Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

Shame and Resilience–Chainsaws in Your Childhood


You are like the rain forest. Highly sensitive, colorful, intense, and complicated. Vulnerable to chainsaws. And the chainsaws are everywhere. They’re the coworkers who can’t keep up with you. The relatives who think you’re too sensitive. The teachers who want you to stifle your effervescence. The friends who disappear when you forget to modify your vocabulary. The neighbors who paint their houses orange.

But what if the chainsaws lived with you? What if they were your parents?

photo by Dave Young creative commons flickr

photo by Dave Young creative commons flickr

Being a psychotherapist, I know a lot about chainsaw parents. It’s my specialty. And like many counselors, I studied them in my own childhood.

If, in your family, there was abuse, neglect, shame, rage or fear, in some form or another, you suffered. You were changed by it. You found ways to cope by blaming yourself or parenting your parents or escaping into addictions. You found ways to cope by getting good grades in school or getting bad grades in school. You found ways to cope by reading Lord of the Rings twelve times. You found ways to cope by hiding your radiance and shutting down access to your true Self.

And now you’re living with the results. Anxiety, self-doubt, depression, shame. Oddly enough, it doesn’t show. Right? You’ve learned how to cope so well that you’ve managed to put together a good life. Maybe you have a fulfilling career. Maybe you have a compassionate partner. Maybe you’re raising your children in a loving, safe, trustworthy home. Maybe you didn’t become a serial killer.

This is what your rainforest mind has done for you. It’s made you resilient. Because even with all of the shame, fear and self-deprecation, your rainforest-y soul kept you off of Skid Row.

Now, I’m not saying that you don’t need therapy. There’s definitely work to be done. Lots of work. Good therapy or some other deep healing modality can make an enormous difference in how you view who you are. And how you live.

What I’m saying is that just because you’ve been resilient, doesn’t mean the chainsaw parents weren’t impactful. You may be minimizing the dysfunction you experienced because you turned out OK.

Don’t do that.

Instead, I’d recommend that you–

jinterwas flickr creative commons

jinterwas flickr creative commons

1. Thank your rainforest mind for its fabulousness.

2. Find a therapist who knows his or her way around the jungle.

3. Recognize that it’s now safe to be your radiant Self.


To my bloggEEs: I know that it may be hard to be your bright shining Self, for numerous reasons. In future posts, I’ll write about that and help you sort through the obstacles. I also know that this post may not apply to you. I’m writing about my personal experiences with gifted adults and there’s great variety within that population. Not everyone comes from a seriously dysfunctional family! So, don’t be discouraged if this post or another one isn’t quite right for you. OK?  In the comments, let us know your thoughts and questions.


This blog is part of a collection of posts by various writers on the topic of giftedness in adults. To read more, click on the image below.1546415_10204610136200684_2591280822836276826_n




Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My 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.

71 thoughts on “Shame and Resilience–Chainsaws in Your Childhood

  1. And if your spouse is a chainsaw? At least most of us move out of our parents home, but how does one stop the chain saw effect from our “other half?” And yes, his family members are powerful chainsaws, most probably the root of his current issues – that have now affected me and our children as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, Sue. I’m so sorry. That’s the thing. We may move out of our parents’ home but we often bring the issues with us. Couples counseling can be good but if your spouse isn’t interested, your own counseling can help you get support and a deeper understanding of what’s going on and what to do about it. Thanks for writing.


  2. Terrific post, Paula. I’d love to see more about the connection between chainsaw parents and gifted kids – especially 2e kids. That’s a topic that gets overlooked. Those kids grow up to become adults, and some get a handle on it while others, sadly, never do.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I feel like I have people in my life with chainsaw moments, but they aren’t chainsaws completely. My parents fit this description. Sometimes people don’t get me, and in those moments they can be my chainsaws, but a lot of other times they are supportive and helpful and great. Of course, this makes me want to hide the things that bring out the chainsaw moments, and I do have a few people in my life that are just chainsaws all the time.

    Looking forward to more on this topic!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Stephanie, it’s likely that most people aren’t cutting us down all of the time. I think it can be necessary to choose when to be vulnerable and when to be more self-protective. Maybe that’s a better way to describe it. We have “chainsaw moments.” Thanks.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. What a fabulous way to think of it–“chainsaw parenting.” Well done, Paula, as usual. (I just *knew* you’d come up with some great new concept for this hop.)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. this really resonates with me. when i talk about my childhood to the close friends, many ask how i became the mother i am today. while i can cognitively reason some of those answers, i often explain it like a dog who’s been through the wringer – some come out still loving life and humans, others, well, don’t fare so well. i’ll anxiously be awaiting more posts about these chainsaw parents. the good news is – i’ve learned how to identify those chainsaws and toss them out the door – ok, so it told about 35-45 years…but i’m a work in progress.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Paula you nailed it. Chainsaw father (Aspergers/narcissist) with a weak mom. Worked very hard in my 20’s to get away from them, even not speaking to them for a long time. Should have stayed away. It took only one phrase to cut me down again and now I have this in my own family with my own sensitive kids.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s hard to know how much contact to have with the chainsaw parents. When they’re really abusive, getting away may be the only way to keep yourself safe. Of course, the effects often continue. But that’s where therapy comes in. Thanks, Julie

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, I agree. It’s incredibly important to identify your “chainsaws” – and then, walk away from them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great description of the difficult challenges so many children face, and how the aftereffects linger into adulthood. Gifted individuals, with their heightened sensitivity, may be even more emotionally distressed. Really well-written and helpful.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Hello Paula 🙂 been a while it feels like but you absolutely were in my head this time… Yes chainsaw parenting and chainsaw teachers and relatives. So they werent just chainsaw people they owned the company. So yes all of those applied I became a great vocabulary people and reader and perfect and an overachiever and it has served me….but I also struggled with more mental and other challenges that would stop an elephant…good thing I am gifted! So I am beginning to own my wonderful self and learning how to navigate the average ( primitive ) world while being able to be me! 🙂 thanks Paula I bet you are an awesome counsellor to see 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  11. I couldn’t even finish the post without a tissue… So well written and touched every nerve that usually stay buried. “The relatives who think you’re too sensitive.” If I had a penny for every time I heard this! I was so eager to get away from the original source of pain, I jumped right into the fire with an abusive husband. Somehow I managed to see the light and grew the courage to leave. Dang trying to create boundaries for chainsaws is HARD, especially multiples! Sometimes the walls are up even when it is safe… But I work EXTRA hard at clearing a path for my sensitive kiddos! Thank you Paula! Your posts seem to always be perfectly timed, a beacon offering direction.

    Liked by 4 people

    • There’s a lot that you say here that readers will relate to, Black Sheep. Finding an abusive partner after coming from an abusive home. The courage it takes to leave. How hard it is to set boundaries. How the walls stay up even when it’s safe. Thanks for sharing your insights. Good to hear from you, as always.


  12. Yup, just was told of abuses I suffered at the hands of a parent when I was very young by a sibling who saw it happen. I knew I had a deep seated disconnect from my mother as I was growing up. I just never knew why. The rage was there, but not the memory. I just knew I was mad at her. Luckily my mother and I are close today, but she is old and has memory issues now, so I see no point in bringing it up to her. But being validated by my sister is somehow a relief. I am sure it shaped who I am though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Darleen, my relationship with my dad is like that. He’s older now, and he has no power over me. I do have a great relationship with him, largely because it’s like these were two different people entirely. It’s clear to me how his issues were handed down in the family – a bunch of brilliant but misunderstood 2e folks in a time and place where that was just not OK.

      Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so sorry to hear that Darleen. I know how it helps to have validation from a sibling. Thank you for sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I remember one time, as an adult, I looked my father straight in the eye and told him “I don’t have time for nay-sayers.” He was speechless.

    That was one of the last times I ever saw my father. It was an odd moment of strength in his presence. Now that I look back I can see how that moment was the tipping point in me reclaiming myself. Sometimes that’s all it takes, one well placed comment that shakes things up and sets the reclaiming wheels in motion. Thank you for another wonderful post, Paula. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  14. This post was the one that really spoke to me, the one I needed to hear. Not for my gifted child, but for me. I grew up in a chainsaw community in the deep South where strict social mores were many and appearances were critically important. Steps away from the expectations were judged harshly. I never thought of myself as gifted and even as I write this, I feel like I am lying about my intelligence, but I did a lot of stuffing and hiding and changing growing up, and I learned to like what I wasn’t meant to like. Paula, I love your metaphors, your analogies because it makes everything so crystal clear! Thank you from the bottom of my heart for opening my eyes!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m so glad I can help you see yourself as the radiant gifted woman that you are, Celi. You write about this topic because it’s deeply inside of you, as well as in your kids. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.


  15. Thank you for this post, Paula. I appreciate the definition of rain forest mind as resilient. I know I made it through my childhood by trying to fix, manage and control my family members. They in their turn did not like my “criticism” of them, which is how they saw it. Perhaps true in part.

    However. I did become an addict and I did recover from it. The resilience and rain forest mind of multiple solutions helped a lot.

    And now my entire family has exercised their right to use their chain saws, and I’ve learned some ways to create that space around myself. The chain saws have not been set down but they are not near me any longer.

    Should they try to return, I can stand at the door of my rain forest mind and refuse them passage. My rain forest deserves that protection, and today I know it and I know how to do it.

    And yes, therapy has been an important part of this process for me. And if it ever comes up again, I know where I can go.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hmm just wandered here from a link from a link. This post makes sense. I haven’t turned out ok though. I am having some negative feelings right now.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. For me, one of the bigger challenges around shame and resiliency is the felt sense of invisibility I experience when I try to tell someone that I am hurting. In my subjective sense, it’s like being trapped in a a box made out of those thick glass privacy bricks used for bathroom windows and basements. I’m frantically pounding on the inside of the locked box desiring, dare I say, NEEDING help, but people never hear and only dimly see. There is a trapped feeing that comes with being resilient. Your pain is never quite as “valid” as the rest of the world’s.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Thank you for your post. Everyday is still a struggle for me to not let the anxiety/shame/self-doubt take hold. Chainsaw parents…what a brilliant term. One parent is practically a chainsaw factory, and she’s passed the traits on to my sister. It is difficult to be around them but I practice respect (self and outward) and moderation in company. Even still…

    I can’t seem to get my feet planted in the real world. I’ve become so ‘quirky’ in my giftedness (and ADD combo) that the traditional workplace chews me up and spits me out, no matter how smart, dedicated or customer-oriented I am. I received glowing praise from customers and head office at my last job and was let go the day before my probationary period ended because they felt I just didn’t “fit”. There were no concrete examples or stages of constructive criticism…just one day a phone call “We don’t need you to come in anymore. If you have things here, please let me know when you will pick them up and we will have someone escort you.” It was hurtful, though I focused on my present moment to figure out what comes “next”.

    11 months later, I run a free-lance “patchwork” life, as I call it. I can’t cover all my bills, sinking further in debt and am now wondering how I could possibly use my gifted so-called ‘gift’ for anything practical. I have no peers and endless acquaintances, no money and endless jobs, no hope with endless skills…I can’t afford regular fresh groceries let alone therapy. I keep pushing forward and keep wondering when things will ever feel stable or..nice. I usually have a happy disposition. I’m just…stumped.

    -Lost in the Normal World

    Liked by 3 people

  19. Thank you so much Paula, I haven’t seen this one yet!! I’ll check it out 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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  21. Thank you. I can’t even put ny thoughts into words right now. My dad was an alcoholic. We were working class/low income and the support I received for my education vascillated depending on the teacher I received or the intensity of the drama at home. Some years were grueling. I did try to escape to my grades and I was a 12 year old therapist for my mom. Now that my dad is sober & I have a womderful husband, children, a house in the country and all the support in the world to explore every possibility that excites me…I still feel trapped. I still feel held back. And like you wrote, now I feel like I have no excuse for that because thinhs are so great. You have convinced me once and for all to find a therapist.

    Can you recommend anyone experienced with gifted adults in the southern Vermont area?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those experiences in our childhood don’t usually leave our psyche even if we’re able to make good choices as adults. I don’t know anyone in Vermont but has a therapist directory which can be a place to start. Also asking friends for referrals can work. There are lists of professionals at and although the lists aren’t long yet. One idea is to meet with a few people until you feel intuitively that you have the right fit. Ask lots of questions! There are also some lists of professionals at the talent website. Good for you! Therapy can make a huge difference.


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  23. Thanks so much for this analogy, Paula, I’m going to find it useful for the ongoing project of reframing!

    Liked by 1 person

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  25. I’ve come back to re-read this post on at least four separate occasions, and each time I tear up. For me, it was subtle rather than severe dysfunction, and because it was subtle, I didn’t recognize it, and all the coping mechanisms I’d adopted, til near my 40th year.

    This attitude: “This is what your rainforest mind has done for you. It’s made you resilient. Because even with all of the shame, fear and self-deprecation, your rainforest-y soul kept you off of Skid Row.” … and being thankful for my mind for helping avoid some of the more likely obstacles I could’ve stumbled over, I’m not sure I would’ve ever looked at the situation this way on my own, but it’s really helpful for me. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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  29. Just found this post via another post, and it’s so helpful. Yes, I had two chainsaw parents (what an apt description!). I never thought to credit my rainforest mind for helping me survive a very difficult childhood, but I guess that explains what keeps pushing me to try to have a better life. I survived some really cruddy stuff without resorting to drugs or other unhealthy coping mechanisms (though inside I was a wreck). My mom in particular lived vicariously through me and pushed me to perform academically and artistically. It was so bad that when I was five years old I could look forward to being chastised if I brought home less than perfect work from kindergarten!

    Last year I had a bad breakdown after which I was diagnosed with OCD. Becoming a parent myself really ripped the bandaid off and made me revisit all that pain and suffering and fear in a new way…and it all finally came to a head. OCD makes things a whole lot more complicated for me because my mind gets “stuck”, but I’ve been working with a great counselor for a year now, and I’m doing better. I’m working now to discover who I really am and to have the courage to be that person instead of the one who my dysfunctional family has convinced me I am. Even positive change is scary. I resisted therapy for so long. Now I realize it is the best gift I could give myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  30. I just want to thank you most sincerely for the work you are doing. I came across your blog when a friend posted one of your articles. I thought I was going to find some help for a different friend who is dealing with her very gifted daughter, when instead EVERYTHING YOU SAY RESONATES WITH ME!! I never have really embraced my giftings and been completely ok with who I am created to be and this year I am working on that! I look forward to perusing your articles.

    Liked by 1 person

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  35. Thank you for your heart-warming article! I feel 2E is not only ADHD or ASD but also C-PTSD or dissociative disorder.  And sometimes I feel my intense imagination works as therapy. I hope many doctor’s and therapists learn about Rainforest Mind, and gifted adults notice who they are. In my country, there is few resources about gifted adults and dysfunctional families. So, I really appreciate your wonderful work!

    Liked by 1 person

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  38. Is there a way to get therapy when there is no access? Like, living in rural South Dakota? I know the most gifted therapists tend to do what most gifted people of any profession do, and high tail it for the coasts. But, are there any resources for people stuck in the middle of nowhere?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I actually know a great therapist in North Dakota (Jamestown)! That’s probably too far but you could contact her and see if she could guide you somewhere or work online with you. Her name is Jessie Fuher. Also, if you go to and type in your location, it will list therapists in your area. You could start there and see what you find. You might be surprised!


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  43. Ha. I do think I should claim achievement for not becoming a serial killer! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  44. Chainsaw parents growing up, multiple major trauma in infancy, childhood and later on again, probably inherited transgenerational trauma on top of it, highly sensitive, and according to some test taken about a year ago highly gifted. I will bluntly say that there were times when I couldn’t arrive at a different conclusion than something like “if there was a higher being or some sort of plan to all this, they’ll sure have a good laugh over the package I got ‘adorned’ with…”.

    There are so many injuries, challenges, no-no’s and whatnot that I seriously don’t know where to start (or with WHOM when speaking therapy; sometimes I can’t help but think I’d need an entire PACK of therapists at the same time – and yes, I read your other post on doing something like that, i.e. find a good therapist, do yoga, meditation, tango – I LOVE this idea! – etc.).

    I certainly can relate to that saying when people are frustrated with someone and go “what a piece of work (s)he is!” Can’t argue much on that….🙄

    Liked by 1 person

    • So, you’re dealing with A LOT, renovatio06. Not just the results of having a RFM but also trauma. You might want to read some Peter Levine or Bessel van der Kolk, if you haven’t already. Good research on the effects and what to do around early trauma.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m afraid that would be accurate, the A LOT part, yes. (see my other replies, and I apologize for “gushing” tonight, guess I’m becoming somewhat panicky as to that opportunity where I’ve entered into a formal application and now my courage somewhat backfiring on me a li’l…).

        Yes, read Peter Levine and familiarized myself with Dr. Porges’ polyvagal theory on top of it, with NARM by Laurence Heller, Bessel van der Kolk, of course. I’ve managed to do a lot regarding regulating my nervous system in day to day situations, but not yet again under PRESSURE! (both from deadlines as well as from other people getting a kick out of giving other people a hard time…). The proof is in the pudding, they say, and I think I’ve set myself up for a reality check after 10+ years of trying to get to the bottom of just what-the-heck it was that was “off” with me. Well…. I’ve found a lot of answers to that question, just… doing the work and working on the “solution” … hasn’t really happened yet. Because of the money situation. So, it looks as if I had to pull another “Baron Munchhausen” act and pulling myself out from the yuck by my bootstraps (and here’s to hoping they’ll hold…)

        Thank you, Paula! You really have a good crowd of RFMs here and you certainly always hit bull’s eye with your very accurate observations and sharing of experience as a therapist for the gifted (adults and children and/or parents). Can’t praise you enough! (and under different circumstances I’d have put my money where my mouth is…)

        Liked by 2 people

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