Gifted: A Psychotherapist’s Perspective.
You may know that you are highly sensitive. You may admit that you are an empath.
But what you may not know is that you might be gifted. That you might have what I call a rainforest mind. A mind-heart-spirit that is not only highly sensitive but also empathetic, perfectionistic, emotional, and extremely curious. A lover of learning. An overthinker. A book-nerd.
Maybe you have been called a know-it-all, a showoff, or a geek. Maybe you have been told to slow down, quiet down, or dumb down. Maybe you have been told that you are too intense, too smart, too anxious, or too much. Or that you ask too many questions.
Those would be clues.
And, if you are gifted, if you do have a rainforest mind, it is important that you know this. It is important because you might otherwise be misdiagnosing yourself or feeling shame, guilt, or existential depression for what feels like no reason. You may be paralyzed by high expectations and standards, and pressure to be perfect.
Knowing that you are gifted can be the information you need to find that self-understanding and self-acceptance that is still out of reach.
But you may have learned that giftedness is one or more of these things: 4.0 grade point average. Super high achievement. Great talent. Eminence. High IQ. Financial success. Nobel prizes. Rocket launches.
I mean, it might include any of those things, sure, but it doesn’t have to.
Instead, here is what gifted looks like in my psychotherapeutic world.
Gifted looks like Ebony. Sixteen. Intense. Talks fast, thinks fast, moves fast. Asks questions no one can answer. Struggles in school. Doesn’t turn in papers that aren’t up to her standards. Procrastinates to avoid feeling like a failure if she gets less than an A. Tries to engage her classmates in some intellectual repartee when all they want is to watch Netflix. Some teachers think she’s arrogant. Feels a spiritual and intuitive connection to the ocean and the ravens. Lonely for a friend who gets her and who has read Lord of the Rings 11 times.
Gifted looks like Carlos. Forty-two. Self-taught, successful IT expert. Highly sensitive, empathetic, and emotional (although he hides it well). Bullied in school because he preferred grasshoppers and string theory to football. Spends hours writing a three-sentence email. Repeats himself often in an effort to be deeply understood and to calm his anxiety. Researches for days in order to make a decision. A slower, deliberate, deep thinker and processor. Learning to dance the Argentine tango so that he can finally experience being followed.
Gifted looks like Martin. Eight. Energetic. Extremely curious and kind. Wants to be Richard Feynman for Halloween. Refuses to complete worksheets of arithmetic problems that he already knows. Teachers complain that he must be ADHD and not particularly bright but he can concentrate for hours at home, building complex Lego contraptions or reading Popular Science. Sleeps with a dictionary when he does sleep, which he resists mightily. Exhausts his parents with his emotions and his need for creative and intellectual activity.
Gifted looks like Frances. Fifty-nine. After running her own children’s bookstore, raising two kids and their friends, volunteering on the board for the ballet, and remodeling her home, she’s in her latest job working as a city planner. She’s considering going back to school for another Masters degree because she’s always wanted to be an art therapist or a landscape architect or a stand-up comedian. She thinks she’s flakey or shallow because she’s walked so many different career paths. Her sense of social responsibility keeps her awake most nights. Her intuitive abilities frighten her.
Gifted looks like Carmen. Thirty-six. A successful social worker and loving mom who promotes energy efficiency everywhere she goes. Been in therapy for years courageously addressing serious trauma from her family of origin. Dealing with complex physical symptoms due to chronic anxiety from growing up terrified and abused. In spite of her own pain, able to be generous, empathetic, optimistic, spiritual, and accomplished. Working on setting better boundaries with people who want her to rescue them. Learning how to create reliable, sweet friendships where she receives as much as she gives.
That is what gifted looks like. Ebony, Carlos. Martin. Frances. Carmen. Rainforest minds. Knowing that some of their distress at school, at work, in relationships, and in their own inner worlds was the result of their gifted traits was a relief and a place to start the healing process.
Do any of these profiles fit you? Or some combination of these profiles?
And if you need just a little more convincing that you are, indeed, like the rainforest, here’s Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s definition of the tropical rainforest from his must-read book, We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet:
“The feeling of being in the rainforest is the feeling of being surrounded by life. It’s home for hundreds of thousands of animals, and their survival is connected to the survival of us all. The magnificence of the rain forest is something powerfully sacred, something so clearly worth protecting... the rainforest is one of the most important biomes on the planet for human survival… it offers us an unbelievable abundance of nourishment and resources…”
Sounds just like you.
Paula Prober is a licensed psychotherapist, consultant, author, blogger, and tango dancer in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. She consults internationally with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. Her book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released by GHF Press in 2016. Her second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019. Paula blogs at Your Rainforest Mind, a blog in support of the excessively curious, creative, smart, and sensitive.