An Interview with Heather Boorman: Fostering Self- Compassion in Gifted Children

Jul 1, 2019 by

Fostering Self Compassion in Gifted Individuals

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Heather, first of all can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and your education and experience?

Of course!  I work as a licensed clinical social worker providing outpatient therapy at Boorman Counseling in Western Wisconsin.  In addition to being the director of the practice, I specialize in working with gifted and 2e kids, adults, and their families.  I’m also a certified EMDR therapist which is a specific therapy that helps individuals process through trauma.  

While my MSW from the University of Denver provided solid clinical skills, my time as a mom to 3 gifted/2e children certainly threw me right into the trenches of neurodiversity, and as often happens, I’ve learned a lot about my own giftedness and identity during these past 14 years of parenting and diving headfirst into the gifted world.  

I’m particularly impassioned to provide support to parents of differently wired children, which led me to produce The Fringy Bit podcast and publish The Fringy Bit blog specifically designed to provide real support and stories about loving someone who’s wired a bit differently.

I’m also the author of “The Gifted Kids Workbook” which is an activity book written for 7-12 year olds to build understanding, self-compassion, and acceptance of their unique identities as gifted kids.

2) I understand that you just presented a workshop for SENG ( Supporting the Emotional Needs of Gifted).   What is your topic and why did you choose it?

I recently presented a Senginar on Fostering Self-Compassion in Gifted Individuals and will be presenting on Perfectionism at the SENG annual conference in Houston.  Personally and professionally, I’ve found self-compassion to be the foundation for wellness and I’ve also found that it is a particularly difficult practice for gifted individuals. 

3) Now, let’s get your definition of ” self-compassion”. What exactly do you mean by this?    

“Compassion” involves an awareness of someone’s suffering, pain, or discomfort coupled with a desire to act in such a way that the discomfort is alleviated.  Self-Compassion, therefore, is noticing our own pain and acting in ways to alleviate it.  I follow Kristin Neff’s work and definitions of Self-Compassion, in which she has identified 3 components that contribute to a solid practice of Self-Compassion:  mindfulness, recognition of our common humanity, and kindness. 

Mindfulness means being aware of the present moment without judgment.  It’s necessary to be mindful of our own inner experiences, our thoughts, feelings, physical sensations.  If we do not recognize our own suffering we cannot respond with kindness.  Pain and perfectionism often isolate us from others and make us believe that our experiences are unique to us.  I’m the only one that yells at my kids.  I’m the only one who can’t “get over” the death of a loved one in a month.  I’m the only one who’s embarrassed myself in a job interview.  

In reality, we are human, and if we’ve experienced something, most likely someone else has experienced something very similar.  We all make mistakes.  All parents get to the end of their rope.  Every human has embarrassed themselves.  And finally, we respond to ourselves with kindness.  Self-compassionate people tell themselves the things that they would tell their friends.  They nurture themselves, comfort themselves, and show themselves mercy and grace.

4) How does this differ in boys and girls, and children and adolescents?

I don’t know that this differs too much by gender identification, other than for gifted boys and girls, who often don’t align with traditional binary gender stereotypes, it can be more difficult to be self-compassionate as they may still receive negative reactions from others. 

Many gifted/2e children have an acute awareness of their differences from a very early age.  I’ve had children as young as 6 come into my therapy office and proclaim themselves to be aliens because they simply don’t fit with the other kids they encounter.  When children don’t feel like they belong, they typically view this as a character flaw and assign self-blame.  By the time these children are adolescents, they’ve often had years of feeling different and hearing negative messages internally and externally and therefore may not even believe they deserve compassion. 

Obviously, the earlier we can imbibe our children with the practice of self-compassion (through modeling and direct teaching of skills) the less solid the unhelpful neural pathways will be and the easier new, more compassionate pathways can be developed.

5) What about adults-? Do they need a bit of self-compassion or do they need to regulate their own expectations and or those of others?

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