burnout, and severe self-criticism.

There is a small but consistent body of literature identifying these common concerns of the intellectually gifted, emotionally intense, and creative/talented kids now grown-up. And yet, when I meet these bright and big-hearted souls in my office, they never self-identify as intellectually gifted (even if they tested into gifted programs in early childhood) and many even cringe at being labelled as “smart” despite many of the outward signs of intellectual ability and achievement.

After all, terms like “intelligence”, “giftedness”, and “talented” are extremely socially loaded. To claim such qualities is tantamount to a social sin of arrogance and conceit. And it’s hard to feel “gifted” when you’re striving for success but have massive student loan debts to pay back, a struggling social and romantic life, or a pervasive feeling like you just haven’t lived up to all the big achievements you’re always aiming for.

The reality is that having a Magnet Mind isn’t just about high intelligence. As described by Mary Ellen Jacobsen, PhD, author of The Gifted Adult: “Creative intelligence and high potential are accompanied by specific personality traits and identifiable inner processes.”

And while the powerful pull of the Magnet Mind personality is certainly a force to be reckoned with, for every strong attractive quality, there can be an equally powerful “push” factor that sometimes (even though we hate to admit it) keeps others at an arm’s length. Being smart and sensitive absolutely doesn’t mean that you’ve got life all figured out. Sometimes the inner turmoil is as or even more difficult than the external stressors.

So do you have a secret "Magnet Mind"? Here are 9 signs to look out for…

1. You’re almost insatiably curious.

Magnet minds love learning. Whether it’s reading the latest New York Times Nonfiction bestseller, making their way through the Criterion Collection of classic films, or frantically consuming podcasts, Ted Talks, and YouTube videos, they can’t stop ‘till they get enough. And there’s no such thing as “enough” (even if an oversaturated bookshelf or Netflix queue are screaming to stop!!) The person asking all the incessantly inquisitive questions in class? Might be a Magnet Mind at work.

2. You have a (very) quick mind.

Magnet Minds work fast (after all, the fastest rail vehicles in the world rely on the low friction swoosh of magnetic levitation) and when new information comes along, it tends to stick. I know Magnet Minds who learned to HTML code a new website in an afternoon, picked up guitar over the weekend, or whipped up a tasty new recipe without ever getting a formal cooking lesson.

Not surprisingly, other people think they’re pretty smart, although Magnet Minds are usually the last to admit it about themselves. Magnet Minds are often successful academically with great grades and advanced degrees, but not always. Many of us know that advanced learning and formal education aren’t exactly the same thing.

But having such a fast mind is a quick route to boredom and irritation when others just don’t or can’t keep up. Rebellion and underachievement are common concerns. The Magnet Mind who tied her shoelaces together in the back of the class in first grade because she already mastered the reading lesson is the same one who wants to stick a thumb drive in her eye at the latest snail’s pace corporate meeting.

3. You’re highly empathic and deeply wounded by other peoples’ criticism or disapproval.

Magnet Minds aren’t “all brains, no heart” logical thinking machines. They tend to be deeply compassionate, empathic, and justice seeking.

Magnet Minds hate seeing other people suffer and take strong stands against injustices. For this reason, some Magnet Minds can’t stomach violent horror films and others will viscerally recoil and run away when an ASPCA animal cruelty commercial comes on the air.

Magnet Minds hate surface level small talk and are usually compelled to seek deep and personal affectionate bonds based on shared curiosity, vulnerability, and intimacy. It’s like other people’s feelings stick. So do their words. So when important other people criticize and disapprove, it takes a while to recover.

4. At some point, you’ve been criticized for being “too much”: (too sensitive, too loud, too dramatic, too fast, etc.).

If there’s one “S”-word Magnet Minds hate to be described as more than “smart”, it’s usually “sensitive”. Magnet Minds have often put up with messages that tell them to quiet down, stop asking so many questions, don’t be so loud, why do you take everything so seriously, and can’t you just lighten up? Consequently, most Magnet Minds expend a great deal of energy either suppressing their intensities and excitements or worried about how others will perceive them.

5. Yet inside, you usually feel like you’re “never enough”.

On the flip side, most Magnet Minds struggle with deep anxieties and insecurities. For all their accomplishments and achievements, Magnet Minds are exquisitely prone to feelings of imposter syndrome (especially when much is expected of them from parents, teachers, and bosses) and social exclusion. You'll frequently find Magnet Minds begging to trade in their intelligence and sensitivity if they could only just fit in and "feel normal" like everyone else.

6. Admit it, you’re a perfectionist (and usually your own worst critic).

There’s a big difference between striving for “high personal standards” and perfectionism. But Magnet Minds expect the best of themselves as well as the others around them. With a keen eye for errors, inconsistencies, and inefficiencies, Magnet Minds can make for cunning critics. They don’t suffer fools gladly and are often willing to challenge authority and speak out against injustices or inaccuracies, truly believing in the ability for the world to be a better place. But these sharp-eyed critiques can often be directed inward and some Magnet Minds are known to have some pretty ruthless inner critics.

7. Big life choices (and sometimes even small ones) can leave you spinning in indecision.

Magnets are sensitive to the environmental fields around them and can be pulled off in many different directions. Going down a Google research rabbit hole, flitting from interesting topic to interesting topic, or stopping in the middle of the street to marvel at the beauty of an architectural oddity can leave some Magnet Minds to think they’re focus failures or even cursing out their adult Attention Deficit Disorder. The truth is that if there are too many competing choices interfering in the environment, Magnet Minds can find themselves spinning off their axis and unable to find their true north. Choosing the "just right" color to paint the bedroom can create as much existential angst as trying to decide what to do for a living.

8. When it comes to relationships, you’ve struggled with either clinginess or excessive distrust.

Magnet Minds are deep thinkers with big hearts. They long for a partner who will both understand and challenge them on a deep emotional and intellectual level. This yearning for a deep affectionate mind meld can be, well, a little intense when searching for potential partners. Magnet Minds have been known to hold tightly to partners (even ones who aren’t always healthy choices) and react hard to break-ups and separations. Other Magnet Minds fear this intensity and fear the possibility of finding anyone who will measure up so they shun friendships and romantic relationships entirely figuring that it’s better to be alone than hurt and rejected.

9. Secretly, you just yearn to feel both accepted and accomplished…

It’s a core dilemma because sometimes these desires can just feel at odds with each other. Academic intelligence doesn’t always translate to social and emotional wisdom and it can be hard to stand out successfully while also trying to fit in and feel connected. But when a Magnet Mind can find that sense of True North within themselves, look out world, because big things will happen.


Are you a secret Magnet Mind? Or maybe you have a few Magnet Minds in your life! Let us know about it in the comments!

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Jacobsen, M. E. (2000). The gifted adult: A revolutionary guide for liberating everyday genius. Ballantine Books.

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