Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

The Many Faces Of Giftedness — Beyond Sheldon And Sherlock

43 Comments

photo courtesy of Science in HD, Unsplash

Pardon me while I rant.

I just saw a preview on TV for a show that is highlighting “elite gifted athletes” and showcasing their particularly astonishing abilities. Oh boy. Then, I thought, how do we honor intellectually gifted folks on TV?

We don’t. Or we think we do because we watch people on Jeopardy competitions to see who has memorized the most facts. And we think, these are the smartest people. They know lots of trivia. Or we watch characters like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory or Sherlock on PBS. These people, we say, are what gifted looks like. Argh. Grrrrr. Expletive! (Note: I haven’t actually watched much of The Big Bang Theory. You can correct me in the comments, if you must.) 

Rant over.

I spend much of my day with gifted humans in my therapy and consulting practice. I will tell you what I see. 

Gifted is–

Suzanne, college junior, perfectionist and extrovert. Suzanne was bullied in elementary school because she was outspoken, an enthusiastic student, and a fast learner. The years of bullying and her inborn capacity to think of many options, choices, variables, and catastrophes combined to generate disabling anxiety. Her intensity, complex thinking, and extroversion left her frustrated and lonely. Conscientious about completing assignments with at least 120% effort, she got bogged down in her need for quality and accuracy. In therapy, understanding that the source of much of her self-criticism came from years of rejection from peers and misunderstanding of her own rainforest mind, Suzanne began to feel more self-compassion. She was determined to learn tools to calm her anxiety, ease her depressed moods, and find a way to make a difference in the world. 

James, 35, was overwhelmed by his many interests and abilities and unable to choose a path forward. He had a construction  job that was paying the bills but his heart was in music, composing, electronics, art, design, writing, philosophy, sailing, and more. He longed for a deep connection with a partner and for intellectual discussions around literature, spirituality, and life’s meaning.  He was an avid reader and researcher and loved diving into philosophical exchanges. As a child, his sensitivity, creativity, and curiosity were overlooked and misunderstood. In counseling, James worked to understand how his family of origin influenced his choices in relationships and his difficulty with decision-making. Learning about multipotentiality and giftedness gave him some relief and direction. He was open to exploring many healing modalities to address his complex inner and outer worlds. 

Tenisha, 29, was a profoundly gifted introvert. She excelled in most everything she tried including academics, art, music, dance, and writing. Schooling was frustrating and disappointing because she did not experience the level of intellectual stimulation she needed. It was hard for Tenisha to be with friends and family because she could sense what they were feeling and thinking. And, in turn, they were uncomfortable around her. She longed to find someone who would debate with her or who knew more about a topic than she did. She never felt truly seen. Health problems in her early 20’s confounded her doctors. After doing her own research, she diagnosed herself, correctly, surprising her practitioners, as she had no medical training. Even among the gifted, she felt like an alien. Tenisha had a strong sense of ethics and was deeply troubled by the lack of integrity she experienced in her workplaces. She lost jobs because she was outspoken. Tenisha wondered if she would ever find a career path where she could be herself and contribute to improving life on planet earth. In counseling, she found relief in that she could finally talk about her gifts without fear of rejection or judgment.

These are some of the faces of giftedness. Some of the highly sensitive, empathetic, creative, analytical, perfectionistic, deep thinking, complex, intuitive, intelligent, socially responsible, spiritual souls that I am privileged to work with.

This is what giftedness looks like.

(With apologies to Sheldon, Sherlock, and Jeopardy winners and fans everywhere.)

____________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: How do you describe giftedness? Do you relate to any of these profiles? What are your questions, thoughts, feelings, and curiosities? Your comments add so much. Thank you for being here. Sending much love. And thank you to the clients who are described above.

And if you need more evidence of why we need to understand giftedness, what about this article on the all-girls Afghan robotics team?

Or this short film. Made about loneliness in quarantine. Created by an obvious rainforest mind. Watch it even if you are not alone. It is funny and uplifting.

Author: Paula Prober

I'm a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in counseling gifted adults and consulting with parents of gifted children. The label "gifted" is often controversial and confusing. I use the metaphor of the rainforest to describe this population. Like the rainforest, these individuals are quite complex, highly sensitive, intense, multi-layered, and misunderstood. They're also curious, idealistic, highly intelligent, creative, perfectionistic, and they love learning. I've been an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I've written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Advanced Development Journal. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, was released in June 2016 by GHF Press and is available on Amazon or at your independent bookstore. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists, was released in June 2019.

43 thoughts on “The Many Faces Of Giftedness — Beyond Sheldon And Sherlock

  1. I don’t disagree with you often, but I will here (just a little bit). The Big Bang Theory has totally turned my marriage around. I’m probably more like Leonard than Sheldon, but often my wife would say, “Oooooohhhh, so that’s why you do that.”

    I have a friend that said, “Sheldon is such an ass.” My response was, “No, he has Asperger’s!” (Yes, I know that term has now been retired). I asked them if they’re the type of people that push people in wheelchairs down the steps–you don’t belittle someone just because they’re different.

    Sorry, I got sidetracked there for a moment. I love Big Bang. It may not be perfect, but it’s the only thing out there that has given a voice to the gifted, and an insight into our souls, even if it’s been glamorized for Hollywood.

    I’m fine if others disagree, but that’s my $0.02.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh, I appreciate this, Ed. Sheldon has always looked Aspie to me, so I can see how if you have Asperger’s, too, how it would be very helpful. And useful. My point is that we need examples of giftedness beyond Aspergers. Right? So thanks for this comment!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t *think* I’m Aspie, but I have a suspicion that my dad is. However, there are certainly a lot of human interactions that leave me scratching my head.

        In any case, Big Bang has been very helpful to see something that’s somewhat realistic. Like I said, it helped my wife understand me a little better, so that’s a huge win.

        Our cousins over on the Autism side of the house have had some great Hollywood examples. I particularly liked Sam in the Netflix series, “Atypical.”

        (I’m sure you’re aware that many psychologists are now grouping the Gifted onto the Autism spectrum. This has been extremely helpful to me because I’ve been able to barrow things from their tool bag to help in my own life. That’s why I was so excited about Atypical.)

        Liked by 2 people

        • So, here’s my experience. Part of being Aspergers includes high levels of intelligence. But not all people who are gifted are on the autism spectrum!!! If that’s what these psychologists are saying, that is absolutely inaccurate.

          Liked by 4 people

    • Big Bang Theory has its problems but I actually do identify more with Amy and Sheldon than any other characters I can think of on television. Like, to the point where I occasionally have to fast forward a bit because it’s hitting a little close to home. I’ve never been formally evaluated for autism but I did have a therapist for a while who observed that it was quite possible I was on the spectrum (and I might note that neither of these characters has a diagnosis, either). I get along OK so I don’t know that there’s any practical reason why I need more than that; the people who would understand accept what I can tell them, and as for the people who wouldn’t accept the informal observation of a therapist+the fact that I’m nearly the classic example of the kind of autistic woman who gets to her thirties without being diagnosed, they would probably not react generously if I did have a diagnosis to tell them about. And I know a lot of those women from my days in the gifted or honors classes in school.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have read that females on the autism spectrum are often not as easy to spot as males, Kristen. Is that what you’ve seen?

        I wonder if there are films that have gifted characters that are not stereotyped. There must be. Does anyone know of any? When I think of the movie “Gifted” the main character was a child who was a math genius, so still limiting what people think of as gifted. We didn’t really see the sensitivities, the empathy, the social responsibility, the emotional struggles.

        Like

  2. Thanks. That’s really helpful. I have certainly benefited from some of their tools (noise cancelling headphones, etc). However, I don’t fit many of the autism criterion. I’m definitely in the gifted camp; I just assumed I was a little bit on the spectrum too.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi Paula, I think this is a particularly good post. Real life examples can be so much explicative than dry definitions, although I will admit I read the dictionary for fun. Yeah, I know, nerd alert, as my students say. Anyway, I would like to make explicit an underlying concept of this article: the truth that giftedness includes profound challenges that follow an individual throughout the lifespan in all areas of experience.

    As my gifted 9 year old child said one morning at the breakfast table, “Mommy, being gifted is both a blessing and a curse.” This is true in my life as a gifted individual. However, at age 50, I can say that many challenges of giftedness have been alleviated for me through life experience, acquired wisdom, and personal healing modalities including talk therapy with a therapist who specializes in gifted individuals and families. I still have to continuously adapt to the positives and negatives giftedness brings to my existence. But now my giftedness is so much more of a blessing than not.

    I think I am writing this response to encourage gifted individuals who are exploring this path of self realization and transformation. Finding the dance of balance that allows you to offer your gifts to the world is a worthy and attainable goal. Gaining awareness of how your giftedness interacts with your life in positive and negative ways is empowering and can lead to great beauty and healing. So, I encourage you to dive in! Know thyself in this way. It will be a lifelong process, and it will be worth it!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The Big Bang Theory/Young Sheldon writers insist the character that they created is just a kid that could do things some adults have difficulty with. Conan Doyle hated Sherlock so much he killed him. Of course, famously he had to bring him back because of the outcry. Somewhere on the Internet, I don’t recall the URL, is a story he wrote that debunks all of Sherlocks abilities.

    There’s really only one problem with any kind of character on television or the movies. They’re on television and in the movies. It’s kind of like, for years my family owned a truck line, and we never once had an experience similar to anything a truck has ever done on television or in the movies.

    A little closer to real, however, are a variety of character’s behaviors on Numb3rs. The depiction of professor T is incrementally closer to real compared to other things. Still, all made for the drama, not the documentary quality.

    Unfortunately, in the near term, the likelihood of a realistic gifted person being depicted is probably equal to a giant pumpkin rising out of the fields on Halloween. I wish helicopters would’ve landed on our trucks. We could’ve charged extra for those loads.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. LOVE to all these beautiful geniuses. I’m especially feeling James with the longing for deep connection and conversation. It’s painful to have this need unmet. I’m a bonfire of thoughts and ideas with only the page to share them with. I feel spiritual communion through words and visions with peers would bring clarity and power to my rumblings.

    I wrote 10 more sentences explaining my blockages to meeting this need, realizing the deeper meaning of the blocks in an aha moment, and then relating it all to relationships being like wearing a new bathing suit in public when you’re accustomed to hiding out in sweats – but then I decided that was probably too personal and unrelated to the theme and saved them for my Scrivener. LOL!

    Liked by 6 people

  7. Many gifted (world class) athletes also have gifted rain forest minds. I raised two of them.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I have found a couple of TV shows that show gifted/ empathetic people. The first is ‘Anne with an E’ on Netflix, which I’ve been watching with my teenage girls. The latest film of ‘Little Women’ also depicts gifted women. There is also a British series called ‘Call the Midwife’ which is not specific to giftedness, but shows empathetic, kind behaviour while dealing with the harshness of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve tried watching Big Bang Theory and gave it up as a bad job.
    Social embarrassment humor is the primary construction of sitcoms and it just hurts to watch. I literally have to get up and physically leave the room and go read or watch something else because my guts are are twisted up and writhing while seeing these scenarios.
    I’m glad somebody found some use in Big Bang Theory. I’d honestly rather floss my teeth than watch it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your experience, Van. Interesting what you say about “social embarrassment humor.” And, I’m not so much making a statement about the program itself as I’m wanting to say that giftedness is so much more than how it’s characterized there and in other media. Appreciate hearing from you.

      Like

  10. Some years ago, a friend of mine encouraged me to watch The Big Bang Theory. He said I’d enjoy it. After he insisted a few times several days in a row, I ended up watching an episode of it (and chunks of other episodes) and I remember my reaction was “it is ok, it gets even like funny at times, but I would rather do something else than watching this TV show”. (I am not a TV-show lover, by the way.)

    I did not know that some of the characters there were supposed to represent gifted individuals and I didn’t feel it was the case after I was told so. However, I have found that (up to some extent) it is the very way in which a lot of people expect us -gifted- to be.
    How weird, I am not even close to any of the characters. 😂

    Maybe that’s the reason why most of my friends do not identify my “weirdness” as giftedness. But I’m happy with that. I may feel misunderstood by quite a lot of people (until they end up knowing me deeper if they want, sometimes), but I feel safe this way and I think in the long run is better that only the very close ones know (if they really want to know).

    Sure, there are other shows/films/etc. that may show a more accurate picture of what gifted may actually look like, but they are by far much less popular than The Big Bang Theory show and the like.

    Am I wrong? 🤔

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I feel that Big Bang and Sherlock mock giftedness. I enjoy Sherlock because of the suspense and mystery, but I can not watch Big Bang. Maybe it’s because my sister and brother in law kept telling me that I just had to watch it, that i would love it, that I would relate. And I don’t. Maybe I’m just sensitive because I’ve been mocked so much over the years by my family. Maybe I don’t want to see myself as a misfit. Maybe I am just an awkward misfit with no friends (not true—I’m lucky to have some wonderful friends)…this is how those shows make me feel.

    It’s just that society can’t accept brilliance without denigrating the person. Aside from athletics. I agree with Theresa by the way, many truly great athletes are also extremely intelligent. I have two kids who are brilliant, rainforesty and phenomenal athletes. I thank God for the athletics because they have at least one arena in their lives where they are accepted and respected without having to be ‘brought back down to Earth,’ by well-meaning relatives, or mocked by peers.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Do we even have documentaries on this topic (giftedness)? I had only seen them portraying ‘profoundly’ gifted/genius who read at 2, doing complex math at 3, and usually someone who is on the autism spectrum. I can’t relate to them. What about a person who is just moderate or highly gifted, or not on the spectrum, and is a rainforestmind? Are they might be too boring to be recorded? Gonna break those stereotypes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good news! There is a full-length documentary film coming out 2021. It’s on gifted children and mostly focused on education made by a wonderful film maker and his team, Marc Smolowitz. He has consulted for years with many of the experts in the field. I’m on the Advisory Board! To find out more go to http://www.theGwordfilm.com.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I think the big thing people miss on BBT is all the characters are gifted. Even Penny, even Howard, all of them. And their life experiences shaped how that came out. Sheldon had a parent (parents) that fought left and right to ensure he was challenged instead of left to rot in school. Leonard’s mother wasn’t as supportive, what would his success have looked like with the other mother type (look at how their interactions with the other’s mother is). Howard is gifted but society is often like Sheldon is- “but you are only…”, but he is happy.
    The girls too. Penny is gifted, she flits from jobs, always with a dream but unable to settle on much. She often sees things the guys miss, but given her upbringing is more practical (but bills and car maintenance tend to be beyond her). She isn’t a “dumb blonde”.
    Bernadette who was raised to be strong despite her size and coworkers don’t like her.
    Amy who was simply confident to the point of awkward.
    All of them are gifted, a lot of people miss that, but that is important.
    I dislike the social embarrassment part, my (very gifted) kids like BBT though. It was my oldest who pointed out the above. My son (who is 10 and will be starting high school before he turns 11), isn’t as much a fan of Young Sheldon. He says in the real world, Sheldon would be stuck in class with Missy (even because of Missy). But some of the other things he relates to.
    My son prefers Spencer Reid off Criminal Minds. That one isn’t trying to be realistic, but he still has a normal life doing normal stuff but also is really good at smart stuff. (His description).

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I do not believe giftedness can be defined in one box.
    I believe some children on the spectrum are gifted.That May come as an exceptional ability
    in one or usually more fields.My eldest sister now in her eighties was non verbal until the
    day before her 4 th birthday,Back then no one mentioned Autism.She was never good at expressing
    emotion.She excelled in every subject and helped her peers every single day in high school.She
    was not artistic but could tell you every painter and his/ her background etc.No one used the
    word gifted then either just (very smart) or a genius.She ended up a High School teacher of four
    subjects,Latin,History,English,Geography.In each subject her students praised her as much as
    their parents.She had a different approach engaging the minds and many girls attempted careers
    Previously not seen as “women’s “ professions..She taught debating bringing it to a level never
    reached again.Last year I encountered a woman who was not her student and she said “I was never
    in her class but she was extremely eccentric”.No one had ever said that to me before.I told my
    brother and he said well she was definitely autistic ,and brilliant.Her ability in Math and sciences was
    even greater.
    Fast forward I had 4 of my six children identified as “gifted”.They were in gifted programmes.
    One to day the first woman in Canada in her field when she got her doctorate.
    But I think gifted ness can encompass fields such as carpentry,metal works etc,Art of course.
    People who can see beyond and produce dazzling if not mind boggling things.They may not fit the norm
    in their private life either,problems in socialization etc.All just my humble experience and I was most
    intrigued by these posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, giftedness, of course, is complex and way outside of one box! At the same time, there are certain traits that the rainforest-minded gifted folks seem to have in common, within the wild diversity of the gifted soul. I write about those particular traits and issues because it’s hard to find much written about and for rainforest-minded types. Make sense?

      Like

  15. I’ve been told many times that I am gifted but I am also socially awkward. I went to a therapist once for depression and she asked me if I was gay and I told her I wasn’t and she didn’t believe me. I never went to a therapist again. My wife certainly believes that I am not gay. I also could never get along with bosses so I spent 20 years working for a delusional (but rich) paranoid schizophrenic who believed that she was the head of a huge multinational corporation. Since I retired, I’ve been spending my days writing screenplays (nothing sold yet but I do have a pretty good agent). Both my kids appear to be gifted – one has an MSW and the other has a PhD in Cultural Studies and is a Professor at a University. They are the only two people I know who are smarter than me (although my wife has more common sense than I do). Regarding the Big Bang Theory, my cousin Brian is way smarter than me or Sheldon.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. An afterthought: I was raised in a family of highly educated “geniuses,” including artists and college professors. My own so-called “genius” might simply be a learned ability to move comfortably in those circles. I really don’t seem myself as all that smart.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I finally got around to reading the article. The characters are very well described, I recognized myself in them. Also I always felt like a foreign body. Far too many ideas, thoughts, plans. Little understanding and misunderstanding in many areas. I discovered my “peculiarity” only at the age of 45 and was so happy to finally know what made my life so different. I am also extroverted, was always the first and last one at parties. I have always made a lot of “crap”, to have nonsense for everyone – in search of recognition. I was always driven – when I was standing still I felt bad, I didn’t allow any rest!
    I lost jobs because I don’t have the colleague gene, but I also found a job where I could play out my strengths and let the company grow. With 34 a heart attack, which questioned everything. Now my conscious life began. I enjoy so much time of my life consciously, and do many things in my private life. I also manage to enjoy the peace and quiet.
    Next week I will be 53 and I like living. I could probably have achieved much more if my talent had been recognized earlier, but I am very satisfied. I get along very well with myself and I don’t miss much when I am alone.

    Translated with http://www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)
    I’m wrizing from Germany!
    holli

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi,

    I just stumbled over your blog and I like it very much indeed! Thus, I thought I’ll just leave a comment 🙂

    I too am considered “highly gifted”, although I don’t like the term. More to say, I don’t like being categorised, because I think I (and everyone else) am/is much more than just that! As you wrote in your article, there are many facets and manifestations.
    For Sheldon on TBBT I firmly believe that he (his character) is often misunderstood – within the series, of course, but also within the public or the people who watch TBBT. Let me quickly elaborate why I think that (of course, this is just my opinion and other people could perceive it completely differently):

    I’m now 22 and working on my PhD as a psychologist. I have watched TBBT over and over again, since I was 13 and it helped me with so many situations and tough periods. Wherever I go, every job or internship interview I had, people always look at my CV and ask me: Oh, so you’re like Sheldon.

    I take it as a compliment, mostly, because I think Sheldon’s personality is hugely complex and mulitlayered and there are so many aspects to his cognitive and emotional being. What most people see, unfortunately, looks mostly like this: They see the strange, geeky nerd. The guy, who doesn’t understand sarcasm, the guy who’s not able to feel or show empathy, the guy who is so absorbed in his own universe, that he doesn’t care about anything. They see him as arrogant, egoistic, egocentric, self-centred and unable to cope with his life if it weren’t for Leonard or his mum.

    What I see (from now watching Young Sheldon, which I think greatly compliments the picture): It’s a guy, who happens to be more intelligent than others. Great. But what does that mean? It means, from a very early age, he asks different questions than other people. He cares about different topics than other people his age. He loves to read/write/learn and explore. And mostly, he feels that he is different. But why? I personally think from my experience, that this too is very demanding of a child (plus for the parents).

    I am an only child, so I had no siblings to compare myself to and my parents had no “real” point of reference, for how a child actually develops – because as you wrote, every parent thinks and tells that their child is gifted.

    So, growing up, you’re interested in so many “special” or “unnormal” thinks, so to speak. But I as I child, I don’t understand why. Or why others are not interested in them, or why other children don’t ask themselves these questions. As a toddler or preschool child, I hadn’t really understood, what “giftedness” meant, neither did my parents. For me, it’s normal. For them, it’s normal. But when you’re outside, in kindergarden, or school, it’s like you can’t understand why other kids aren’t that way, why nobody asks what happens if you cut the bread in halves and do it over and over and over again, and if there’s a point, where even with a microscope you won’t be able to cut it in halves again, although there still is something left. That’s what Young Sheldon taught me and helped me a lot with. Actually, I think, Young Sheldon is mostly about feeling misunderstood; feeling left out; feeling like there is no one who really understands you. Having an unsupportive environment (as in school) makes it even harder to cope with, because I think everyone, even Sheldon, wants to be a part of something! But he can’t and he doesn’t really know why.

    I think this really shows in TBBT. In so many episodes, especially as the series develops, he does show empathy. And in many situations he gets rejected. He opens up, and people don’t understand him. So it’s easier, to keep to yourself. It’s easier to say: Well, you’re all stupid, I won’t discuss this, than to start discussing something and seeing, that no one really understands your emotions and what matters to you.

    So yeah – sorry for the long message, it also just feels good, to write something like that. I think Sheldon does show empathy, and compassion, and deeply cares for people around him; but many times, he can’t show it, or he doesn’t know how, or he is just afraid of being rejected and being alone. I too have asked people for help, in places where I didn’t need it, just to feel, that they care for me; because I knew that in some other aspects, where I would have needed help, they probably wouldn’t be able to or wouldn’t understand.

    That’s why I love TBBT. I know every episode by heart. And whenever I have a tough situation to face, I know an episode which kind of mirrors that and which I can watch to feel better and understood.

    I hope, that there are some people who can understand this and maybe some people, who see the same in Sheldon as I do.

    Best and again amazing blog, I will definitely hang around :),

    Vanessa

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Dr Paula, this blog is one of the few places I find solace and where I meet people just like me.

    My name is Meshack and I am from Kenya.

    You are a great blessing to my life.

    Liked by 1 person

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