Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

Managing Your Smartness — A Guide For The Underwhelmed And Overwhelmed


photo courtesy of Jakob Boman, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy of Jakob Boman, Unsplash, CC

You’re capable. You’re fast thinking. You draw accurate conclusions when everyone else is still lollygagging. You’re at the finish line when others are just leaving the starting gate.

Your coworkers would benefit from your insight if only they could realize that it’s insight. But they don’t understand your leaps and you’re tired of filling in the blanks. So you sound unreasonable or outlandish.

You’re thorough. You’re deep thinking. You analyze the complicated ramifications when everyone else is preoccupied with, well, shopping. You’re scuba diving when others are water skiing.

Your friends and family members would benefit from your perceptions and sensitivity if only they could realize that it’s your rainforest mind and not an obsessive compulsive disorder. But you’ve been labeled dramatic, depressed and delusional so you’re the one in therapy.

Sound familiar? Am I in your head?

Well, then, of course, you feel like a weirdo, like a freak, like you don’t belong. You’re underwhelmed and overwhelmed.

This is especially true if you were a little tyke in a dysfunctional family. At an early age, you had extra amounts of empathy and intelligence. And you probably felt the weight of responsibility.

You still do.

So, here are some ideas that might help.

First, remind yourself that just because you have lots of skills and abilities and you can solve others’ problems, doesn’t mean that you have to step in and rescue them or take that terrible job or say ‘yes’ to every request.

Do you hear me? Reread that paragraph again, please.

It’s great that you’re so capable but it’s important to have boundaries and limits and to take time to nourish yourself. If you take care of yourself, you’ll be better able to help when the situation is appropriate. Practice this phrase when someone (including your child) asks for something : Oh. Interesting. Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you. Then, take a breath and think about it.

If you’re frustrated at your workplace and looking for support, get a copy of Rebels At Work and join their community. The authors, Medina and Kelly, write and talk about ways creative, complex thinkers can work to change the system. You’ll see that you’re not alone and you’re not delusional.

If you’re a parent, it’s especially important that you know your limits and take time for self-care. The parent bloggers here and here offer great advice.

If you’re introverted, Susan Cain‘s book and community provide support and suggestions. If you’re extroverted, you may be particularly distressed. Because you have greater needs for interactions with humans, and because rainforest minds can be hard to find, you may feel extreme underwhelmedness. Look for activities that appeal to you through Join an online group such as Start your own meetup group, book group, astronomical society or online community.

Remember: It’s normal for you to be both underwhelmed and overwhelmed because of your effervescent, multi-dimensional, perceptive rainforest mind. Managing your smartness isn’t easy. All of those mosquitoes, monkeys and tangled vines. It’s a very very busy place.


To my blogEEs: Do you often feel underwhelmed or overwhelmed or both? Do you tend to volunteer to help when you’d really rather not? Do you take on too much responsibility? Is it hard to set limits with others? What resources remind  you to take care of yourself? And thank you for reading and sharing. I love hearing from you!

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.

65 thoughts on “Managing Your Smartness — A Guide For The Underwhelmed And Overwhelmed

  1. Greatly enjoying your book, Paula! The references for further reading are excellent, as are your explanations and suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate your repetition of the word “underwhelmed.” I’m beginning to think that a lot of my depression is simply boredom. Oh, I’m busy, but I’m just helping people fix their chainsaws because that’s my paid job (reference previous posts on chainsaw people). I never get a chance to stretch my brain.

    Liked by 1 person

    • When I had a job that engaged my body much more than my mind, I did some of my best and deepest thinking. I would read something interesting before work, then process it while I was in the field. That job was literally in a field so I think nature helped my thinking process, but it might work while manipulating chainsaw bits too. I also have a gifted friend who enjoyed his job as a truck driver because it gave him lots of thinking time.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hear, hear! The best non-career job I ever had was dishwasher in a pizza joint one summer in college. Dirty -> clean, dirty -> clean, all shift long — and I wasn’t distracted by small-talk with customers or servers. I memorized poetry and drafted essays (mentally) while scrubbing pans and folding pizza boxes. I felt like the richest person in the place.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Makes sense, ARY, that you found a way to make the job work for you!


      • I used to be the same way. In my present job, however, I have had to deal with noxious diesel fumes, obnoxious overwhelming noises like cement saws, garbage trucks, trains, etc. etc….it has become awful. I drive a small bus in a downtown location. Not to mention idiot drivers who will test your patience to its limit. So I guess I’m commenting from the standpoint of yeah, physical jobs are great in that respect, but if you work in a hostile aural environment, it can really suck.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve definitely seen rainforest-minded folks with depression because they aren’t intellectually stimulated.


    • Between the ages of 12 and 20 I was intensely focused on becoming a professional ski racer. I didn’t care much about winning or competition, I was simply addicted to the few minutes per week of intense adrenaline plus the constant novelty of traveling through beautiful mountainous locales inherent to that lifestyle.

      It’s no mystery to me that I became very depressed within a year of quitting skiing. Life without daily grand vistas and extreme life-threatening sports lays bare everything underwhelming about modern life, plus of course whatever problems you’re running from.

      Drugs, alcohol, loud music (HUH!? WHAT DID YOU SAY??) are bandaids on a lack of proper stimulation. I’ve seen many exciting but under-excited peers die from attempts to self-medicate their underwhelming lives.

      That is a long way of saying I understand where you are coming from. Sorry I cannot offer any solutions as I struggle day to day to find the right ones while avoiding the destructive ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. As always, it’s like you are inside my brain!

    My job uses the StrengthsFinder program as a way of developing our understanding of everyone’s different ways of thinking. No one was surprised that I’m a combination of constant learner (Learner, Input, Intellect) and helpfulness (Connectedness and Restorative). My boss describes me as “Strengths Overdone”: while none of these traits are bad on their own, taken to excess they lead to complete and utter burnout. (While also constantly dodging a misunderstood, but loving, reputation for being a “know-it-all”.) This statement has become my mantra to find balance: “…just because you have lots of skills and abilities and you can solve others’ problems, doesn’t mean that you have to step in and rescue them…” Remembering that sometimes, people don’t WANT to be rescued. Curbing your own intensity, while also being true to yourself. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  4. You are so overwhelming that you make difficult tasks look easy. Your co workers are underwhelmed when they see you get all the easy tasks.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I hope this is not off-topic, though this topic did get inside my head and get me thinking about the following things:

    My father was a bully (a bonafide chainsaw in Proberian terms). My mother is for the most part a meek, quiet person.
    I always assumed my father’s “chainsawing” was a big source of much of my problems growing up gifted and my later difficulties adjusting to the adult world, and that my mother merely lacked the inner strength to protect me from him. Mom has never done much to contradict this story line.

    But lately I have been questioning this assumption. As I learn more about being gifted and become more assertive, this seems to be creating new problems between my Mom and I. I am beginning to suspect that she has always played the victim as a strategy to always be seen as innocent and neutral, and as an excuse for avoiding responsibility. A recent disagreement where she waved off my point of view to paint me as the aggressor who “makes her feel like a child” was a big tip-off.

    Of course this is not the kind of “aha” moment that comes as a welcome surprise! Nobody wants to think dear, sweet mother is actually a secret manipulator, nor is casting oneself as the victim to your own mother’s manipulation very appealing. And then there is the ever-present feeling that it’s all in my own selfish head, a desperate attempt to rationalize my own failings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Proberian terms?! Mark, I think one of the downsides of the gifted brain analyzing everything is that you can discover some unwelcome information. I’m so sorry if this is true about your mom. Maybe it can give you more insight into your own struggles. Try to be gentle with yourself. I will continue to be Proberian.

      Liked by 2 people

      • You coined the term, thus it is “Proberian”. I salute you for inventing terms to better get your point across. 🙂

        You are right, I think it does give me insight into my struggles, plus it is making me more aware of my own tendency to play the victim. But gosh, you are bang on the money about discovering unwelcome information. Sometimes my curiosity and analyzing gets me to places where I feel like a trespasser or even a peeping Tom! Plenty of people don’t like the feeling you can see right through them.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I read it twice. Thank you. Just because I have superpowers doesn’t mean I can save everyone… nor is it my job to do so. Sometimes, it’s really hard to see people fall flat when you may have been able to catch them… But then again, sometimes you both end up flat on your faces that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tx for this article. Much appreciated… What I just read made me realize… Zelda, it is time OUT!!! Urgent… I allowed myself to be caught in too much…and I do not easy get tired, but lately just sit down and the next minute I am fast asleep. I Enjoyed time with my close to 3 year old Grandson… Inter-Gifted too… he, same as me is ambidextrous…. my whole system is depleted because I allowed for too long to “Catch” other humans and situations. Dead dog tired…. Need Zelda time.
    I also do Life Blood Analysis and did 4 clients this morning.. 2, 2 and 3 year old kids… stressful. And tonight my little Blood Grandson pricked his OWN little finger… and was behind the Huge microscope… he was bored with the Image on my laptop… I phoned my daughter and told her to come pick him up… I bumped into myself… Tired beyond.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Tx Laura… Yes I know. But trying to relax with amazing German music. Soon off to bed… Seeing more humans 2 morrow for Life Blood Analysis. Thank You and Everybody in this Inter-gifted blog… Now I am beginning to Understand and learning how to cope with …. this,
    Geniality… I have No words… just shaking my head… Finally!!! At Last…. Now I understand so much….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Zelda. You may have posted this in the wrong location? Not sure who Laura is. This isn’t Intergifted. But I put it here anyway, just in case you meant to post it here! I know you said you’re exhausted. Go get some rest!


  9. Hi Paula,

    If you would care to comment on a related, I hope, issue, that would be great. One of the most annoying aspects of my current line of work, teaching English as a second language to kids, is having to prepare absolutely ridiculously simplistic lesson plans that make no sense to me. I have no idea what they want. Are there people who need these plans in order to do the job? But I just teach the kids whatever they need to know, have trouble with or have an interest in. These plans are meaningless at best and shackles at worst. I generally don’t do them very well since I don’t really know what it’s for other than to mollify overly anxious parents who are themselves clueless as to what their child actually needs. I have not felt comfortable telling them I don’t use these plans and don’t understand why they need them.

    Now I am taking on a second part-time job at a different place. Do you think there’s anyway to get out of doing such worthless activities?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember when I was a teacher years ago, lesson plans were required in some of the teaching situations. In my experience, some people need them and others don’t. I think I wrote them but didnt always follow them. ‘t sounds so frustrating that, for you, it’s unnecessary busywork. I guess it depends on who is requiring the plans and if you could make a logical case why you don’t need them. Some administrators aren’t flexible or think it’s “fair” that everyone have the same requirements. So, I don’t know, hksounds. It probably depends on your particular situation. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for thinking about it. I’ll try to muddle through the “planning.” I guess it’s a bit like religion, some people need it but I have no idea why. Still, you sort of have to indulge them or they’ll do bad things to you.
        ( Screen this out, if you find it offensive or think your other readers might.) I’ll understand.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. This is so well said. I think I feel both overwhelmed and underutilized. I find it helpful to think about whether I am actually being helpful by wanting to save the world (often by tearing down the current system). In many cases, my over-reaction is actually hurtful to others, when what they really want is someone who will listen to and encourage them to solve their problems themselves. This can be a relief, finding out that just listening makes a difference for them, even though I’m aware of a more dire big picture that needs attention too!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. “…doesn’t mean you have to take that terrible job…” Sometimes I think you’re a mind reader. Other times I think it must just be that I’m constantly troubled. How sad is that? But seriously, I turned down a job a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been feeling guilty about it ever since. It’s not what I need right now. It’s not going to help me give my family what they need right now. It doesn’t pay much of anything at all. So why am I feeling so guilty from walking away from it? Just a rhetorical question, but thanks, once again, for the moral support. I read your book a couple of weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll pass it on to a friend. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Yes! Underwhelmed at my part time job because I get things done quickly, no lollygagging here. However, I consider the time there a time to rest from the rest of my overwhelmed life, part time fiber business, teaching, writing a grant to get funding while raising my five children(homeschooling one gifted sensitive child this year, somehow). I think long and hard before saying yes any more and only do anything if I think it will add to the happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Yes, overwhelmed and underwhelmed describes the balancing act of smartness just perfectly. In fact, this posting helped me articulate the struggle I’ve been having with your wonderful much needed book, Paula. I adore and wanted to put to immediate use the many resources you share, have been marinating in the depth of understanding from your insight, then suddenly finding that I am overwhelmed by my own energetic reaction to so much wonderfully useful information. Please don’t misunderstand, not criticism, this is my own unrestrained reaction to your very useful work. It’s not at all strange how the characteristics of giftedness can be seen as pathology–intensity, sensitivity, perfectionism, difficulty feeling understood, difficulty being understood….is this women quite out of her mind? Thankfully, we know better! The book is powerful, and dense with useful information and understanding. If I may offer a suggestion (perhaps to myself more than anyone else) to read smaller amounts than you may be accustomed to. I’m rereading and finding that small segments of the book provide fertile ground for new ideas, ways of thinking and a depth of truly heart felt support. Just a bit at a time is much easier for me to digest, without getting overwhelmed by the plethora of ideas I tend to develop when I read too much in one sitting. I’m also understanding that the overwhelm spots are issues I can spend more time with when I’m ready. Once more, I am grateful for this safe community and venue for sharing and insight that you have had the courage to create, Paula. I love your book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience of my book, agingpotential! This is not the first time I’ve heard someone say that they need to read slowly or reread the book more than once! I think because I’m so familiar with the material, I had no idea that it would have this kind of impact. And I didn’t want it to be the kind of self-help book that just repeated itself over and over. (so maybe I over-compensated!!) It’s very helpful to read your thoughts and to see how you’re approaching my book.


  14. Why was this tagged ‘extroversion’?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Here’s why: “If you’re extroverted, you may be particularly distressed. Because you have greater needs for interactions with humans, and because rainforest minds can be hard to find, you may feel extreme underwhelmedness.” It’s not all about extraversion but it’s mentioned. Thus, the tag.


  15. This article is changing my life. That sounds really dramatic, but it’s true. Thank God/Universe/Goddess/doG/[insert letters here] for people like you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for letting me know, Beth. Happy to help!


    • Right? Is this truly not an act of courage to say this stuff out loud? It’s still hard for me to relax entirely and take it all in. However, with each post, and every comment I realize this is real, vital to ones well being, so grateful for a real live community of deep, conscientious, thinking, and kind, thoughtful folks facilitated by a truly amazing Paula Prober. Right! Thank (insert preference) for people like you! Thank you for saying so, Beth, I’m so glad you did!

      Liked by 1 person

  16. On an entirely separate note, I am wondering, Paula, how your Webinar went with SENG? Unhappily I missed it, and hope it will be posted for later viewing. Can you say if it will be posted later please, Paula?

    For those that don’t know, SENG stands for Supporting Emotional Needs of Gifted, a national non-profit that supports gifted individuals and families in many ways, Paula did a webinar this past Thursday on adult giftedness, misunderstanding and misdiagnoses. As a parent who has shepherded two bright children through school and soon into young adulthood, I became seriously involved in the gifted community in a variety of ways. I can say with great frankness and empathy that we are desperately in need of this kind of support and understanding for gifted adults. Parents of gifted kids suffer tremendous anxiety and concern for their gifted children, and frequently enough because they themselves are learning they are gifted for the first time, or being reminded that their uniqueness is life long. It comes with a flood of feelings, questions, and even doubts and denial. As adults recognizing or even simply suspecting this is true we are just as much in need of support and understanding as children. Being unusually bright is very very complicated by a plethora of misunderstanding and shame. I applaud you all for being a part of this critically important community to bring much needed light and understanding to the subject of adult giftedness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The webinar will be available on the SENG website probably in a couple of weeks. They sell the SENGinars through their site and it’s a great way to support the organization. I think it went fairly well although my perfectionism kicked in and since I’m not the greatest speaker I was somewhat uncomfortable throughout. But it was well attended and, like you say, agingpotential, there’s a lot of interest in the topic. I just said a few too many “ums” along the way! And the question and answer section at the end, well, I do better when I have time to THINK before answering. So it was less than stellar! For my darling bloggEEs, much of the information will be familiar. And I’ll be sharing more of the ideas in future posts. But if you want to hear this information in a different format and if you want to experience my sultry (!) voice, you’ll be able to find it on their site. If you don’t see it in a few weeks, you might send an email and ask when it’ll appear. Thank you for asking, agingpotential! And thank you for being here and sharing your thoughts!


  17. Great points, Paula. I wonder how much of the “helper” mindset is encouraged in school when teachers expect gifted students to help the other students, to minimize their abilities, to rescue others when there are problems?

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Pingback: Newsletter 5/2017 – Learn & Enjoy

  19. Wow, Paula. Way to go replying to ALL the comments! I’ve never seen they before! 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Hello Paula & All,
    Thank you for this:

    First, remind yourself that just because you have lots of skills and abilities and you can solve others’ problems, doesn’t mean that you have to step in and rescue them or take that terrible job or say ‘yes’ to every request.

    I wish someone had said that to me years ago, Paula! Just because you can doesn’t mean you should or have to, most especially when people don’t appreciate you for what you bring to the table. Though it’s late in life I’m learning that giftedness is indeed a gift and you the owner of the gift gets to decide when & how you want to use it.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve touched base here, but just wanted to share that this way of being in the world desperately needs like thinking company like you’ll find here. I’ve been finding those things for myself and really learning how to approach my gifted aspects with a very different attitude. Read Paula’s book. It’s like a warm blanket of reassurance that you’re more than just OK. It’s called self advocation, work that I taught my gifted children that I just recently learned that kind of thinking can be applied to adults, too! Your intensity, sensitivity and drive all have a purpose, and with a bit of help you’ll find out what that is. Check out other resources, InterGifted, SENG, etc. Today, the gifted world is doing some great work addressing giftedness for adults!

    Wishing you all like thinking company and the support of the many new resources out there to guide you through this journey called giftedness. Though it’s far too often misunderstood, it has the potential to bring great pleasure to you, and then when you choose perhaps to others!
    Warm regards,

    Liked by 2 people

    • Katherine, thank YOU! I love what you say about giftedness being a …. gift! I think for so many of us here, because of how often we feel out of step with others often, we certainly don’t feel like we have any gifts. But it’s just as you said, they’re often not recognized by others. I’ll always remember what a wonderful career counselor said to me when I was in college. ‘You work with more information’, she reminded me, often. It’s just so challenging, isn’t it, to ‘see’ what is obvious to us but not to the neuro-typical person.

      I’m in the midst of a career change / upgrade, and it’s been super challenging, because I must change so many negative thinking patterns. But you’re absolutely right – I do have gifts, I just need to find the right job where I can plug them in so they can be utilized fully. And yes I’ve fallen in that trap, of accepting sub-par jobs, sub-par friendships, erasing my self in many small ways. A plus of aging, of coming to terms with one’s fallibility and ending of life, is that it motivates you to stride toward more authenticity in every area of one’s life!

      And thank you, Paula! It’s so wonderful that you created and maintain this blog for us – a blog for the gifted sloggers, slogging through life sometimes!


    • Glad you see you here again, Katherine. Thank you for your encouraging advice. And for recommending my book! 🙂


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