Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

What Does Gifted Look Like? Clearing Up Your Confusion


photo courtesy Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash, CC

People are astonished by how much you can do. You think you’re lazy. There’s so much that you’re not doing.

People tell you how smart you are. You feel dumb. You know how much you don’t know and you still haven’t decided what you want to be when you grow up.

People admire your (musical, artistic, mathematical, linguistic, etc.) talents. You think they’re patronizing you. You notice all of the mistakes you make. Surely, they do, too, but they’re too polite to mention them.

How is it possible that you see yourself as a lazy not-so-smart slacker and others see you as so-lucky-to-be-gifted? How can your sense of yourself be so different from how others see you?

Like life in the rain forest, it’s complicated.

Maybe it’s your super high expectations. You don’t realize that others don’t have similar standards. Doesn’t everyone want to create beauty, balance, harmony and justice all of the time? Don’t all people value precision?

Um, no.

Maybe it’s your enthusiasm for learning about, well, everything. Isn’t everyone obsessed with reading and researching multiple disparate topics instead of sleeping, which is such a waste of time? Aren’t all people thrilled that MIT is offering classes online? Doesn’t everyone dream of changing career paths every 3-5 years?

Not really.

Maybe it’s your capacity for observing and perceiving and noticing. Isn’t everyone bothered by the buzzing florescent lights, the crooked pictures on the wall, the house in your neighborhood that was painted chartreuse?


Maybe it’s your extra sensitivity and empathy. Can’t everyone feel the distress in the room? Isn’t everyone overwhelmed by the news? Don’t all humans want to save the world?


So, if you’re confused by the difference between the feedback that you get and your own self-perception, time to get unconfused. Maybe it’s your highest standards, your zest for learning, your keen capacity to perceive, your intense sensitivity and your exceptional empathy.

Maybe that is what gifted looks like.


To my bloggEEs: Thank you to the reader who suggested this topic. Let us know if you’ve lived with this confusion and what you think and feel about it. I appreciate hearing from you! By the way, there’s another factor that might contribute to your confusion: Growing up in a dysfunctional family. Find out more here and here.

There’s a new podcast interview of me. You can find it here. It’s a two-parter from Christy Harvey about gifted adults and parenting gifted kids.

And here’s an earlier podcast, if you haven’t heard it. This one is from Aurora Remember with a focus on me!


Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist 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 rain forest to describe this population. Like the rain forest, 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 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.

26 thoughts on “What Does Gifted Look Like? Clearing Up Your Confusion

  1. Engaged in all these thoughts and inspirations I got overwhelmed and burnt out. I’m trying to climb my way back- how have people found their way back? Did they get back to similar levels of inspirAtion?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Take a break and do something else. It’s cyclical. In time you learn to ride the waves and notice the seasons of your mind. There will be times that are extremely stimulating and ideas pour forth, and then you may find that you have no idea which one you are supposed to pay attention to and all becomes too much and seems to just fade away. Go read a book or do something practical for a while. Go for a nature ramble if you can. Sometimes all those thoughts and inspirations just need to lie, and integrate and you’ll find your way back to them in a completely different way at another stage of your life. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for the question Elizabeth. Dragonwyst has a lovely response for you!


  2. All. The. Time. — plus add the overwhelming *guilt* about being a “slacker” and not doing all the things I see that “need” doing (and doing *well*!). It’s exhausting. I have a great therapist who reminds me, “Do what you have the energy for.” But it seems I bounce back and forth between going at full throttle (and doing it all “correctly”), then — overwhelmed by exhaustion and what I didn’t get done — I simply collapse and zone out … which leads to more guilt. And so very few of my friends truly get it. Because they’re not bothered by all those things, or they don’t see them. (Of course, they may not see the joys and thrills quite so clearly or feel them so deeply either … but that’s hard to remember when I’m trying to surf through these ups and downs constantly.)

    Thanks for your posts. They’re so reassuring.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Paula, wonderful as always. Dare I add “Maybe it’s your frequent physical and mental exhaustion when the human nervous system you were born with simply doesn’t seem to match your velocity. And your determination and perseverance anyway!”.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, please dare, Maggie! Others have talked about the nervous system not being able to keep up with the mental velocity. It’s a real challenge! Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh my goodness, Andrea and Maggie, I can really relate. My nervous system cannot keep up with all the things I want to do, and today I’m really paying the price for that. I’ve recently discovered the relaxation power of Epsom salt baths. It’s always wonderful to read the comments here and see kindred spirits echoing my experiences….

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Banged my head against this last week. I switched on a PC in our recovery unit, which allows the recovery staff to see the monitor screens of the different operating theatres. Small thing. I was thanked. I said (knowing it would invoke a response) that I had previously been a mainframe programmer, so yes – I knew how to switch on a PC (I’m currently an anaesthetics nurse)
    “Get out!” exclaimed my colleague, with widening eyes. “You’re not a nurse. You’re different. Like all this sustainability stuff. You’re not a nurse. Nurses don’t care.”
    Well, I am a nurse – I just happen to be a nurse who has this bunch of other stuff going on – past history of computer programming, collecting diplomas – counselling, business management, journalism, short courses on weird things like starting NGOs, dealing with troubles kids….and now all the passion and everything going into my M.Ed(Social Ecology). I’m a nurse who gives a damn about how health care impacts the environment. Nurses do care. Nurses who think they don’t are the ones waiting for me to hurry up and figure out how best to create an inviting and inspiring narrative.

    For the younger folk here – I’m turning 52 this year. It’s now that everything is coming together. All those years of searching through things, doing different courses, seeking the “one thing” that mattered most….Often – very often we Rainforest Minded sorts are late bloomers. Don’t despair. the journey is what matters in all it’s parts and terrains.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I keep wondering when you’re going to cover the “you’re crazy” topic, Paula. For the creatively gifted, this is a daily challenge. And I could really use an article on it right now, myself. I’m in another one of my anti-social phases, inspired by a complete lack of understanding/ability to connect with others. Some of them gifted as well. I got too comfortable being myself again.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. What does gifted look like? This has been a very recent topic of engagement for me. It has become quite clear that I had some ‘other’ understanding of giftedness for most of my life; different to a lot of what is written about online. And sometimes similar.
    You see, I grew up in a family (mostly credited to my father) that valued intellectual prowess and academic and medical-related science. By an official test on intellectual capabilities, my older sibling was/is officially gifted and I was/am not. Though significantly more successful academically than my older sibling, I’ve never had the self-worth to match it. Still, she was supposed to be the clever one and I, the stupid one.
    My life, until recently, has been spent trying to make it in an academic science field. I’ve succeeded as long as I remained in it (with a genuine interest and aptitude stemming from seriously good intuition, understanding and observation of my natural environment) until extreme anxiety has diverted me. Invariably I’ve ended up filling the bulk of my days in the arts and creative fields – always planning and hoping to “get back into” the (natural) sciences. I’ve dumbed and numbed my deeper intuition and empathic traits to serve a more practical and intellectual facade – often laughing off the more emotional, creative and intuitive parts of myself.
    I have half a science degree and a full degree in the Arts. I’ve often felt reluctant to share with people the latter fact, preferring to be recognized as half-as-good in science instead of qualified in the arts. I’ll even go out on a limb and confess to being an amateur, self-taught player of the piano; not very skilled, but I get a deep and meaningful kick out of composing my own small melodies. I refuse to play in front of anyone because artistic ability, though appreciated, is not necessarily ‘enough’ in my family. Sadly, I’ve believed this for a long time too.
    My need to make it in the eyes of my family and their idea of ‘giftedness’ has always been an obstacle in the way of connecting with parts of myself that time and time again prove to be the most prominent features of who I seem to be – evidently. I’m still trying to learn how to value my obvious (to me) intuitive, empathic, intensely-feeling, creative self. I mean, how do you scientifically and mathematically explain to anyone what deep, profound inner-knowing and intuition is? I’ve habitually hidden this for fear of looking unintelligent or even loopy. C’est la vie. At least I’m beginning this new journey of self-discovery.

    Liked by 4 people

    • It’s a huge task to see who we really are and to value who we are in spite of how family members have seen us all our lives. And in spite of the ways they value a type of intelligence. For sure, academics and scientists can be gifted. There’s value in logical linear thinking. But also, the artists, the intuitives, the empaths can also be gifted!! And there’s great value in creative random nonlinear thinking!! And, yes, it may not be possible to explain profound inner knowing in a scientific mathematical way. Some people say that science hasn’t yet caught up with intuition yet. So, it’s a big job to accept it in ourselves in spite of not being able to logically justify it to others. I hope that my blog can support you in your journey!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So, SO beautiful, Paula. Thank you. I should read this every day. Sharing it with my 13yo daughter, too. So often I find myself wishing she could see herself as I (and others) see her. But perhaps I should stop getting frustrated and begin accepting that this is part of who she is – just as it’s who I am. We will both always keep reaching for more, and better, and that’s okay.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. So is this a sort of guide to normal people by way of explaining how we’re different from them? 😉

    I am dealing with a situation in the Sims community (my icon is a silly picture of my favorite Sim, and writing Sims stories is the thing I love most in the world) and this is very useful. I’ve been a target for stalking and harassment and having my blog posts regularly screenshotted and posted in the Sims anonymous hate community for everyone to point at and talk about and hate on, and this has been going on for about seven and a half years. Yeah, by now I have complex PTSD pretty bad. 😉 Still not gonna stop doing what I love though.

    But this is helpful because I could never understand why people just went along with it, why they didn’t seem to care about believing lies, about engaging in incredibly cruel and hurtful gossip, about constantly violating boundaries. I guess…well, based on tests when I was a kid and how people have reacted to me all my life, I’m pretty sure I’m profoundly gifted. But I’ve also always thought of myself as normal, and I’ve expected other people to think and feel like I do. So as far as I knew they were reading and comprehending my blog posts about my terror and isolation and pain, and then they were consciously deciding to continue engaging in toxic abusive behavior.

    Sorry, I know that’s a lot to dump on a stranger, but well, I figure someone who blogs about giftedness is used to it. No small talk, immediate diving into the ocean, right?

    But this does help a lot. I guess I’ve been expecting moral concern and empathy and observations from them that they’re not capable of.

    Been working on not taking it personally and letting it go for years. It’s hard, because I already had anxiety and trauma issues from my childhood when this harassment started, but I’ve made a lot of progress. And this will help make me some more progress, I think. Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Another great post! I know it was such a relief to realize that not everyone experiences the world with the same intensity, sensitivity, deep-diving into topics and projects, etc. Definitely helped me feel more tolerant and understanding of other people and more comfortable simply claiming myself and who I’m wired to be. Like Lucinda, I’ll definitely share with my nearly 12 year old, as I know he bumps into many of these thoughts, too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Heather. I hope your son finds it helpful!


      • I realize that in the course of raising a 2E daughter and 2E dyslexic son, I became so overwhelmed with researching and supporting them that my natural tendency towards introversion and even hyper-focusing on topics of interest to me was put by the wayside. Now, anxiety has taken hold. It is scary sometimes to spend time alone or even figure out what I’d want to do. Like I literally fell of the rail of a fast moving train and can’t figure out how to get back on. I am trying to take a little quiet time daily to reconnect w/ myself but it is very hard for me to get started. I encourage moms to keep some focus on themselves for their present and future health, and looking to others for similar experience or suggestions.


        • Elizabeth. Keep looking for others for support. I’m sure you’re not alone in this. Taking quiet time sounds so important. Maybe you could consider that you don’t have to get back on the train. Maybe there’s someplace else to go. A different vehicle? Nature? Give yourself time to figure it out. It’s a big change. Breathe! Thank you for being here and for sharing.


  10. Pingback: The Trouble With Gifted Is That No One Understands What It Is - Laugh, Love, Learn

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