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Do you think my therapist likes me?

From award podiums to the therapist’s office: Tanisha Shah ruminates on the highs and eventual lows of ‘the gifted kid’.

Were you the kid who was pleasant to have in class? Or the one who was always so well-behaved and calm? Maybe even the teen who never went through a wild-child phase?

How’s therapy going?

It all started when a three-year-old was asked, “aren’t you a sweetheart?” for not throwing tantrums in public; the calmest, most well-behaved child at the party.

During her kindergarten graduation, her teacher publicly praised her for her high grades. It was weird for some adults to see a four-year-old kid do her homework by herself, but they were fast enough to label her the ‘gifted child’ without really thinking about the effects of early development of emotional intelligence in kids.

Throughout her schooling years, she was always a bright student who was a treat to have in the class. She was never loud and rarely a disturbance. She loved that everybody loved her.

The file of certificates and medals grew and trophies collected dust over time but nothing gave her satisfaction. Soon enough, she started feeling like all of this was simply expected of her and not an accomplishment but just something she did not fail at (did you catch the little nudge to my spiralling fear of failing?).

High school came and went but nothing changed. She took pride in the fact that she grew up a little too early. Her fragile little self-worth sat on the shaky tower of external validation. She was a bright kid who was going to do great things with her life. Oh well, why wouldn’t she? She was absolutely perfect… right?

Uh-oh, she’s not?

Oh f*ck.

The gifted-child became the unsavoury recipient of the gifted-child syndrome. Burnouts became common. Irritability and the need to get away from everything caused many sleepless nights. All the praises and the certificates and the medals couldn’t save me from the immense anxiety and stress. Despite my efforts to grow, I kept getting caught in the cycle of approval. So, I decided to go to therapy to deal with the reasons behind my need to seek validation and approval from others and set unrealistic expectations. And now, I wonder if my therapist likes me.

After every single therapy session, I go back home and wonder what my therapist must think of me. Seems like a bad idea to micro-analyse everything I said and all the moments I cried at in those fifty minutes, but who can stop their brains from self-sabotaging every once in a while? You want to be honest with your therapist, but you also want them to like you, even in situations where you were not in the right and under circumstances where you know you messed up. This creates a very complex concoction of truth, lies, trying to self-reflect but also trying to show yourself in a good light.

This reminds me of Rory from Gilmore Girls. Her character is a great example of gifted child syndrome. If you’ve seen it, then you know the character's downfall after she gets negative feedback from someone who’s opinion she thinks of as very critical to her journalism career. She, too, was a product of the gifted-child syndrome; someone who put unrealistic expectations on herself and tried to live out her dreams as well as her mothers’ and her grandparents’. But she’s also someone I fear becoming. The complexity of finding the balance between your need for validation and your own self-worth is difficult for people who put the significance of other’s dissatisfaction over their own.

People say that the way someone is raised is reflected in their habits, lifestyle, and even their insecurities. Does this mean I can blame my parents for all my unresolved issues including my need for external validation? Again, Rory’s gifted-child syndrome comes to light. She had very supportive parent(s) and never-ending praise. She was bound to do well in life. But, when she started to lose control, the same people who had supported her all along refused to recognise her crippling self-doubt. A single piece of negative feedback about your career choice from a well-known person in the field is enough to get anyone down, especially if you are someone who seeks external validation to settle your self-doubts.


Therapy so far has taught me why I feel the way I feel and how these issues made home in my life, but I have not learned how to overcome them yet. It’s easy to confront people when you’re sitting in a comfortable chair in a closed room, talking to someone who tries to understand you. It’s hard when you are actually facing those people whose opinions still mean a lot to you. 

Emotions can never be sorted enough to the point where we can let someone’s negative opinion not phase us but accept and cherish their positive opinions. If you actively pursue their praise, you have to be prepared to accept their criticism. This need to break free from everyone’s expectations and push past people’s commentaries while still wanting to be accepted and celebrated in society is our generation’s antithetical stumbling block. Ultimately, that’s the unfortunate duality of life and multifaceted dimensions of the human experience.

The idea of concluding this piece positively and advocating for balance and self-confidence seems incomplete and phoney. Being self-confident and drawing boundaries as a brown daughter isn’t going to come to me easily. But, this whole deep-dive into my need for external validation has made me realise that I don’t need to shut myself off from outside compliments or criticism, I simply have to try not to put these opinions on a pedestal. It also comes from understanding that the gifted-child syndrome develops not from being unable to prove yourself to everyone, but from forcing yourself to prove yourself to everyone. And if you are forcing yourself to do something, you might as well force yourself to become confident in your abilities and set healthy expectations for yourself.


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