Anger, Aggression & Abuse

/Anger, Aggression & Abuse

Whiz Kids

Less than two per cent of children are considered to be gifted based on population norms. In fact, there is no formal agreement among psychologists and educators on what exactly defines giftedness, although it does tend to be genetically linked and there are some identifying markers.

For example, from the first year of life children considered gifted are walking and speaking much earlier than their age peers, and such advanced or early development continues to be the case in later life; they go on to develop outstanding abilities in language, math or music compared to population norms.

Challenges for gifted children

However, just because these children have exceptional abilities in learning, understanding or retaining information does not mean that they are advantaged and their lives will be easy. In fact, gifted children may have a whole set of problems that their peers do not have to deal with.

For one thing, emotional development and intellectual development are known to develop at different rates and for gifted children; often emotional maturity does not develop at the same rapid pace as intellect. To adults, gifted children appear to be more mature and serious than their age would indicate, but within their peer group they are easy targets of ridicule and they are no better than other children in dealing with bullying and social rejection.

Some gifted children have had major struggles in school.  According to Judy Galbraith’s book The Gifted Kids’ Survival Guide, Beethoven’s music teacher described him as ‘hopeless,’ Einstein quit high school at the age of 15, and Picasso was so bored by school that his family let him bring a live chicken to class so he could draw its portrait. Gifted children are known to complain about boredom in the classroom as their number one challenge in life.

If you suspect that your child is gifted then it is important to determine whether it is true, in order to satisfy their love of learning and to stay interested in attending school. The school system can offer special placements for your gifted child; however that is not necessarily sufficient and their giftedness may not even be identified. If your child is sitting in a grade-one class room all day but comprehending at a grade-four level, they may simply tune out, daydream or become bored.

It is also not true that gifted children can only be gifted in one area; among children in the upper two per cent of the general population there are differences. While most excel in either math or language, some are outstanding in both areas, and may also easily comprehend complexities of scientific principles as well as abstract thought.

Having a deficit in short term memory or attention is also not unusual in gifted children, since they often appear distracted and don’t appear to be listening, when they in fact are lost in deep thought about some internal concept that has grabbed their attention.

For exceptional children, underachievement may also be a coping mechanism to help them deal with social situations.  At school, for example, exceedingly intelligent children can be bullied under the playground stereotype ‘nerd.’ For these kids, they may even try to avoid showing their skills, for example, by not speaking up in class or not doing homework well in order to avoid this label. These kids may have bad marks on normal exams but do incredibly well on standardized tests.

Another psychological challenge gifted children can struggle with is unhealthy perfectionism. Since they find many things come to their understanding so easily, they may apply these high standards to all aspects of their lives. Furthermore, parents and teachers who label the child as a “prodigy” can inflict the delusion in the child that they can and should be perfect in all areas.

Giftedness Assessments

Giftedness is measured with standardized intelligence tests that are restricted to professional practitioners. These tests can only be administered and interpreted by a registered psychologist with specific training in this area. The tests must be kept locked in secure storage; the test questions must be protected from the public in order to maintain test validity.

The most commonly used test is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, commonly known as the WISC-IV, a test that measures the intelligence quotient, or IQ.

If you have your child tested here are some things you should know.

  • A standardized IQ test takes about two hours of face to face testing room (no parents are allowed)
  • Children are given a chance to practice items for each subtest, to create a mental set to get an idea of what is to follow
  • The psychologist scores and analyzes the test results only after the test is complete

A written report of the findings is usually given. Scores are quoted in percentiles and categories:

  • Very Superior
  • Superior
  • High Average
  • Average
  • Below Average
  • Well Below Average

Only the top 98th and 99th percentiles fall within the Very Superior category.

Next Steps

Each school system decides the cut-off point for entry into their giftedness program.  Some schools offer an “Enriched” program targeting the children above the 90th percentile, while others offer a “Giftedness” program that excludes all children except those within the 95th percentile and above. In deciding on how best to support your gifted child, be sure to ask the school principal what are their cut-off points for entry into their giftedness program.

To inspire your child to continue on their quest to learn is not easy and will require a lot of effort. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works with these unique children, however it is rewarding to see their success.

Ask your doctor for a referral to a child psychologist trained in psychological testing. Scheduling an appointment for a psycho-educational assessment can help you understand your gifted child and help them come to terms with their own feelings about it.

Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisher, Facebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.

Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
All rights reserved. Copyright protected.

Cutting Remarks

It takes a lifetime to learn how to handle disappointment, and being a teenager doesn’t help much when things get rough. I was wondering what would cause a beautiful, smart 15 year old like Briana to get a pack of her dad’s razors and some disinfecting lotion from the medicine cabinet and deliberately carve small evenly spaced slices up and down her arms and legs.

It didn’t help when her mom walked into her room and freaked out either. She couldn’t know that her mom would bring her to see me, and that she’d land up having to talk about what happened which was why she was sitting in my office. She couldn’t tuck herself any more tightly into the corner of the sofa without disappearing completely, trying to avoid my eyes and smoothing the long sleeves of her shirt.

And looking at the floor, she whispered that all she wanted was to escape from the bad feelings when her friends at school had turned against her.

In 1921, Freud proposed the pleasure principle is the instinctual pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Maturity is learning to endure the pain of frustrated desires when reality requires it.


While many people abuse their bodies while indulging in smoking, drinking or recreational drugs, they can shrug it off the next day by remembering the fun and good times that went with their over-indulgence. With self-cutting, the pleasure principle – meaning, the avoidance of one kind of pain as a way of by-passing emotional pain however, results in bodily scarring and disfiguring while offering emotional relief.

Self-cutting is when the injury is intentional, as when as person makes small cuts with a sharp object that draw blood on the wrists, arms, legs, sexual organs or bellies. Unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects are infected wounds, scars, accidentally cutting too deep or uncontrollable urges that get in the way of daily activities.

Research shows that 90 per cent of people who engage in self harm begin during their teen and pre-adolescent years, however onset can occur at any age, including in elderly people.

In a survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association, approximately 13 per cent of adolescents said the engaged in self-harm activities. However, since this habit tends to be secretive, it is difficult to determine the exact percentage.

There is no single pattern or profile for self-injures, however the Canadian Mental Health Association shows that most are from the middle to upper-class, intelligent but suffer from low self-esteem. Almost all say they were discouraged from expressing emotions, especially anger and sadness.

Why do people self-cut?

There are many different reasons that people engage in self-cutting behaviour, but the primary reason is that it provides temporary relief to feelings of frustration, suffering and emotional pain. The flow chart below, shows two common patterns of why people injure themselves.


Studies show that incidences of self-cutting are increasing. This may be due to cultural trends, where young people are told it is a normal way to express feelings of frustration, numbness or sadness. However, it is not new, in the 19th century some women in Europe became known as “needle girls” because they would cut themselves with sewing needles. Today, for example, there are many websites that give advice on how to go about cutting oneself. In order to fit in to a subculture, teens may try cutting themselves only to find that it is an addictive behaviour that can spiral out of control.

Contrary to the belief of some, self-cutting is not necessarily a ‘cry for help’ nor is it attempts at suicide. Cutting tends to become an impulsive, secret habit where the pain provides an illogical sense of temporary calm. Many self-cutters are ashamed of this habit and try to hide their scars.

Self-cutting is not a mental disorder but is usually a symptom of underlying emotional problems. There is a whole gambit of psychological problems that can be associated with it, anything from depression to borderline personality disorder to bipolar disorder.

If you or someone you know is self-cutting,  speaking to an experienced psychologist could help.

Patients in this story are a fictional composite of people who have sought help for this issue. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisherFacebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.

Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
All rights reserved. Copyright protected.

The anatomy of an upset

Eugene was having a bad day.  On the way to work, some idiot cut him off, then another stupid person slipped ahead into a prime parking spot, making him late for work, which he hated. 

If you could be a fly on the wall of Eugene’s mind, you might hear these thoughts buzzing through his head. His face showed that he was upset, but when I asked him if he was stressed about anything, he looked surprised.  There was nothing unusual about this morning, compared to an average day in his life.

We retraced the components of that morning’s events, beginning with the upset toward the driver who had cut him off.  The thought that the driver was an idiot triggered the feeling of rage and more angry thoughts.

Teenage Depression

Under the stereotype of teenage angst, teenagers often claim to be misunderstood, but parents should be careful not to misinterpret signs of teenage depression as a bad mood that will pass with time.

Untreated depression can have severe negative consequences on a person’s life, so take time to investigate any serious and significant mood changes.


Bye-bye to Bullying

Eleven-year-old Josie came home from school, went to the basement and hung herself.

Fortunately, the rope broke.

Her mother brought her to my office soon after she found Josie crying in her room.  She said that she didn’t want to go to school anymore.  There were kids that taunted her by calling her names, told her that she was no good, and that they didn’t want her around.


Victims and victimizers

Tricia spoiled good things that happened. At last she had everything she ever wanted:  marriage, a beautiful house and a sweet baby girl.  But she was unhappy.

As a child, she had come to believe that good things never last. As a teenager, she fought with her controlling father, slamming the front door and not returning for days.  Now, when her husband was moody, she returned to old patterns of fighting, leaving, and once again slamming the front door and not returning for days.  Only now she took the baby with her.


Love and revenge

Revenge lives between love and hate. Love brings out our highest instincts such as putting others’ needs before our own.  When love brings disappointment or pain, however, people who cannot integrate feelings of love with hate toward the same person must split these feelings so that where love was, hate lives.  The formerly loved person is cast as “the devil” or the hated person, and they see themselves as the innocent angel.  In extreme cases, the innocent angel is an avenging angel.


Venting and anger management

Pop psychology tries to describe people as kitchen appliances needing a vent.  An appealing idea, but unfortunately, wrong.  People are much more complicated than pressure cookers that need to blow off steam. The fact is that screaming, punching a pillow, or other kinds of “venting” do not help people become healthy, and can actually contribute to high blood pressure and many other health problems.


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