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Hilary Swank and Emotional Excitability

Posted Nov 12 2009 10:00pm

Most people experience strong feelings occasionally, unless they are depressed. But for some, their emotional reactions are especially intense.

Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902 – 1980) developed a theory of personality that is often used to understand gifted children and adults.

One of his ideas is Emotional Overexcitability (or Excitability), which can include intense feelings, extremes of complex emotions, empathy with other people, vivid emotional memory, and strong reactions to injustice and social issues.

Hilary Swank, it seems to me, is a wonderful example. She makes use of emotional excitability in her work, and expresses herself with deep feelings in these two interview clips (below).

In her interview for Inside the Actors Studio, she talks about a very difficult scene in Boys Don’t Cry, and her feelings about the hatred often shown toward transgender people.

In this clip from a 60 Minutes interview about her film Million Dollar Baby, she is distraught about not being able to save a man who suffered a heart attack.

Journalist Mike Wallace makes a nice comment at the end: “Her emotions are always close to the surface. It has helped make her one of Hollywood’s best actors.”

Related articles:

Overexcitabilities in Gifted Children, By Lesley Sword

Theory of Positive Disintegration as a Model of Personality Development For Exceptional Individuals, By Elizabeth Mika
“Children with high emotional OE [Overexcitability] show an early development of a strong affective life. These are the children who cry easily, are easily frightened and anxious, exhibit strong attachments to people, places and objects; as well as strong envy and anger.”


Mellow Out, They Say. If I Only Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright, by Michael M. Piechowski

Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults. Susan Daniels, Michael M. Piechowski (Editors)

Dabrowski’s Theory Of Positive Disintegration, by Sal Mendaglio.

Social / Emotional Aspects of Giftedness [multiple articles, links]

Related sections:
High Ability
Highly Sensitive

overexcitability , excitability , Dabrowski, gifted adult personality, psychology of giftedness, high ability, high aptitude

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