Your Rainforest Mind

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The Lonely World of the Gifted Adult — Too Smart, Too Sensitive, Too Emotional, Too Curious

38 Comments

photo courtesy of Danny via Unsplash

It is part of the mythology of giftedness that super smart people have it made. That they are successful, rich, and appreciated for their cleverness. That they don’t really need much companionship because they are totally content in their labs studying fruit flies or in the library immersed in piles of books on obscure philosophical theories.

In my experience, this is not the case. These adults are often lonely. Granted, I’m a psychotherapist. Most of the gifted clients I see have lived through some sort of childhood trauma. Nevertheless, I suspect that many of the non-traumatized gifted souls among us would be telling me similar tales.

When you have a rainforest mind, it can be hard to find others who truly, deeply get you.

Some examples:

~ You are at your job, being conscientious, and caring. It is important to you that your coworkers are respected and understood. You feel responsible to both the organization and the humans you  supervise. Meetings are challenging. You problem solve quickly and typically end up waiting for the group to catch up. You grow tired of explaining what is obvious to you. At your evaluation, your boss tells you that coworkers say you are arrogant, condescending, and judgmental. Your boss is intimidated by you. You slow your speech and smile more. You don’t share your innovative ideas or your questions. You leave homemade gluten-free cookies in the staff room. It doesn’t help.

~ You are in graduate school. You were so excited to join what was supposed to be a cohort of deeply intellectual lovers of research and thinkers of complex ideas.  But your advisor no longer cares. He has tenure and has lost interest in academic pursuits and in you. The politics within your department is disturbing. You wonder how there can be peace on earth when your colleagues in academia can’t even agree on the schedule for the next term. You feel bereft. No one shares your curiosity and your enthusiasm for Nietzsche, Virginia Woolf, quarks, Bach, the universe, and everything.

~ You are highly intuitive. You have been an empath since you were quite young. You feel a responsibility to help others. It is hard to know if friends are attracted to you for you or if they just want you to help them heal their emphysema or contact their dead Uncle George. It is hard to have simple relationships because you can sense what others are feeling and they either put you on a pedestal or they avoid you. If you haven’t been able to set healthy boundaries because you have been told that you have a gift and are responsible for sharing it, you may overwork and ignore your body’s distress signals.

~ You have a deep sense of social responsibility. It is hard not to obsess about the level of suffering that you see all around the world. Your friends and relatives tell you to lighten up and stop worrying so much. But every time an extreme weather event happens somewhere or you see another homeless person, your heart breaks.

~ You are the parent of a gifted child. This child is bursting with energy, questions, curiosity, and emotion. You can’t keep up with them and are exhausted at the end of the day. You feel a deep sense of responsibility to raise a compassionate, sensitive human. To give your child what you did not get. Finding an appropriate school has been grueling. Other parents think it is easy to raise such a smart child. It is not.

Can you relate to any of these examples? Many of them?

What can you do about the loneliness you feel?

You can read these other blog posts. I’ve written about this before. There are things that you can do.

For today, though, I want to share the words of the courageous RFM, Charles Eisenstein. You’ll want to read the entire article. He presents a fascinating perspective on living consciously in today’s world. The quote below is particularly uplifting and spiritually sensitive.

You are not alone.

“The beings we have excluded from our reality, the beings we have diminished in our perception into non-beings, they are still there waiting for us. Even with all my inherited disbelief (my inner cynic, educated in science, mathematics, and analytic philosophy, is at least as strident as yours), if I allow myself a few moments of attentive quiet, I can feel those beings gathering. Ever hopeful, they draw close to the attentiveness. Can you feel them too? Amid the doubt, maybe, and without wishful thinking, can you feel them? It is the same feeling as being in a forest and suddenly realizing as if for the first time: the forest is alive. The sun is watching me. And I am not alone.”     Charles Eisenstein

_______________________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: Of course, I feel less alone because I have you! Thank you so much for being here. Let us know about your experiences of loneliness and what soothes you and how you find people (and spiritual guides? Nature? the Force? higher consciousness? intuitive visions? God? ) who get you. Do you have a spiritual practice/belief where you can feel connected?

My new book is almost here! It will launch near the end of June. Stay tuned! If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram, I’ll be announcing it there first. (and here, of course) You will now have your favorite blog posts in a book (a love letter to you) to soothe your lonely soul.

 

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.

38 thoughts on “The Lonely World of the Gifted Adult — Too Smart, Too Sensitive, Too Emotional, Too Curious

  1. Excellent description of what so many gifted adults go through. Such a lonely existence until they find their tribe. Thanks for sharing such clear, thoughtful examples.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Loneliness, for me, is a corollary of independent thought. It’s the price you pay for insight and the ability to process information. Indeed, being alone gives you more time to do and think. This can help improve communication skills and timing, but moments of relief are still fleeting, if notable for being meaningful. Is there any other way?

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Liked by one person says it all! By the time I reached middle age, I had accepted that my friendships would provide only certain things; like the salty snack of “hanging out” rather than soul food of deep discussion. I know that my conversations will be surface only, at least for me. Just lately I am enjoying my own company so much. Uninterrupted time to indulge my passions and stimulate my brain without the need to make excuses, dumb it down, pretend to be interested in what to me is not interesting. So I am becoming more and more my own best friend. I take myself out, give myself gifts I truly enjoy, treat myself with kindness and respect. It’s been great!

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Being gifted and a trauma-survivor has made connection difficult on multiple levels. I’ve found meaning in my own ability to see beneath the surface of people – even when they don’t get into deep conversations with me, I can see the layers of beauty and emotion in their eyes, hearts, and minds. One-sided, but satisfying in a number of ways. I love to observe. I love to see what others don’t. But knowing myself more deeply, feeling loved from the inside out, is bringing me knowledge on a cellular level of boundaries and intimacy. The deep recognition of who I am and the unwillingness to let others define me or lay their baggage at my feet is making me think loneliness is not my only option. I can be seen and loved. I can be me and unapologetic. It is a journey to freedom, but my hand is outstretched and already warm with love from the infinite inside and gratitude to the guides who would never leave any of us lonely, not truly.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Oh, my…. your first example, gifted adults at work, could not have more accurately hit the proverbial nail on the head for me. I was even told in one meeting that I needed to repeat myself in smaller words so everyone could understand what I was saying. I got so tired of being looked at like I had two heads whenever I tried to contribute that I just stopped…. and at my current workplace I dealt with sexual harassment from a man who didn’t like that I didn’t feel the need to kowtow to his greatness and take his advice on a job I’d been doing for a decade, and in the end I was the one who got a reputation for being arrogant, etc… “deserving” the harassment and bullying for being insufferable. I’ve worked really hard to cultivate the idea that I will not be everyone’s cup of tea and so must seek out the people who are my people and learn to keep the rest of society at a polite distance.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Please don’t forget there is a keen distinction between loneliness and being alone. If there was someone else who could join me in my interests and discuss and grow, I wouldn’t say no. But my experience, and it has been a long road I’ve travelled, is that when I find someone who shares one of my interests, for them, it goes one of two ways. either this is a minor aspect of their lives and they don’t share the passion or it’s a major aspect of their lives, while for me, it’s just one interest of many and even so, I likely know more about it, have more experience in it than they do. This means we can’t journey together very far before a split. I am sure to some this will sound terribly conceited but it’s really just a description of my life.
    If you can relate to the world of wildlife, most people are lions, constantly reaffirming bonds and growing ever closer to one another. I’m a lot closer to the solitary leopard. Those two don’t mingle much. It is sad when lions out become separated from their prides. They wander around, making contact calls to the rest of the pride. If you have seen that, they look miserable. If they are lucky they meet up in a rapturous reunion.
    As for me, I try to keep in touch with a few people, with whom I share one or two common interests, but for the most part, I do what I want, go where I please, including going to see the wildlife in Africa, on my own. I can be as deeply focussed as I choose, and that’s just how I like it.
    I send my best wishes to the lonely lions to/for whom you are writing.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Yes, this particular post is probably for the lions but my blog as a whole is also for the leopards among us! Definitely, solitude can be glorious! It doesn’t have to be lonely. Thanks for your input, hksounds.

      Like

  7. Loneliness is something I’ve felt throughout my life, perhaps it would be abnormal if I don’t feel that ‘loneliness’ for a day. Though I have a good friend who I can connect with, the loneliness just doesn’t disappear and migrating to other places – the lingering loneliness seems to be a sign that I haven’t met anyone who share similar vision or minimally, could accept and understand my messy brain. In the end of the day, I would say I have a lot of dead friends, (physicist, writers, artists, composers, conductors, musicians, philosophers), and they’re all great, can make me smile and cry at the same time. If here’s anyone who has an interest in philosophy and literature, I would love to leave a book suggestion, titled No Longer Human written by Dazai Osamu. Ah, forgot to mention, that this blog really helps me to feel less lonely, reading your post and other rainforestmind people’s comments, are definitely a motivation for me to keep going. Thanks.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thanks for the book suggestion, Vanilla. And, yeah, I’ve written in other places about the “dead friends.” Maria Popova talks about that. “…most of my friends are dead people…”

      Like

  8. It is frustrating to be able to see where things are going, but not be heard. I have told employers that I am like a canary in a coal mine, only to be humored and ignored, then somehow become the object of anger when things fall apart as I predicted. I have been disliked by coworkers for working “too hard” and too well. I have seen the looks on faces as I shared a new idea—faces that say, “Not again!” It has been made clear to me that to be average and mediocre is preferable in order to be accepted into the community. But, that’s impossible for me to do. Its not natural, it’s boring and it’s depressing. And, it doesn’t really get me anywhere I want to be.
    I’m not sure that “lonely” is the most accurate descriptor for this dilemma. I feel like an outsider, which, to me, is different than feeling lonely. And, when I’ve tried to be on the inside of the circle, I found that’s not really where I want to be. So, I think that what we may crave does not have as much to do with loneliness as it does the desire to be valued for how we think, see, feel and compute. We want to be fully who we are and accomplish as much as we can.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I’m often sent the message that I am doing it – whatever “it” may be – “the wrong way”. Never mind that my way may simply be a different way, or sometimes even a better way. To many people, (including many experts and authorities), if it’s different it’s wrong. For a curious, open, conscientious person, that can feel very confusing, alienating and lonely.

    When I first experienced some fairly serious social isolation, I began to slowly entertain the possibility that I might be alone forever. At first I was absolutely terrified. After all, everyone knows that living alone with no mate, friends or family is “the wrong way” to live, right?

    “Living alone is dangerous! It’s unhealthy! It’s weird!”

    Maybe so. Or maybe it’s just a different way. Most creative people require solitude to create something new. Maybe we also need to be very lonely in order to create new ceremonies that bring people back together.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Mark. I know that the amount of solitude that I have allows me to write this blog and my books!

      Liked by 1 person

      • My “friend” Maria over at BrainPickings is always posting articles reminding me that solitude and loneliness and inner conflict and doubt have always been the writer’s/artist’s near constant companion (as are the works of other artists living and dead), and that without that constant tension we likely would not feel so compelled to create.

        Still…there’s always that inner critic going “Blah blah blah. Who do you think you are kidding?”
        That’s the other thing I began to contemplate awhile ago: the possibility that the inner critic’s voice may never get quieter or less intense, and that I may have to learn how to live with him forever.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. I think for a lot of us, we have categorical friends… or is it more accurate to say, friends that fulfill different categories of interest?!! Like say if you’re super into music, you might have 1-2 friends who are also music freaks. Your bond with them is that excitement from playing and studying music. Then, you might also have a completely different friend who is into …. theater! She or he might be in local theater, or whatever, and she/he provides an outlet for your self that loves theater. This is how it’s been for me. It’s been quite rare that I have found someone like myself with a breadth and depth of interests. Not to sound like I’m lecturing, but we all face this facet of human existence — how to find and create connections with others. Everyone has challenges.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. What I find to be frustrating, is that my significant other absolutely loves the character, Raymond Reddington, in the show Blacklist. That character is always full of knowledge and sharing it. BUT, when I do it, I get disparaged or eye rolls. Something I am slowly working on in this relationship that has plenty of other good to it that I think is worth keeping. Just sad that he can admire it in a tv character, but not me 😦

    When I was working at my last job, I experienced what you described as well. I would create stuff and problem solve and give to my supervisor and it would end there. I made databases and graphics, and all kinds of stuff that ended up sitting in a folder on my computer, unused. She would get all excited at the idea, but never took any of it anywhere. I finally gave up using my creativity and was bored to death. So much so, that I would hook up my own laptop and listen to YouTube videos all day at work so my brain had something else to do besides the humdrum of the daily grind since my creativity was not appreciated. I could not sit there and fold letters and stuff envelopes all day 😦 I am glad I no longer work for those reasons, but sadly it was for my physical ailments that I left work and now are disabled. At least my mind gets what it wants now and I can create and study and explore at my own leisure.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Paula 🙂 Yes, I can sure feel those beings gathering…they are always close by and I engage with them daily.

    A bunch of thoughts come to mind, but here’s just one thought.
    Yes, loneliness is real and painful, but this blog reminds me of ways to make RFM friends and the importance of making an effort to do so (thanks for that).

    I do relish in being alone, focused “in the library immersed in piles of books”, but it makes a difference to know that I have plans for that evening to see a friend in person or on a video call, so I can share a bit of what I was learning about (otherwise, I write, to prevent exploding…but then, I still feel a bit lonely. Human contact, or furry animal friend, or tree contact, is important). I think all RFM have hyper-concentration abilities for our many interests and it’s OK if we can’t share that learning/work time with someone all the time (though quiet work-time in the same room with like-minded people is amazing). Having those intense periods of concentration to autonomously work away on something of personal interest is truly soul food, and for me, often a more critical factor than having friends who understand those interests and passions.

    As others have noted, our dead friends are indeed always with us 🙂 I love to listen to their music, while looking at their artwork and reading quotes, excerpts, poems…etc., etc. for inspiration as I work on something. Plus, reading biographies or historical fiction every night while curled up in bed has always made me feel connected to the past and present and realize that whatever my petty worries are, I really have a dream life and therefore nothing to worry enough about to keep me up thinking.

    Also, I’d love to audit a master’s course in Latin American literature at the local university this fall, just for fun and because I really miss Spanish literature courses (but the schedule is not up yet…).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Looks like one thing you’re saying here, cmd1122, is that you find balance between the relished alone time and the sharing with people-animal-tree time. I’m guessing that many here also experience the “soul food” of those “intense periods of concentration.” Good to see you here!

      Like

  13. One thing I have found super useful is looking for groups focussed around the INFJ MBTI group – whether you’re an INFJ or not !! 🙂 There’s a good subreddit with lots of interesting talk about movies, books, music and careers for sensitive, empathic, conscientious, clever people at /r/INFJ.

    It nice to be able to chat to likeminded people, even if its just online. Which is also why I hang out here 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Liked by 1 person

  15. Is anyone else baffled by the multiple paradoxes of this topic?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Do you want to say more about your experience of the paradoxes, M.J?

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m mostly curious, but I’m happy to offer a few observations of paradoxes based on my experiences.

        The suggestion is long-term loneliness can have detrimental health effects. So far in my life, the only long-term health problems I’ve witnessed were induced from trauma caused by the actions of other people.

        Studies are recognizing that there is a worldwide problem of loneliness in all people. Today we have the most tools to facilitate communication and connection at any point in our history while we are lonelier than ever, coincidence, correlation, or ironic happenstance?

        The pool of potential friends is often bounded by imaginary or perceived sexual dynamics. In an already limited group of people additional limitations exist if your partner or your friend’s partner is threatened by a connection of friendship. So, you can’t be friends with everyone when at the outset you exclude an entire gender from the possibility.

        Plenty more paradoxes, but there’s a start.

        Liked by 2 people

        • I ended up withdrawing from people because as you suggest, it often seems like a healthier choice to be lonely than to be constantly traumatized. Perhaps this is because for all our modern knowledge, we don’t seem to be getting much better at understanding each other, and are perhaps even worse at first impressions.

          What recently happened to a writer resonated with me. A story she wrote for The New Yorker went viral, and while she was happy that her writing was resonating with people, she was overwhelmed by it all, and especially by all the negativity and hate – most of it unfounded – that it attracted to her. She wrote about it in a subsequent article:

          “For people with low-level social anxiety, a common piece of conventional wisdom is that you should stop worrying so much about what other people think, because no one is actually thinking about you. In fact, this isn’t true, even if you haven’t had a story go viral. Almost everyone we encounter thinks about us. Bad hair, they think, as they pass us on the street. Annoying voice. Nice legs. Gummy smile. Stained shirt.” https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/what-it-felt-like-when-cat-person-went-viral

          She’s right. But more than merely fearing peoples’ negative opinions of us is a very real fear of being socially and financially marginalized. I am not trying to justify my own social anxiety and withdrawal, but the fact is that we cannot survive in this world without having at least one or two people not misjudge us so that we can successfully graduate from school, obtain a job, or simply not be assaulted or thrown in jail.

          Liked by 2 people

          • That was a great article suggestion. A wonderful illustration how in some situations the paradoxical outcome can show the only thing potentially worse than failure is success. Which leads back to my curiosity and bafflement about the paradoxes in connection.

            Where do you see the origin point of the paradox when we are seeking connection and relationship, but self sabotage it through error laden judgments rather than opening to diverse possibility?

            Liked by 2 people

            • Is that question directed at me? At any rate I don’t know the answer to it. I do know that I was far more outgoing and much more of an open book when I was younger. But then I realized how many people merely saw that openness as an opportunity to s**t all over my open book.

              In my early 20’s a friend used to call me naive. I used to take that as an insult until I understood that she meant that I was unafraid to be myself because I was unaware how much that made some people hate me.

              Once I understood this, I spent many years going out of my way to try and make sure people were not getting the wrong impression about me. But when you see that your own family and friends are blinded by widespread cultural biases, you realize what an uphill battle that is, and then withdrawal becomes less about licking wounds and self preservation and more about picking your battles.

              I wish I could say I’m on the right track, that this is all going to work out and blah, blah, blah, but I really don’t know. I just follow my own inner compass regardless, the paradox being that is what made me lonely in the first place. 😉

              Liked by 2 people

  16. Thank you. I am glad I am not alone. For awhile, I thought I was going crazy and got really depressed. It is a frustrating and I want to scream out and shake people to hopefully shake some sense into them.
    Thank you again for sharing this and to assure me that I am not crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Pingback: Why I Try to Write About Money Even Though I Am Interested in Other Things (Part 2) – Savvy History

  18. Loving your beautiful blog so much!

    Liked by 1 person

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