Your Rainforest Mind

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Gifted Boys To Men — How To Thrive In A World That Misunderstands Your Sensitivities

36 Comments

photo courtesy of Abhinay Omkar, Flickr

What happens to super smart, sensitive, curious, empathetic, talkative, emotional little boys when they become men? Where does all of that emotion go? All of that empathy? All of that energetic curiosity? How do gifted men thrive in a world that doesn’t understand or appreciate their sensitive natures?

I wrote about this in a post two years ago. I’m going to recycle that post with a few changes because I couldn’t have said it better myself. Oh wait. I did say it myself… Anyway it’s worth sending out again!

______________________

What do you do with all of that emotion? All of that empathy? All of that awareness?

How do you handle your grief? Your love of art or poetry or pink? Your despair over the violence you see in the world? Your tears?

It’s hard for many men to fit into the rigid view of masculinity. But for rainforest-minded men, there are extra tangled vines and more mosquitoes.

I wonder if you were a little tyke who had intense meltdowns. Maybe you expressed your fears and your joys with gusto. You didn’t know about The Boy Code yet. And because you were smart, adults expected you to be more logical and less emotional. Your expressiveness looked like immaturity to them. How can my 7-year-old who plays chess and beats his uncle every time, be so immature? But what if you were born with an unusual capacity to feel deeply? What if your sensitivity was just as large as your intellect? What if you seemed younger than your age peers because you purposely wanted to avoid the weight and hypocrisy of adulthood?

Then there was school. You may have been bullied because you were eager to learn. At recess you preferred examining the grasshoppers to throwing the balls. Maybe you felt more comfortable with girls.

Am I on the right track?

And now, there are the expectations. Oh, yes. If you’re so smart, then, you’re supposed to be able to do anything. Be a high achiever. Make lots of money. Be a good provider. Be tough and man up. But what if the pressure leaves you paralyzed? What if you feel like a failure each time someone close to you is disappointed? What if you’re looking successful but dying inside? What if you were criticized by a father who was full of shame over his own sensitivity? Or what if you feel responsible for living up to some potential that you can’t find and don’t believe you ever had?

What, then, can you do?

1. Redefine masculinity. I mean it. Use that creative brain of yours to design a new model. One where sensitivity, tenderness and wonder are signs of strength and achievement. Because they are.

2. Recognize that because you have a rainforest mind, you’re hardwired to be extra sensitive and soft-hearted. Blame your operating system.

3. Read about giftedness (Jacobsen) and realize that she is describing you. There aren’t many books that I know of on gifted boys/men specifically except by Kerr,  Zeff  and me, but there are some on raising boys that could also be helpful.

4. Write the book on gifted men.

5. Allow yourself to get support, help and guidance. Don’t think that you have to tough it out alone. You hear me? Help comes in many forms: counseling, 12-step groups, spiritual practices, music, acupuncture, yoga, massage, tango, book groups, camping, poetry, hiking, meditation, star-gazing, physical activity, art. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help.

6. With a counselor or in a journal or both, meet with your sweet, enthusiastic, curious little tyke self. Listen to him. Hold him close. Let him cry. Tell him he’s perfect the way he is.

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To my bloggEEs: Many of you are new here since this post was first written. Let us know what you think and feel. Your comments add so much. And thank you, as always.

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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.

36 thoughts on “Gifted Boys To Men — How To Thrive In A World That Misunderstands Your Sensitivities

  1. As always, love this, Paula. I have the honor of a husband and son who fit this mold and make our world a more sensitive, gentle place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for posting this. My son is an emotionally gifted guy and he finds a lot of comfort in nature. He is in Boy Scouts and I try to encourage him to seek out nature via hiking, camping etc. As a way to reduce stress.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have an amazing husband and two incredible sons — all of them have the biggest hearts. They’re all very intense, and I’m trying to help my sons learn that their emotions are JUST FINE, but they do need to learn to manage them (not because they’re male, but because we all need to learn how to manage them in a healthy way).

    One thought I have about this is that I’ve watched gifted men with enthusiasm and drive end up being criticized for mansplaining and talking over women, etc. — even when they may be the most sensitive, caring guys at the forefront of working for equality! While I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of unwelcome male dominance, I also sense gifted men can particularly be misunderstood because of excitement and often charisma. The same traits we try to encourage in children of both genders become potential minefields for our boys as they grow older.

    Last weekend, at a middle school robotics competition, I did a little observational experiment where I watched men and women, and boys and girls, walk around the school. Invariably — at ALL ages — the women and girls shift their shoulders so that the men/boys can walk through unheeded. This occurred again and again and again. 😦 They all learn it SO early. But in conversation and interactions, a healthy middle ground must exist, where we give and take equitably, and one gender mustn’t always “shift.” And particularly if someone’s natural inclinations are exuberance and conversationality (perhaps not a word, but it fits what I’m trying to say), they need to feel welcome but aware of others’ participation.

    I neither want my daughter to feel that men can speak over her, nor do I want my sons to believe *they* must learn to take the default “shut up” position. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate this in terms of advice I give my kids. Would love to hear thoughts from others!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You raise some important points, Andrea. Let’s see what other readers say. Certainly, it would be important to talk about this with your kids. Maybe suggest that they do their own experiments and observe boys and girls seeing what patterns they discover. Then they might come up with their own solutions! About managing emotions, I use the visual of a container they imagine that can hold their emotions when it’s not appropriate to express them intensely. They learn to contain versus repress. Then they empty the container when they get home. That can help.

      Like

  4. This is wonderful Paula! So glad to have this to share with parents of sensitive boys! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s good to address boys and men. I’ll bet a lot of people will read it.
    Xo
    k

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is definitely not a time when I feel comfortable discussing male issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear you, Mark. I’m not sure about my timing here either considering the recent events in the news.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not to make this about me — because there are others whose feelings and experiences are more important atm — but what is happening has been very distressing.

        Because if you’re a man who is different and is some of the things you describe above, then chances are you’ve been deeply misunderstood and have been called names. The types to hurl names at those of us they do not understand rarely use the term “different” or even the less benign “odd” or “strange”, and often even skip over “weirdo” or “freak” to go right for the throat with “creep”. Of course “creep” is the exact same term we all use to describe the scum that has been making the news lately.

        Being lumped in with people like that despite all your best intentions simply because you’re different is horrifying and traumatizing. Even talking about it is scary, because chances are that someone will read this and think that I am outing myself as a creep simply because I am openly admitting some dummies called me that. But I am trying to be brave because my inclination is to withdraw whenever I fear people.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Sounds so painful, Mark, and that the recent major exposure around sexual harassment and assault is triggering for you, as it is for many I know of who’ve been traumatized one way or another. Thank you for your courage.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Yes, as an individual it is painful. (I am getting triggered by a lot of things lately.)

            But as a global citizen I am outraged and terrified.

            Because if we still can’t tell the basic difference between people who are trying to be good and do good in the world from those who couldn’t care less, what are our chances of surviving the many complex challenges we face?

            Btw, I don’t think your timing is bad – maybe it is precisely the right time to talk about this stuff. I don’t know. I just noticed that no other males had posted a comment so I thought I should say something.

            Thanks Paula.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks, Mark. I would like to hear from more of our male readers. Not about what’s going on politically (there are other forums for that), but about the topic of this post. How do you deal with your sensitivities? What do you relate to in the post in particular?

              Where are you, fellas??

              Liked by 1 person

              • It was not my intention to make a political statement, but what I was getting at is it’s pretty hard to talk about individual aspects of giftedness such as sensitivity without approaching the taboo of questioning how we define what it is to be a man.

                You see, the thing about Man Club is that it is just like Fight Club: the first rule is you do not talk about Man Club. ESPECIALLY if you have anything bad to say about it, because that is what whiners do, and whiners are sissies that get kicked out of Man Club.

                I got myself thrown out of Man Club for various offenses a long time ago, so here I am, a fool in no man’s land with not much else to lose.

                Liked by 2 people

                • Here’s the thing, Mark (speaking as a grandfather).

                  That Man Club thing? Well, it’s kind of like that gang of three popular guys when you were in grade school, the one that terrorized you through junior high, the one that promoted their guy into being Prom King in High School, the one that called you a geek and a weirdo and a freak and a creep and a Nancy-boy. You went off to college, got married, got a job, had kids, and you decide to go back to your twentieth high-school class reunion, where you run into the Gang of Three. The Prom King is an alcoholic, twice-divorced, and having been Prom King is still the highlight of his life; he won’t stop talking about it. His number-two guy runs a junkyard outside town. The third has been in and out of prison, and is at the reunion on parole. None of them has travelled more than thirty miles from town — ever. They’re hanging together, getting drunk like old times, and when they see you, either of two things happens: they are fascinated with you, and look up to you as a guy that really “made it” in the world — or they’ve remained the same jerks they were twenty years ago and sneer at you and call you a geek and a weirdo from their slouch at the bar. In fact, as they slide deeper into their cups through the course of the evening, you may get BOTH responses. You have a sudden realization: that ever-so-important Gang of Three, the one that loomed so large in your childhood and early life, was always pathetic.

                  The Man Club is exactly the same. Oh, it’s much bigger, and it’s a bit trickier to “leave town” and get that larger perspective on it. But it happens to some extent automatically as you get older, even if you do nothing, and it isn’t that hard to accelerate the process. I’ll offer some thoughts on this.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Oh, this is great, Themon the Bard! Love it. You had me laughing. So true!!

                    Liked by 1 person

                  • Thanks for that. I’m glad my Man Club analogy was inspirational, but I’m actually not complaining too much – because that’s for sissies, remember? 😉

                    Having said that, while I agree with everything you say here and in your excellent blog post, the influence of Man Club is not so easy to escape. Right now my primary focus is on two things: my survival and how I can best use my gifts to ensure it. But by myself out here in no man’s land that is very difficult. We haven’t even hit the midway point of the month yet, the festive season is upon us and I have less than $200 to live on until the new year.

                    So when it is suggested we find a counselor, I think “Great idea, but HOW?” I can’t afford one, certainly not a qualified one who will not do the same kind of damage that all the other therapists and doctors I saw over the past 30 years did to me. My doctor agrees, he tries to console me and has apologized on behalf of his colleagues who did that damage, but he also admits that he is powerless to help.

                    That is one of the lasting impacts Man Club can have on us. If you’re out of the club and fall down or fall behind, there are far fewer people (if anyone) to help us back up. When I was in the club, people used to call me up for advice or just to hear my voice because it made them feel better, but when my own problems overwhelmed me they stopped calling. That common reaction is another more subtle branch of Man Club that extends far beyond the dumb high school idea of manhood.

                    I live in a country that is idealized by some for the way we supposedly care for our people, and yet a couple of recent studies showed that more than 40% of our citizens think that mental illness and/or poverty are the result of laziness or other failings of moral character. Of course that kind of nonsense comes right from the high command of Man Club. But because so many people accept it as articles of faith, one cannot simply ignore all of them unless you are independently wealthy because my inadequate benefits are a direct reflection of that common belief.

                    ANYWAY….personal challenges aside, the farther my life detoured from the norm, the more I asked myself: “I’ve seen our culture from two totally different perspectives. Is this merely a personal tragedy for me to overcome, or is there any greater value in this for me or for others?”

                    Put another way, if there was no one like me who utterly failed to fulfill his potential and then saw the underbelly of the society that Man Club created, who would be there to report it? Looked at from that perspective, perhaps my situation is part of a greater plan.

                    Or I could be a deluded fool. Who really knows?

                    Liked by 2 people

                    • Ouch. Yes, you’re in a much darker thicket of the Man Club. I’ve been watching this for several years. The dynamics of it are pretty simple, actually. You can’t have exponential economic growth on a finite planet. In fact, you can’t have sustained exponential economic growth if you live in a finite number of dimensions. Our economic system insists on growing exponentially, but exponential growth is not possible: so the appearance of growth is sustained through cooking the books, and preying on the lower percentiles in the economy to fuel it. That economic rot is working its way up from the poor, through the middle class, to the lower fringes of the upper class. My head is still above water, but it’s like surviving a tsunami: it isn’t your efforts, your intelligence, your charm, or your goodness that keeps you breathing. It’s pure luck. And as I watch this national and global catastrophe slowly unfold, helpless to do anything about it, I’m suffering some survivor’s guilt. As is your doctor, no doubt. Combined with a kind of terror, because nothing protects me from being next.

                      Of course, it’s all papered over by fault-finding on the part of the survivors. You drowned because you didn’t know how to swim. You drowned because you didn’t try hard enough. You drowned because you were a sinner in God’s eyes. You drowned because you didn’t…. you weren’t…. you, you, you.

                      Bleaugh (sound heard frequently from the bathroom in a frat house as midnight on rush night approaches).

                      Two positive comments.

                      First, you can do all the inner psychological work yourself, without any help at all: and in fact, that’s how it really works, anyway. The counselor is just an assist when you’re starting, and perhaps when you get to some of the early sticky parts. The key is to develop a relationship with an inner guide that will steer you out of the cultural thicket, out of the Man Club mindset, out of being stuck. It helps to think of the guide as being outside yourself: a spirit, an angel, a deity. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But there’s a quality you can sense when you shoot high, and it helps to separate the good inner advice from the monkey-mind chatter. And always balance inner advice against simple common-sense prudence. I had an inner conversation with what I’ll call a 70’s Jesus, once, you know, the laid-back, it’s-all-good kind of pot-smoking Jesus. A second Jesus showed up, the temple-scourging, Puritan, you’re-going-to-hell Jesus. Then the Devil showed up to say, “Oho! I see some mischief brewing.” They got into a huge inner argument, and I pulled up from my meditation, said, “F*** all y’all, anyway,” and went and had lunch. Do exercise humor and common sense.

                      Second, the underbelly you see is real, it is spreading, and it needs witnesses. You have a good command of language. Observe. Record. Report. Maybe start a blog — you clearly have access to the Internet, and WordPress accounts are (still) free. But start with the inner guide.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Thanks Themon. I do my homework. That includes not taking any expert’s opinion as gospel (which is a reference to one of the core principles in the book “Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm”).

                      Ten years ago my doctor sent me to see a psychiatrist to investigate the possibility I suffered with ADHD. I was indeed diagnosed with ADHD, but I was also diagnosed with comorbid Bipolar disorder.
                      We tried quite a few medications, but I also continued to do my own extra-curricular research.

                      Unlike his predecessors that psychiatrist seriously listened to me when I eventually said “These medications are not working. Perhaps my giftedness and creativity are appearing like
                      ADHD and Bipolar”, (the “gating deficits” referred to in Plant Intelligence). He agreed and undiagnosed me, declaring “I guess you are just an artist”.

                      While that was progress, of course I was still stuck out here on my own, left to do the work by myself. That is where the bipolar symptoms come into play. During manic or hypomanic states is when many of my ideas or insights come. Then, during the depressive states when the rose colored glasses we unconsciously wear have fallen off is when the good ideas or insights are separated from the bad. That’s because almost everything sucks when you’re depressed, so if something still seems good then, chances are it is.

                      I am working on a semi-autobiographical project about the underbelly of Man Club and the self-destructive society it created. It is part Kafka, part Hunter S. Thompson, part Lou Reed, and part Sex Pistols among many other influences. I was always reluctant to include parts of my own life in any art that I created, but I eventually realized that my story is everyone’s story. What is happening to me is just the tip of what is happening to many others, or will happen to them unless we start to think a different way.

                      I was already aiming in that general direction when you introduced me to Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm. Reading that book strengthened my resolve to finish the project in the manner I envisioned, so my many thanks for your continued wisdom and kind words.

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Dang it, here we are talking about Man Club and like a dumb dude I totally failed to mention some of the female artists who are inspirations: Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Siouxsie Sioux, Bjork and Frida Kahlo for starters.

                      Now it’s time to shut the hell up for a change. 😉

                      Liked by 1 person

                • I hear you, Mark, and appreciate your thoughtful sharing. It makes sense to me that we look at both individual and collective experiences as we look at giftedness.

                  Liked by 1 person

  7. This article is really difficult to read but thank you for it. I don’t know that I am “gifted” but I have an overdeveloped sense of justice, empathy and sensitivity and the reason that it is painful for me to read this is because I have passed all of this along to my now nine year old son. I am watching him struggle mightily with all of these issues (he is in therapy). Looking at a nine year old version of me and trying to explain how the world works and seeing how confusing and difficult it is for him is…gut-wrenching. I just ordered a few of the books above – hopefully we can continue to ease his journey through life.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Interesting that you say, “Where are you, fellas?” The answer, I think, is “Laying low.”

    Mark V touches on the core issue, I think. Some cultures have very few sexual taboos, but obsess over what people eat. Our culture celebrates indiscriminate gluttony, but has some very weird sexual taboos. Of course, the difference between men and women is sex, not what we eat. Seed-spreader or child-bearer. Outies or innies. Very little else.

    You can’t talk about “men” without implicitly talking about sex. And that is a thicket of very weird, messed-up taboos, many of which cannot even be spoken about. The very concept of a “man” is a twisted definition in a twisted wood.

    What is more quintessentially human that to weep with grief while being held in another’s arms? How many men — in our culture — have ever grieved in this way in the arms of another man? It happens, but the extremity of grief required to make it “acceptable” is sufficient to cause its own permanent damage: the grief of watching all your mates in a platoon blown into legs and arms, for instance. How many of us could expect to be held by our best friend for nothing worse than losing our job? Or having a wife leave us? This is an essential piece of humanity stolen from “men” by the their very definition as “men” in this twisted wood.

    It isn’t so easy to simply redefine this. An example: my wife cannot support us, financially. It isn’t because she isn’t as smart or capable. It’s because she has an innie. She’s inherently less likely than I to land any job that might support us, and even if she does, she’ll get 70% of a living wage. The “breadwinning” — the health insurance, the Social Security benefits, the income, the power to make certain kinds of decisions — falls upon me, because I’m the one given the opportunity to do it. I’m presented with that opportunity because, and only because, I have an outie. Which makes as much sense as hair on a cue ball, but that is the nature of our twisted wood. So the question for me is — as it is for all humans with outies — am I going to succumb to being overwhelmed by the tearing thorns of this twisted wood, or am I going to contort myself to avoid the barbs, learn to ignore inconvenient sensitivities, kill off parts of my soul, and “man up” and “do what a man’s gotta do?”

    Humans with outies in our culture are raised to be half-dead, and at least partly insane. I don’t think I overstate the case.

    Now throw in the rainforest mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Themon the Bard, for sharing. I can imagine how commenting on this post might take too much time as you sort through your complexity of thoughts and feelings, so our male readers, in particular, would be “laying low” as you said. It’s a much bigger topic than my blog can provide for, for sure. I appreciate your thoughtful sharing. Powerful words.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I was having my boy tested for Austim hoping to be able to find a way through life that way. He’d got so upset the injustice of a bully hating him that he pulled a clump of hair out but then proceeded to make a paintbrush out of it! I recently realized his cries for help were to be understood to be given space by his dad and i to talk mess about be creative together and try to break creativity ‘boundaries’. I read a book by Gary Chapman called the five love languages this has helped to fill my boys love tank up with his love language so tjat when trouble.comes as it does for all of us he can stand through it knowing he’s ok to be him. I love his sensitivity and passion and believe the rest of us are in need of fixing to be more sensitive! I say to all my children they are gifted because in each of them they hold so many blessings for the world around them….and bullies are too frightened to let themselves shine. Tools.we use are a questions jar a night, a rule tjat no one is ever too big to cry that crying in public is the ultimate strength but we have a zero tolerence on rage but adress amger head on….be angry but process the anger don’t allow anger to be top heavy emotion always let sensativity win.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My spousal person is a dude. He was at the same Duke TIP award ceremony I was in 7th grade, although I didn’t meet him until we were 18.

    He’s extremely introverted, and I don’t think he much cares what other people think about him. Like we love cats, and at his job (which he’s always been drawn to jobs that are mostly filled by women – currently he works at the library, and he used to be a CNA), another dude kidded him a bit when he changed his personal icon in their computer system to a picture of a kitten, but he was just like “Yeah, really, I like cats.”

    He once said that he doesn’t really consider himself gendered.

    He’s never told me the details, but I know he got bullied at the Catholic school he went to for K-8. He’s never said much about high school either, but I got the feeling that while he didn’t really have many friends, at least he wasn’t a target anymore.

    He seems pretty aware of things – we talk about gender and sexism and things a lot, and the last book he brought home for me to read from the library is one about sexism in STEM fields.

    I’d get him to comment here with his own thoughts, but like I said he’s very introverted and he doesn’t have much of an internet presence. We play WoW together on and off, and he’s posted occasionally on our guild’s forum, but that’s about it for him.

    Which actually in WoW, he’s been playing a healer ever since we started in 2005. The stereotype is that in couples who play together the female is the healer, but well, he’s always defied stereotypes. He also likes chocolate, romantic comedies, and soft slow music a lot more than I do. 😉 Also he’s always done most of the housework and all of the cooking. He says it’s his way of showing affection, to do all that and let me write my stories.

    He seems pretty comfortable with himself. I’ve been with him for 18 years now, and I’ve never seen him freak out about his manhood. He has traces of a male ego, but it’s just traces, and over the years those traces have gotten smaller.

    From what I can see, I think he just really doesn’t care about what other guys who are all up into their toxic masculinity think about him. Neither one of us seem to care nearly as much about matching what’s on TV or fitting into stereotypes or that sort of thing as other people do. Actually we don’t care about it at all, and I didn’t know that other people cared about matching what they saw in B and C grade media until I’d spent years online observing other humans.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: The Man Club « Themon the Bard

  12. Pingback: Gifted Boys To Men — How To Thrive In A World That Misunderstands Your Sensitivities — Your Rainforest Mind – Suman Freelancer

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