My working definition of frustration is blocked progress. The baby becomes frustrated when his hands won’t grab your necklace like he wants them to; the toddler is frustrated when you block his entry; and both show it with a little temper tantrum. As we grow in age, we are expected to use our words to solve situations when frustration arises.
Over the years, I have seen gifted students’ frustrations manifested in numerous ways. The two most popular are depression and the temper tantrum. Yes, I still see temper tantrums in school-aged kids. You would think an older child or young teen would be embarrassed to throw such a fit, but you would be ignoring the gifted child’s intense desire to be right, win, or be treated fairly. In the gifted child, this drive is so strong that it trumps any civility he might have been taught. I can certainly identify with this one! I sometimes do some pretty immature things when I am frustrated.
If temper tantrums occur at an older age, there are two possible triggers. One is that someone is over-indulgent. The tantrums have worked to get what the gifted person wants, so why stop? The second trigger (which is my trigger) is blocked communication. The person by whom the gifted person is being frustrated has blocked any effort to communicate his side, so the gifted person “strikes,” kind of like a snake backed in a corner.
The problem is that people dealing with the frustrated gifted person often are just trying to help. They do not see that they have blocked a grand plan or just tipped the scales of justice toward another or simply assumed they knew what the person was thinking or would want when in reality they were nowhere near. If the gifted person is forced to remain in the relationship, say with a teacher or a boss, the continued inability to communicate can lead to tantrums and immature actions.
Tantrums are an outward manifestation of the frustration. More dangerous, in my opinion, is the inward manifestation of frustration: depression. Some gifted people decide it is of no use to fight. They simply harbor all the pent-up frustration until they are so sad, nothing feels worth it. Because of this danger, I actually prefer that my kids put up a fight. Granted, I am teaching them to fight with their words instead of with a temper tantrum or immature acts (in spite of the fact that I still sometimes do those things!), but I am trying to get them to get it out there. Often the other party doesn’t even know he’s frustrating them. (Think Fortunato in The Cask of Amontillado.)
The obvious advice to a gifted person when someone repeatedly frustrates him is to “stay away from that person.” What if that person is their teacher or a boss… or you? “Staying away” is not the best advice for learning to work through it. Confrontation until communication occurs is the only plausible answer.
This is what the teens from Parkland High School are doing. They are frustrated that gun violence cost their friends’ lives. They cannot communicate with the government because they have no voting ability, and government officials often only act in ways that keep them in office. Their only course for action? Confront until that communication happens.
The next time you are dealing with someone who throws a fit or who gives up too easily, do a good examination of yourself. There’s a chance you are being unfair or you are not listening. Communication is a two-way street. Don’t be the proverbial “brick wall.”