How Jim Webb gives meaning to existentialism

Terry-Bradley-Jim-WebbDr. Jim Webb spoke to a large, interested audience in Boulder recently for Boulder Valley Gifted and Talented. His topic revolved around his new book Searching For Meaning; Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope. Webb is one of the 25 most influential psychologists nationally on gifted education and has written or co-authored 17 books. That’s a photo of me with Jim Webb before his presentation. Here are some of my take-aways from Dr. Webb’s talk. 

Gifted children seek complexity

  • They engage in metacognition: they think about thinking
  • They are more likely to reach higher levels of moral development
  • They are more intense and more sensitive
  • They see non-traditional ways of acting and being
  • They are likely to challenge or question tradition
  • They search for consistency and universal truths in themselves and in their environment
  • They are more likely to raise questions about life’s meaning and purpose

These characteristics make them more prone to disillusionment. They raise questions about “what’s it all about?” Examining one’s life prompts a realization that much of our life is spent being involved in illusions where we try to keep up appearances.

At first it’s a lot more comfortable to live with illusions. But as we gain more life experience, our perspectives shift. We are more likely to question the status quo, and we become disillusioned (if we are not already).

13 Healthy Coping Styles that go beyond illusions:

1. Creating your own life script — change your story, change your life
2. Become involved in causes — idealists are the ones involved in causes
3. Using bibliotherapy and journaling for perspective (this can help you clarify your thinking
4. Maintaining a sense of humor – can ameliorate feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
5. Touching & feeling connected — this reminds us that we are still alive and we’re connecting to cut through aloneness
6. Developing authentic relationships — is there someone in your life that you can really be yourself with?
7. Compartmentalizing — you don’t have to think about your ideas and concerns 24/7. You can set aside your problems that seem overwhelming so they don’t bleed into the other aspects of your life that are able to bring you joy.
8. Letting go — realizing how much one really needs to try to control life vs. whether it is better to just let go and flow with life.
9. living in the present moment — if we are focused on the past or the future, we can’t really be in the present – our life will pass us by.
10. Learning optimism & resiliency — focus on your assets and draw on your strengths
11. Focusing on the continuity of generations — wanting to share with others what you have learned in life gives your life meaning
12. Mentoring and teaching others — can foster authentic relationships and bring pleasure for having helped others
13. Rippling — realizing that each of us influences others, for years to come

Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration examines in detail how bright people get disillusioned. As a therapist, Dabrowski was known to get excited when a student of his expressed feeling depressed. He would say, “That’s great! Let’s take the parts of your life that have meaning and try to reintegrate them at a higher level.” His theory describes that individuals who “disintegrate” can eventually develop the parts of their lives that have meaning, and positively reintegrate later.

“Although disintegration is likely to result, with existential depression as a main component, this can be “positive disintegration.” – Dabrowski

Forward Arrow smallBright minds are more likely to have higher expectations, to see how things might be, and to be lonely idealists. How can we help them find hope in this world?

Many feel isolated because they recognize that no matter how close they become to others, a gap remains, and they are nonetheless along. “If we must die, if we must construct our own world, and if each of us ultimately is alone, then what meaning does life have?” Such realization and concern can prompt existential angst and depression.

There is a tie-in between existential depression and bright minds. Sometimes, a situation called “compassion fatigue” is experienced, when an individual gets so tired and overwhelmed caring about others, the environment, unjustness, discrimination, etc. that they decide just not to care anymore. This can result in depression.

Forward Arrow smallThe 40% Solution – 50% of your happiness is genetic; 10% is situational and 40% is your mental and behavioral approach. Accept yourself as valuable separate from your roles and separate from others’ evaluations of you.

Dr. Webb delivered an important message. He imparted a lot of wisdom in an area that is not often discussed in the gifted community. For more, I recommend Webb’s book Searching For Meaning; Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment, and Hope from Great Potential Press.

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