Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

Gifted Children and Adults — Why Are They So Misunderstood?

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photo courtesy of ketan rajput, Unsplash

A gifted child is:

The four year old who says the car is not red, it’s crimson. The five-year-old who is lonely because the other kids don’t understand the complex worlds and creatures she invents. The six-year-old who explains the difference between a laceration and a contusion. The seven-year-old who chooses Rembrandt as the person she respects most because of his use of light. The eight-year-old who cares for the hurt children on the playground. The nine-year-old who complains when his parent confuses the words precision and accuracy.  The ten-year-old who cries when he reads about injustice in his community and around the world. The eleven-year-old who is an environmental activist. The twelve-year-old who wants brain specimen coasters for her birthday.

These children are not show-offs or arrogant know-it-alls.  They sincerely and enthusiastically love learning, language, analysis, debate, creativity, beauty, exploration, and accuracy. (or is that precision?) They are being themselves. Naturally curious, hungry for new ideas and intellectual exchanges, emotionally intense, and highly sensitive and empathetic.

They don’t necessarily know they are intellectually advanced. Even when parents acknowledge their traits and abilities, they may still just feel out of sync and freakish. Or, when there’s excessive praise for their smartness, they may feel pressure to achieve. Pressure to please those adults. Pressure to live up to their great potential. Pressure to be perfect.

How we respond to them, understand them, educate them, and love them, matters.

But, just as walking into a tropical rainforest is an intense sensory, emotional, and intellectual extravaganza, so is being with a gifted child. A child who is gushing with questions, intellect, sensitivities, empathy, and emotion.

You were one of those kids.

But it may be hard for you to acknowledge that you are, in fact, gifted. You assume that everyone can do what you can do; they just aren’t trying. You don’t realize that the mental, emotional, and intuitive/spiritual capacity you have is larger than average. Maybe even enormous.

But I get it. You can’t really tell that to anyone. It wouldn’t make you popular. You may not even acknowledge it to yourself. And if you grew up in a chainsaw family, well, that would add to your confusion.

But you need to know that you are gifted. For yourself.

Knowing that you have a rainforest mind will explain things. It will explain your craving for new ideas and experiences. Your obsession with philosophical questions. Your disabling perfectionism. Your horrible loneliness. Your highest standards. Your multiple career paths. Your beautiful sensitivity. Your stunning intuition. Your intense emotions.

It will explain why you are constantly misunderstood.

And then, you will start to breathe more deeply. You will find other rainforest minds who will understand you. You will start to give yourself permission to grow into the person you are here to be.

And then you can show us your brain specimen coasters.

____________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: Do you have trouble acknowledging your giftedness? Why? What are some examples of how you’ve been misunderstood and how you misunderstand yourself?

One place you can meet other rainforest minds is at the SENG conference in July. This year it’s in Houston. I’ll be presenting my talk on adults, subtitled: Your Rainforest Mind–The Musical. I have a second talk with New Zealand therapist Maggie Brown titled: Gifted Adults Living in Tumultuous Times.  I’d love to meet you there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 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.

50 thoughts on “Gifted Children and Adults — Why Are They So Misunderstood?

  1. I really love your posts! Thank you so much

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Paula, your posts resonate with me each and every time! Your example of the four year old who says the car is t red but crimson sounds exactly like my (suspected Gifted) five year old who gets upset if I say my car is red; he says it’s burgundy! Haha. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As always, your words and insight speak to me. Thank you, Paula!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brain-specimen coasters !??!!!! (laughing out loud)

    Perfect!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for your insight Paula. It warmed my heart and much gratitude for creating a safer space to say things that are difficult to be said elsewhere, sometimes acknowledged to even oneself.
    I am a psychotherapist in Mumbai and in the recent years I have realised the field is a good fit for my mind and soul, keeping my limits and healthy boundaries in mind. I love the neuroscience and stories of human behaviour as a part of my work. Hence I seem out stimulating information as a choice rather as a requirement. For me, the World Wide Web affords a library that just feels wonderful to learn new things. This is one side of getting to know what makes my brain tick and I am tremendous respect for its capacity to make sense of things. I also know it’s a gift.
    Yet, with even close, fellow professionals and acquaintances, this brain is sought but not liked much. It has felt that it would be great resource without the person who comes with it. I know the person and the brain are not separable. Yet that is the lonely feeling I am left with. And these are competent professionals who seem unable to see and feel another person in entirety.
    I am learning to share, retreat and draw boundaries better now. Yet, being misunderstood is a persistent experience and it brings up the implicitly learned pattern of feeling something’s wrong with me.
    It’s a tough journey, though I am glad I am making it. I wouldn’t give anything to not have the pleasure of learning, making sense and seeing the world in the wholehearted sense that I can now. It has brought vitality in my life!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Yep yep yep! Laceration, abrasion, and contusion are different things! 🙂 Also, thank you for this piece…and the peace it brings to my younger self who felt so very out of place.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love reading your posts. I think I am gifted, well I “feel” gifted, ever since my son tested highly gifted, it made a lot of sense. But I still doubt it because my IQ doesn’t reflect the gifted range. I tick ALL the boxes and every one of your articles resonates with me, but I still dwell on that IQ score. My processing speed is average and it brought my whole score down. So that is why I doubt it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • IQ is only one measure and some people, for various reasons, don’t test well. So, Caroline, it could be time to stop doubting!

      Like

      • In point of fact, the most common IQ test used to assess children is five measures, averaged together. The Wechsler includes:
        -Visual Spatial Index
        -Fluid Reasoning Index
        -Working Memory Index
        -Processing Speed Index
        -Verbal Comprehension Index

        It is not uncommon for gifted kids to test drastically higher on one index than another. I know of kids who have Working Memory in the Very Superior range, and Fluid Reasoning in the Average range, and the other way around. I haven’t seen much discussion of whether this constitutes different type of giftedness.

        Liked by 1 person

    • IQ tests actually are better tools for teasing out average intelligence but tend to fall apart at higher ranges. Having a lower working memory isn’t that uncommon for the gifted. Also – can be a indicator of 2E – Twice Exceptional – High IQ but perhaps a learning challenge like ADD or Dyslexia or not a learning challenge but just a confounding facet of how Rain Forest minds work. Throwing out the lowest score often provides a better sense of IQ. Neuro – diversity is pretty darn awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Just to be clear – you can have a lower or average score on any of the components of the WISC tests and still be gifted

        Liked by 1 person

        • That’s often an indication of twice-exceptionality, too, right Rita? Doctor Dad, do you know about 2e?

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          • Hi Paula.

            I read things about 2e, but I don’t find enough confidence in what I read to say I _know_ about 2e. I know that my children are very, very peculiar – and in ways that are different from the ways in which I am peculiar. And I think 2e describes them.

            For example, despite repeated goes at it I cannot play an instrument nor sing in tune. My son, on the other hand, plays six instruments and counting, as well as singing over a 3 1/2 octave range. He was recently singled out by his orchestra conductor as a model for practicing the score that other members should emulate… except he never practices the score. He just sight-reads that well. It’s a complicated score (thanks, Ralph), so it holds his attention.

            When we got him a battery of testing, to help tease out the things that had been giving him so much trouble with school, his tests were all over the place. They said he has ADD, to a painful degree. And terrible problems with anxiety (don’t worry, we found him help). He reads at a graduate level (he’s an obsessive consumer of scientific journals), he enthusiastically does math several years ahead, but if he doesn’t find something immediately interesting it’s extremely difficult for him to do it at all. The key for him is things have to be challenging or he just checks out. That was not a good fit with public school; he’s doing better with more advanced material at a private school now.

            My daughter is a whole different story of mixed precocity and delay, achievements and refusals. I am always fascinated to see what she will create. I also feel terrible for the teachers who had to try to teach her to read.

            So do I know about 2e? I feel like I know things about 2e from personal experience that no literature I find really keeps up with.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Caroline, you should definitely read info on 2E. Rita is correct about offsetting qualities. I’m 2E and my processing, at times, can be tectonic.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. “Your obsession with philosophical questions”. *nodded
    I’ve been following your post until now, but I.. still doubting myself, gifted or not. And yes, I’m the one who assume “Everyone can do what I can do; really, they’re just not trying”. If you ask me why—I just couldn’t believe I’m gifted. I mean, I’m not intelligent or like, highly gifted kids you see on TV, just an average (average grades, average verbal skill, etc). [I don’t think I’m affected by dunning-kruger effect either] or..

    Maybe,, I’m just being smart? Or barely gifted. Because I don’t think I have big capacity of emphaty.. I don’t know which empathy you’re talking about. What about crying when you know abt Hitler’s favourite little girl story, breathtaking scenery, harmony music composition, isn’t that completely normal? And.. crying because I saw the other kid fell down? Not even once in my life.

    One more thing, a 17 year-old girl who loves to think deeply about humans, psychology, philosophy, and trying to discover math formulas from scratch as a hobby, solving logic puzzles, always debating with myself and get confused with my own opinions, how could this be..rare and odd? I do think, other people are way moreeeee weird. They don’t like to think hard, they hate researching,,,they only care about grades which I find it meaningless,, something is wrong with this society!! Deeply disappointed.

    *Inhale *exhale
    Sorry for the long comment.
    (And deeply apologize if there is any grammatical mistakes, I’m afraid if it will cringe somebody here because I cringe at people who add too much water in acrylic paint.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • The “gifted” kids on TV and movies often seem to be stereotypes or extreme so I wouldn’t go by them! As you can see when you read the comments on my blog, many people with rainforest minds doubt their giftedness. Thank you for your comment, Vanilla. Glad to have you here.

      Like

  9. Profoundly trapped in one’s own brain is one part of the explanation of why people are misunderstood. Even why one gifted individual misunderstands another gifted individual. I know I was trapped in my own brain for decades.

    I always understood there was variation between individual’s brain wiring and function, but I thought most of us were working from the same baseline. So, observing the difference between myself and others it seemed very clear to me that I was doing something wildly wrong compared to others.

    Learning I was 2E in mid 2016 was the first time I was able to get out of my own brain and understand a massively more creative possibility for multiple baseline’s. I immediately saw how a vast majority of individuals are trapped in their own brains. Exactly as I had always been prior to that point.

    Pick an averagely curious person, a studious person, and a gifted person. Ask each to imagine if their brains could work in an entirely different fashion how might that be? Each will assume the baseline of the other two are starting from the same as their own brain. There in lies the misunderstanding of the gifted child. The mistaken belief that the baseline, the starting point, of someone else’s brain is the same as their own.

    Once I realized how trapped I’ve been inside my own brain it became instantly clear why I’d constantly been frustrated by a lack of understanding from others. I have no choice in communication but to use the same language as everyone else and for me all of the words have deeper and different meanings which no one else knows about. I spent decades trying to be more clear hoping someone would understand. Trapped in my own brain it never occurred to me that we were using different dictionaries. Or that our baseline brain function was simply different from one another.

    So, One important part to moving beyond being misunderstood and finding a translation of commonality is to get out of your own head and observe how other’s brains are wired and work differently from your own. Help others to understand that the origin point for your brain, it’s baseline, is over here in a different spot from where their’s lives. Neither better nor worse, simply different, and to understand each other you need to find some middle point outside being trapped in your own brains.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for this, M.J. Always good to hear your perspective.

      Like

      • As an additional consideration for being misunderstood, there is the tyranny of text. Here, as in many places on the Internet and elsewhere, communication is limited to text based language. I’m guessing most people with rainforest minds would pick a different means of expression were they permitted. The output of thought is so often compressed or confused by the necessity of filtering it through words alone.

        Most places on the Internet limit communication to either text or image. I’ve yet to find one that blends them in a seamless fashion. Often being forced to pick a text entry or a photograph. No where is there an optimal way for me to communicate my thought. Linkage-based multi-dimensional artifacts that change depending on the viewers point of reference. Not a single app for that form.

        It’s difficult to be understood when the tools of communication are so constrained for the expression of thought.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Hola Paula, fuiste mi primer motivación para aprender inglés. Todavía no sé escribir en inglés, te he seguido en tus publicaciones.
    No he tenido dificultad para reconocer mi mente de selva tropical, las pocas personas que les he hablado del tema se han interesado y he recibido respuestas positivas. En este momento de mi vida siento que tengo DOBLE TRABAJO: 1) entenderme a mi misma (ya llevo camino hecho en autoconocimiento) 2) Entender la lógica de los demás. Ya no sé que esperar. Me declaro ignorante de las formas comunes de actuar, no sé y siento que la gente supone que sí lo sé…en fin, declararme ignorante será bueno, supongo que aprenderé. Pero al ver mi edad pues me siento atrasada, siento la urgencia de ese conocimiento, es algo que me hace mucha falta ahora, me daría un poco más de SEGURIDAD para tomar las decisiones que urgen tomar, pero pues bueno a caminar con lo que hay y con lo que tengo ¿que otra cosa puedo hacer?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hola Noemi. I’m so sorry but I don’t speak Spanish. It sounds like you can read English but not write it? I wish my book could be translated into Spanish but at this time the publisher isn’t interested. I hope that my blog is helping you find self-acceptance and others who will understand you. It’s never too late to start embracing your rainforest mind! Gracias.

      Like

      • “Hi Paula, you were my first motivation to learn English. I still don’t know how to write in English. I have followed you through your publications.
        I have not had difficulty recognizing my rainforest mind. The few people with whom I have spoken about the matter were interested and I have received positive responses. At this moment of my life I feel that I have a DOUBLE JOB: 1) understand myself (I already have followed a path in self-knowledge); 2) Understand the logic of others. I don’t what to expect. I confess myself ignorant of the common forms of acting, I don’t know and I feel like people assume I do know… after all, declaring myself ignorant should be good, I suppose I will learn. But looking at my age I feel delayed, I feel an urgency for this knowledge, it’s something that I miss a lot now, it would give me a little more SECURITY to take the decisions I must take. But, well, I shall walk with what there is and what I have. What else could I do?”

        (there’s lots of languages growing in my rainforest ;))

        Liked by 1 person

    • Nice to see that there are more Spanish people around, reading these posts! ^_^

      Noemí: ¡Muho ánimo con la búsqueda de ti misma! Puede que a veces sea un camino difícil, pero es muy reconfortante. A veces creerás que es una tortura, pero lo mejor que puedes hacer para evitar atormentarte, es aceptarte a ti misma y aprender que nuestro tipo de mente es un regalo de la Naturaleza. Y que con ese “regalo” puedes dar a los demás muchas cosas buenas. Espero que si llegas a leer esto, te sirva de algo (de consuelo, de consejo o de lo que sea).

      And, Oh, Paula! I would love to hear you in the conference in Huston in July this year; but I will not be able to get a few days of leave next July. That may be next time tough 🙂 ALL THE BEST!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Naomi,

      It sounds like you can read English? I agree totally with the idea of double work. Understanding oneself and then trying to understand the logic of others. I’m married to a Latino and speak fluent Spanish and have always wondered about how the collectivist cultures affect rainforesty people who live and work within them. I never know how to act, but then it’s also a foreign culture for me. My in-laws drive me crazy with their emotion-based reasoning, and making decisions based on what others will think. It seems that it would be even more difficult to be gifted in that type of culture? My husband left because he needed the emotional space he couldn’t get in his home country, but then his family might be a bit extreme. Good luck with your journey!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Being a rainforest mind is allways challenging, I guess (and it may get particularly hard when one is living with non-rainforest minds). I do not know if it is more difficult in “collectivist cultures” (as you called them, Sarah) or not… It is hard to say. But what is true is that the emotion-based way of acting and reasoning is sometimes tough to live with (desperating sometimes) –> I (we, rainforest minds) have to live with that and deal with it everyday. However, I find “non-collectivist cultures” hard sometimes as well.

        Aside from living in my own country, (i.e. with the “Spanish background culture”) I have also lived in Australia and France. And, after all, it is not easier to live in a non-collectivist culture anyway. Particularly hard, I recall, when some people act as rationally as possible yet not realizing that their reasoning is wrong (and if you try to help, you’ll be in trouble!)

        I don’t know if I am clear, I have little time to write this, but… I guess you get the main idea 🙂 : there are rainforest minds almost in every culture and it is always relatively hard to del with it if you’re alone. Isnt’ it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m actually not sure what you, Sarah, mean by “collectivist culture.” I appreciate hearing where all of you are from and how you’ve experienced your rainforest mind in your particular culture. Thank you all.

          Like

          • Hi Paula,
            I’m referring to a term that Gerard Hoftstede used (not sure if he coined it) to explain the differences between cultures that are individualistic, like the US and cultures that are more relationship oriented, like Latin America, and some Asian cultures. I guess it’s not as commonly used as I thought. This is an area I’ve focused on, because, like Dr. Dad, I have some inlaws who can’t or won’t make a decision unless they’ve conferred with the entire group. Then usually my father in law decides, regardless of the majority opinion. There is also often shouting involved.:)

            In my own experiences I feel stifled by the group focus. My husband has as well, so I wondered if other rainforesty types feel the same way, whether it’s a cultural vibe, or more specific to my own family.

            It’s an area of interest, and Naomi is obviously a Spanish speaker, so I thought we might have some common ground. Her comment regarding understanding the logic of others really spoke to me.

            I’m an introvert and sometimes struggle with people from these types of cultures (my inlaws as well as some friends), simply because it seems that there is always one more person’s viewpoint to consult…I like to make decisions and move on.

            I didn’t mean to derail your post, which I LOVED. I’m sorry if I did. For me this is part of the difficulty with fitting in and feeling like I belong.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Sarah. I lived in Latin America for around 10 years. I’d say that the answer is complicated. On the one hand, there are better places to be an intellectual than America, because we hate intellectuals here. American culture thinks the only legitimate purpose of intelligence is to make more money. In Latin America, as in Europe, I feel there’s a broader cultural acceptance of intellectualism and its trappings (art, music, poetry, etc.).

        On the other hand, any intellectual or artistic career is ten times harder to have in Latin America. I’ve met more than one Latin American who swears their home country is a better place to be an intellectual, but America is a better place to have a job, so they’re here. Success as an artist in Latin American countries frequently involves leaving the country. This means that a lot of artists and writers keep their day jobs – they could be their country’s most famous painter by night and the director of the national library by day. Or a leading politician and also a famous writer of children’s stories.

        Also, it’s very hard to be an introvert in Latin America. Being an introvert is practically considered a sickness. At least in English “alone” and “lonely” are different words. And it’s harder to get things done as an introvert, because so much is informal, both socially and economically, that you have to talk to people a lot more. Also, in a family you have to include people a lot more – decisions tend to be made collectively, sometimes with a lot of shouting (okay, maybe I’m just talking about my own in-laws here).

        I am introverted by nature, but when I’m in Latin America I’m significantly less introverted. It’s like if you’re surrounded by smokers, the best thing you can do is smoke in self-defense.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I appreciate hearing your experience, Dr. Dad. And for all of us, it’s good to frame our opinions as our experience (ie. the inlaws??), particularly when it comes to broad statements about cultures. Make sense?

          Like

  11. Beautiful post – you so clearly describe the gifted experience. Gifted children speak from the heart – and learn the hard way that others don’t get them. Thanks for adding your voice to helping these children and adults know that it’s alright to be themselves.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. You’ve described my sister. Graduated from high school at 15. Graduated from a 5-year coop program magna cum laude (missed summa and PBK because of a B in a required gym class) at 18 with a double major in accounting and music. By 25 had JD, CPA, and MBA. At 61, says, “Anyone could have done what I did if they worked as hard as I did.” Um, no.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Paula your post always leave me in tears

    I just hope my family would understand me and not getting tired for my “weirdness” or trying to make me “normal” that’s how they describe it

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m graduating high school soon, and it just makes me wonder what would have happened if I found this blog sooner as a little kid, but most of the oldies here (but young at heart, of course) would probably say I’m lucky to find this place this young already, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Your words speak to me! I am so pleased that that people like you help us understand our children. My son is gifted (even though not tested). Even I did not understand him before and some times I thought he was “too much” but now I get him.
    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you for this. I was shamed for my IQ and ambition, creativity and intuition as a child. Only accidentally discovered I am “gifted” in my 30s. It helped explain everything. This article is a balm to my soul. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. My mother had said that I am smart, but whenever I did something wrong or she is upset, she always say I am stupid or an idiot (which is most of the time). But for the past years, some of my friends and others had told me about how I am “intelligent” or “wise above my age”, Except I had always denied that I am intelligent- for one. if i said it, my mom had told me that i am showing off. But when I read your post, I found out that I am a rainforest mind, over 90% of the things you said relates to me as well. So, honestly. Thank you for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. You are most welcome, Ashley.

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  19. Yeah, Although I still don’t exactly believed that I am “Gifted”. But, well.. the things that you write on your blog really relates to me a lot. Here is an example: I struggle with math & science a lot. But when it comes to English, more specifically. Shakespeare, poetry.. the ones that others struggle with. They are really easy to me. I always say, “No, I am just hard working. I am not gifted, there is no way I am”. or “You can do it too, just try harder.” or “Other people can do it too, so… yeah.” sometimes, my friends had told me that, “….Yeah, if i try hard. You know you are special, and much more intelligent then others, right?” or “Come on, being gifted is a good thing. just accept it!” or “Stop telling us that this is easy, we are not as smart as you! / You are making me feel dumb here…” I had always love researching, philosophy, thinking.. anything that deals with Language. When one person had told me that, “You are definitely gifted with language.” It start to make sense to me now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You don’t have to excel in all areas to be gifted. That’s one thing that confuses people. You can have intellectual strengths in one area and not in another. Thanks, Ashley.

      Like

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