Home » Children: talent blossoms where you don’t expect it. It often hides in hostile environments

Children: talent blossoms where you don’t expect it. It often hides in hostile environments

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Children: talent blossoms where you don’t expect it.  It often hides in hostile environments

A good family, a welcoming social environment: these are the foundations for bringing out children’s creativity. But are we sure? Yes, a healthy environment for developing one’s talents is a wonderful help; but there are exceptions: various studies and various examples of famous people are there to tell us.

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Bruce Ellis, a psychologist at the University of Utah, has recently published an important essay, entitled Hidden Talents in Hostile Environments; shows how children’s spirits can rise from adverse situations to undertake paths of high creative level. And a few years ago two sports psychologists at the University of California carried out a study on 577 athletes and artists to see their development depending on the presence or absence of adverse conditions in the first years of life.
Those who had experienced more adverse conditions had a higher level of creativity, data that mirrored those obtained the year before by studying 234 other artists.

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Those who start badly must work hard not to succumb: stories of illustrious names

Various researchers have tried to give an explanation to this phenomenon which seems strange to say the least; but how: does one start badly in life and then explode into excellence? Some have explained it by thinking of it as a reaction to survive: those who start out badly in life have to work harder than others to avoid succumbing and, sometimes, this leads to finding paths that help them emerge. According to others, creativity itself may be the driving force that accidentally brought the subject out of the stressful situation and, once this path was discovered, he stuck to it.

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Various famous people had horrible starting points in life, yet they were able to excel in their fields. Some of these characters are “unsuspecting”. Let’s think about Alessandro Manzoni: born into a family with a mother who we would at least define as “cold”, who immediately sent him to be a nurse in a country farmhouse, taking no interest in him and then immediately sending him to boarding school; a grandfather (Cesare Beccaria) who never wanted to know him and a father who soon learned that he was not his real father.

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But let’s also think about Franz Kafkawho wrote the book Letter to the Father in which he narrates his horrible relationship as a son: “Dear father, you recently asked me why I say I’m afraid of you. As usual I couldn’t answer you anything, partly because of the fear I have of you, partly because ‘because this fear is based on such a quantity of details that by speaking I wouldn’t even be able to coordinate them passably.”

More emblematic is the story of Gustave Flaubert, described in detail by Jean Paul Sartre in a book whose title already makes you understand the meaning of what is reported there: The family idiot. Sartre explains that Flaubert was an unwanted child, badly raised by his family (who instead adored his brothers), and that he had started speaking so late that he was literally considered an idiot; and yet, then he had flourished. Significantly, SartreHe then reported that he too had suffered a similar childhood.

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Getting back up yes, but there are also psychological consequences

Therefore, it is possible that one can emerge from a catastrophic situation with one’s head held high, sometimes in an excellent way. Unfortunately, we must reveal the other side of the coin: those who have a catastrophic childhood can get back on their feet, but they also have a strong risk of suffering pathological consequences in terms of anxiety, panic attacks, depression. Manzoni was a writing genius, but he was also agoraphobic, a stutterer, depressed, anxious.

All children develop strategies to respond to anxiety (especially the physiological anxiety of separation from their mother as they grow); they often process those repeated behaviors or that attachment to objects that Donald Winnicott called “transitional objects” (Linus’ blanket, which can be an object, but can sometimes be a game or a particular attitude). It may happen that some unresolved states of stress cause this particular attitude to deepen, creating a parallel world in the child’s mind, leading to a double effect: developing a talent, but also developing a slightly disturbed mental attitude.

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Mythology teaches us something

Achilles a genius of war, but mentally disturbed subject, as described by Alexander Pope and by the French psychiatrist Nicholas Evzonas. The Greek myths always say a lot and, digging into this, we see that his childhood was marked by a mother (the nymph Thetis), who decided his destiny for him and then disappeared (a sum of intrusive and absent mother) , and from a father who disappears: how can we not expect an anomalous life, characterized by the famous fits of anger (the fatal wrath), but which at least finds a sublimation in warlike genius?

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Suburbs and childhood hardship

It’s comforting to think that genius can be released even from adverse situations. This, however, requires two attentions. The first is knowing how to recognize it. Unfortunately, “suburban lives” do not enter the spotlight of notoriety; instead it would be worthy of an advanced society and a seriously preventive medicine for these spotlights to look for great and small creativity in the outskirts of childhood distress to help them emerge.

The second is to intercept mental distress at its onset, in adverse family and social situations, which are not necessarily those of poverty; indeed, we often find loveless families in the upper classes. We no longer hear about childcare, but it would be good to dust it off again, because this problem can be identified right from the first years of life, and social pediatrics – which is active today – should have the task of treating discomfort from the cradle.

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Psychologists in schools

The entry of the psychologist into schools is recent. This may be the way to be able, in collaboration with teachers, to trace the birth of the aforementioned “Achilles complex”, made of feeling endowed with genius but also blocked by anxiety, due to a difficult childhood. Valuing the creative abilities of those born in disadvantaged situations and mitigating their negative symptoms would be a sign of great progress.

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