Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive

The Loneliness Of The Highly Gifted

69 Comments

Does this remind you of you? At age 4, you made a plan to help the starving children in Mogadishu. At 5, you made a book about deforestation and the poaching of animals. At age 11, you petitioned to save the elephants of Thailand and at age 15, you won a contest with your essay on human trafficking. People told you, you worried too much. They mocked your passion, and told you to go and have fun like the other kids. But you were determined to speak out and you did not understand why your drive was seen as so unusual.

image courtesy of Greg Rakozy, Unsplash

At 29, you are still struggling with being an outspoken outlier and with how to take action in a world that feels so broken. You have long wished there were more than 24 hours in a day. Your family continues to dismiss your striving as unrealistic or unnecessary. These days you avoid talking with them but you have yet to find a place to belong or a clan of like minds.

You may have found one or more career paths that fed some of your intellectual curiosity for a while or provided for your financial security but did not nourish your soul. Or when you mastered a job’s requirements in the first week, you found your coworkers do not respond with appreciation; while you remained frustrated and unfulfilled.

What is often the experience of the highly (exceptionally, profoundly) gifted is that you can be successful and high achieving in a variety of fields.

Dare I say, at everything you try.

Perhaps you learned to play several musical instruments without the usual hours of practice. And you are now fluent in your fifth language. You remodeled your home without any training or schooling. And you diagnosed your own chronic illness when all of the doctors were stymied. You taught yourself quilting, gourmet cooking, fly tying, stock trading, and chess, in your spare time. Not only that. You may have been like Chris who “took up target shooting at the age of 50, took my brand new air pistol out of its box, fired. Had someone ask me if I’d been in the army, I said no, then they asked how long I’d been shooting, and I replied ‘about 5 minutes since I took this out of its box’.”

You are likely really good at pretending you are not so good at things. Or apologizing for your abilities and accomplishments. Or finding a way to build up the other person and minimize your capacities. I wonder if you have memories of teachers telling you to “put your hand down and let others have a turn.” Then, feeling hurt, because your enthusiasm was misinterpreted, you experienced bullying, jealousy, and spiteful comments from peers. You were told to spend your time helping your classmates and you felt guilty because you wanted to be kind but it was torture, day after day after day.

All you ever wanted was to share your fascination with Escher and the latest episode of Planet Earth with someone. Anyone. And have them get it. And love it, too. And love you, too.

“I want to fly. And I want so very much for someone to think that’s really cool when they see me fly…. instead of being angry or jealous or feeling like they’re beneath me. I just want someone some day to love me just for me just the way I am.”

And yet, this is such a tricky topic. Who is going to commiserate with you? Who can you talk with about this struggle? I am not even sure how to write about it without sounding whine-y, complain-y, and ungrateful. Right? Gratitude, of course, is important. And, if you had narcissistic parents, you might be extra cautious about acknowledging your strengths and talents.

But this is a thing. A big thing. You and I know it. And, if nothing else, we can talk about it here. You can be yourself here. You can practice sharing your accomplishments, capacities, and wins here.

You can fly.

And we will all cheer as we watch you soar to greater and greater heights. And even if no one else notices or cares, at first, you will find someone, another rainforest mind, or two or three. I know it. And, as your passion to make a difference still shines, as you still ache for the elephants, know that your flight nourishes us all.

You being you is what this planet needs.

Welcome to your clan.

______________________________________________

To my dearest bloggEEs: Tell us about your many accomplishments and abilities! Have you experienced frustration and rejection? Do you worry that acknowledging your strengths might be a kind of grandiosity? Please share your stories. They add so much. Thank you to the bloggEEs who shared the above examples. Much love and appreciation to you all.

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.

69 thoughts on “The Loneliness Of The Highly Gifted

  1. Hi Paula,
    I do not check all the boxes for your description but I remember being mocked in junior high when a former friend told a group of kids that I wanted to write a book in 6th grade. Around the same age I was doling out basic astrological counseling to classmates and wishing I could discuss my reactions to a TV movie in greater detail Why did people only say they liked or hated a film? Where were people I could have true discourse with? Fortunately blogging has provided that outlet but it came a few decades later. I am so glad I found more of my people but was so much an outsider in my youth.

    peace, Linda

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Love this! Reading with tears in my eyes . . . as I always do whenever I read your blog. This is my first time commenting, but I need to let you know how thankful I am to have found this blog and your writings. You definitely get me. And I am trying so very hard to be for my 2 rainforest kids what my parents could not be for me. I will celebrate with them as they soar! Best wishes for a happy holiday, in spite of the loneliness, Paula!

    Liked by 7 people

  3. I am so happy I found you, already years ago. You are my hero!

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Thank you for this beautifully written article that brought so many memories back 🌸 You’re validating so many of my experiences. Understanding them is so liberating! It is funny that I stumbled on your article today, the day I decided to read your first book for the second time. I have evolved since I first read it and am eager to grasp and assimilate new things from it 😊🤗💕

    Liked by 6 people

  5. “love me for just the way I am” – I love this statement and know only too well how we all struggle at times with being okay with who we are. Just as we are… thank you for the gentle reminder 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for this article, Paula!
    I think I had a hard upbringing, all the while having really good grades, but feeling ungrateful for it, because I felt like an outcast socially. Then when the pandemic quarantine started, my family was usually at home. I had issues with my parents trying to understand me. (How I am an introvert and how I need alone time and/or less stimuli than before the quarantine, in contrary to most of my family members, who felt really bad about less stimuli and wanted to avoid that at all cost. My mom didn’t like the idea because I think she is a narcissist of some sort and she devaluated me and tried to convince me that I was crazy. But I know a lot more about narcissistic relationships now to get through the holidays and stay at home for a few weeks.
    The main reason I’m going back is to avoid a potentially dangerous situation with a roommate who has little to no control of himself when he is raging.

    Like

  7. I really love this post, Paula! Wow! Once again: I feel like you know me in person even deeper than other people whom I have actually met in person. You’re amazing! I wish I could meet someone in person who really appreciates me the way I actually am.

    I have learnt not to “show” my accomplishments, not to talk about them. Sometimes I even feel guiltiness-like when someone says s/he has typed my name in google and has surprisingly found that I have done X (written a book, music, whatsoever).

    Your words about us, rainforestminds, are so descriptive, touching, accurate, tear-jerking (in a good sense) at times. I guess that is why I love reading your blog. Whenever I feel bewildered, I know I need to read something here. If i have had a stressful day or if I feel heavyhearted, I know I need to play some music or come here to read. When I feel unloved, I know I need a RFM-blog reading dose. And when I feel something deep in my stomach, I know I need to go to the kitchen (so I’ll be going there in a minute… see you later) 😉

    Liked by 4 people

  8. Dear Paula, how good to read you again. You really have managed to be a refuge for me. Whenever I read your blog I feel very understood. I have lived everything you tell today and I still find myself many times apologizing for my abilities or even those of my daughter or hiding them or praising the benefits of another person or trying to make them look like disabilities or defects instead of abilities … I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world but in Spain some gifted organizations ask us to give them visibility, not to hide, but it is very difficult when you know that what can happen is that you arouse envy, that they do not understand you , that they call you a freak (although they already cross you out) or that envy makes them isolate you. But on the other hand, you want to fly, and be able to be proud of it… And you want to explain why you are different: “I am not a hermit, I am gifted, I think and feel different”… Thank you very much for everything you write, for me really is a comfort. How did you come to know so much about yourself and all of us? How could you put words to these powerful sensations? Thanks for being there

    Liked by 4 people

  9. The older I get and the more people I meet, the more i feel there are a much wider variety of minds and mindsets than is generally acknowledged. It’s nice to find spaces where we can share our experience and try to explain in some depth.

    I do resonate with some aspects of this description. I’ll try to share later about my childhood and K-12, college journey. (It’s long). Words that fit: Rainforest, artistic, precocious, adventurous, outsider, rebellious, dreamy, impulsive, risktaker, all words that defined me up through my twenties.

    I wasnt always well supported or understood, but I feel so fortunate to have had some lovely undersatnding people in my life so loneliness hasn’t always been the critical problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Yesyesyesyesyes!! All of this. As always, you strike the nail on the head. This experience is so excruciating at times yet I feel guilty for even feeling it, let alone talking about it. Even with my closest friends. There is so much judgment and assumption that to claim your gifts fully is to elevate yourself on some value hierarchy…yet it’s so often RFMs that are the most sensitive to inequity and injustice and have no interest in power-tripping! It’s a very specific kind of loneliness.
    I am grateful for the space you create here and all the commenters! ❤️

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Understanding is worth more than anything. Thank you for giving me that, Paula.

    I used to dumb down a lot to not make myself appear smarter; I failed. To my surprise, some of my peers felt offended by my false mimicry–I was being ungrateful and untruthful for what they called ‘gift’ that I had, they said. Since then, whenever people praise me for X thing I do, I choose to reply with thank you while my heart screams out loud denying it.

    For a very long time, I had this image of a suffering kid who was sent to wrong dimension. It was terrible. But at a second thought, maybe it wasn’t that terrible, if compared to jewish people lining up in front of gas chamber in Auschwitz. You get the idea- feel guilty to whine, to confide in, to complain about my struggles, the borderline between ‘being a typical human who whines at times’ and ‘being ungrateful’ is too transparent for them. [Shut-down mode is therefore activated.]

    Thank you, I can’t say enough of thank you, for being here always. Also, thank you to other commenters who share their thoughts and experiences, sending hugs. 💚

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Profound loneliness. Encased in a bubble only I couldn’t see what it was. But I am also saddened to not have any noteworthy accomplishments. My wings were clipped early on by a disinterested and largely uncaring world, and spent my existence in wonderment and exploration of why, rather than of do. Others might say I achieved in spite of, not as compared to.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Its like being hungry, all the time, and there are only ever crumbs on offer. And working on being more grateful for the crumbs.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. The fact that you have described my experience so closely, yet with enough difference to convince me that you haven’t been watching from inside my head, tells me that there are others out there like me. And that is comforting to know. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I so recognize it. And the impossiblity to do what sociaty expects.
    for me the “put your hand down and give others a chance “is burned into my brain. and then at the end of the year in my card the comment that I wasnt contributing to class. What do you expect. I am not allowed to contribute I always have to shut up and give others a chance, you really expect me to stay present? sure my body was in class, my brain was out among the stars. ( or the cat on the roof of the building opposed to the school.)
    the feeling guilty because things are easy on the first try. and I can out do the teacher after two months. so then the teacher in stead of being proud of being a good teacher looks at me as a fraud or a threath.
    I am 50 and never had a teacher in anything that wasnt making me feel bad. not a single one. I find it so hard to believe stories about teachers who make a positive impact on a kid.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Hi Paula,
    Thank you for the safe space here. I am brand new to the Rainforest Mind and am not used to being able to just say (write) what I actually think for all of the reasons listed above and probably a few of my own. In fact, I am so protective of my true and so very sensitive self that alarm bells are going off reading your article and the beautiful comments following as it seems like a set up and my flight instinct is on overdrive. Please forgive me if I am flinty or brittle in this as I have always felt alone and outreach is not something I do.

    Loneliness is a very big deal for me too. It breaks my heart to hear that so many of you on this post suffer from it though it does give me encouragement that I am not alone. I fully identify with “put your hand down” as I heard it often. As a kid, I was in MGM and have always felt that I studied for the wrong world as we did critical thinking, puzzles, logic traps, free expression, etc (I am sure Rainforest Mind is filled with ex-MGMers so you know what I mean) for a few hours and then went back to regular class which was rote repetition. I never did understand my peers and dang me if that is still not the case.

    My high school age son has learned how to deal with me and I asked him once what is wrong with me in social situations. He told me people do not know how to deal with me being an out-of-nowhwere expert on a subject that I had read about once and understood. His comment (and I trust his judgement) brought me back to my oldest truth, that most people do not like smart people.

    Thank you again for creating this space Paula. Just typing this out is riling up my emotions and fears and the depression from not being able to get my head around how to identify what is wrong with me.

    You gave us a great post.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you for taking the time and courage to write here, monstero2006. I am so glad you found us. (Just in case some readers don’t know what MGM is, I believe it was what the gifted program was called in California. Mentally Gifted Minors. Is that right? We have a lot of international readers, too, who may not know the acronym). Welcome!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you very much. Re-reading my post the next day is rather liberating and this really helps. I think you are already helping me shed my baggage a bit and my personal normal is supposed to be happy and excited and looking for the new! I don’t always remember that.

        MGM does indeed stand for Mentally Gifted Minors and was a state of California program for 2%ers though I have read they used the Mensa qualifying IQ of 132 as well.

        High level MGM program details for reference: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED060585.pdf

        Good day and thank you !

        Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Monstero, how painful is to read “what is wrong with me”… I´ve wondered it so many times… Always I feel like there is something in me that makes people hating me with no reason (from my point of view, of course). I think you´re right, people don´t like intelligent people :(.

      Liked by 3 people

  17. monstero, Mar, everyone — There is NOTHING wrong with us!! I spent over 60 years convinced that I was completely unlovable and that there was something horribly wrong with me. Finally I realized there is NOT ANYTHING wrong — not with any of us. We are each a unique treasure. The best solution I have so far is to try to balance my interactions pretty carefully. Most of all I try to be true to myself, but it is more peaceful if I use great care with how I treat others. It doesn’t mean not being you, it just means toning down a bit, and expressing different sides with different groups. As for most of you I’m sure, full-on ME is just too much for other humans.

    But I can be my full-on ‘save the planet’ me with groups or people who feel as I do, and be my full-on ‘academic analyst-geeky’ me with my major professor and other students in that curriculum. I can be my full-on ‘stripping this house to the studs and rebuilding it’ me with the guys (and happily a few women there too) at Home Depot/Lowe’s etc

    For me anyway, I think of it as kindness to others. People are indeed freaked out by smart people; it scares them and makes them feel inferior, thanks to our society. So I like to spend time analyzing people and my conversations with them and experimenting around with what I can say, and how to phrase things, so that I can still pretty much be me, but not cross that line of intimidating the other person. Since I very much enjoy interacting with other people, it’s a compromise that is better than anything else I’ve come up with so far. And I try to look at it positively that I’m exercising my analytical skills, and focusing on the good interactions that come out of it. Even my incredible 16-yr old going on 5-yr old, blue tick beagle who is my absolute rock doesn’t enjoy some sides of me. Sure, the “run through the forest chasing interesting scents all day” me he finds to be exemplary, but the “woe is me, stressed-out, how did I screw that up” me he thoroughly dislikes … unless of course it involves large quantities of pity-party food 😉

    So glad you spoke up monstero; believe me a lot of us have been where you’re at, and still are some days. Afraid to speak up for fear of being betrayed, or letting too much of ourselves show. Always so hard to trust, but keep at it. Paula is right that we all have a tremendous amount to offer the world if we can break free of our own constraints.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well said, itssue42. I have written about how there are times when RFMs need to be strategic or self-protective around different types of people and depending on the situation. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Hi ItsSue42,
      Thank you very much for your thoughts here and really writing like I think. I find myself studying the facial expressions of people and if unhappy, I wait for the look of boredom. If I am enthused, I wait to see where we can take the talk. The difference is usually me, your advice is spot on.
      Also, you might have given me my new t-shirt: “full-on ME is just too much for other humans”. That is so great!

      Liked by 3 people

  18. Ooh YES I love the t-shirt idea 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  19. My latest round of positive disintegration was in part designed to reformat myself into a different way of being around this experience of cultural and personal loneliness, so these states are now a background rather than a foreground frequency. What is of greater interest to me now is what I refer to as my ‘Vali’ (Myers, the Australian artist known as the Witch of Positano) or my Frida energy, which focuses on the question of what is intrinsic to *my* nature and my desire to express and create from that place rather than from some notion of trying to fit into a profoundly disruptive, dysregulated and sick society that I honestly can no longer see any merit whatsoever in trying to navigate or comprehend at all- there is a signal here on this planet that, let unchecked, has demonstrated itself entirely willing to destroy everything and anything in its path- the fact that the majority continue to refuse to recognise this as problematic rather than some kind of ‘spiritual dilemma’ or psychological puzzle to solve has disinclined me to give any more energy to the dominant culture and instead focus on what remedy may be possible to this planetary distortion.

    I remember all the hype around the ‘Indigo’ children back in the day, the claims that these individuals had come to ‘save humanity’ from itself and even as a child I thought that idea was peculiar- how could we possibly dissuade a patently insane group from doing disastrous things? In the unfolding decades after it’s patently obvious that this was never and has never going to be a workable theory or practice. What I have been focusing on in the past few years is formulating a disintegration that would allow me to hold the possibility of connection as a potential in my field without hanging anything on the idea; I can immerse myself in my own creating and embodiment choices without suffering the piercing sense of loneliness and isolation that accompanied me earlier.

    Positive disintegration is one of the most powerful tools available to the H-PG individual that, once there’s a degree of mastery in the process, allows us to rapidly fractally compress, dissolve and emerge with the new and desired configuration in place; the EFT practice known as Matrix Re-imprinting also serves this function, so I often use that in combination with the disintegration. We are fractal butterflies that can continually re-enter the chrysalis and remake ourselves; the notion of fixed anything at all is so limiting when it comes to beings who can move as fast and as fluidly as we can (IF we give ourselves the necessary permissions to do so)- I gave myself those permissions a few years ago now and it upped my disintegration game hugely. We are far more effective when not trying to engage, explain or navigate insanity of any kind; we’re built for something *entirely* different and I for one have chosen to embrace and embody this as passionately as I am capable of, with my laser focus on maximum setting.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you for describing some of your process so clearly, songs.she.is. I haven’t written about positive disintegration because I haven’t really studied it in depth. Can you tell us what particular resources you’d recommend if someone wants to know more? I have never heard of Matrix Re-imprinting. (Emotional Freedom Technique?) That sounds fascinating. I’m sure we are all benefitting from you having your “laser focus on maximum setting.” I shall be looking up Witch of Positano!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Wooow! songs.she.is, you’ve left us a lot to ponder here, thank you very much for the very detailed and emotive descriptions of your experiences. “We are fractal butterflies that can continually re-enter the chrysalis and remake ourselves…”(yeees, I agree, and what a beautiful way of framing it. I’d love to learn more about how to do this in better ways, so I’m excited to learn more about the terms/processes you have mentioned.

      Also, I wasn’t born yet in the age of the Indigo children (Wikipedia just told me what is meant by the term), and it isn’t quite the same, but the idea that the Indigo children would “save humanity from itself” makes me think of the movement of incredible youth nowadays including Greta Thunberg, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, Autumn Peltier, and so, so, so many others working to raise awareness and demand meaningful actions about climate change and our relationship with the Mother Nature. Like Greta said last year at the UN, “I shouldn’t be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet, you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!”. I can understand where she is coming from, yet I do think that all generations need to work together on designing and implementing a new system because the dominant system is clearly not working and youth voices are key.

      Again, many, many thanks for sharing 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  20. Everyone comes to me to learn from. I’m the one who can explain and answer questions and offer solutions to their problems.

    But where can I find such a person? Someone to answer my questions. Like really answer them rather than respond “That’s a good question!”

    Liked by 2 people

  21. Paula, thank you so much for your blog and this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Dear Paula: Thank you once again for sparking an insightful understanding with your resonating descriptions that strike just the right balance of reality and kindness through your wonderfully creative light touch of healing humour. After reading this article, the puzzle pieces fell into place around my experiences on this topic. Most potent was the realization that in being asked and expected to care for younger siblings, help classmates, and assist colleagues, I spent my energy on others without my needs being attended to by those same adults who benefitted from my abilities starting at such a young age. In that process, I did learn, as you said, “to build up the other person,” including those adults. Subverting my needs and dimming my light became a way of being that subsisted continually below the surface of everyday living. Thankfully, those needs and my light are asking to come back into awareness so that they can be nurtured and cultivated with understanding and presence. With much gratitude and appreciation for the gifts you share and the contributions you so generously engage us with as a faithful reader.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. With recent posts about connection and friendship it brought to mind questions I’ve had for sometime. For RFM’s is a neurotypical model of friendship the likely model for RFM’s? If our uniquely wired brains cause us to consider most of what we do and think differently, does that uniqueness end where relationship begins? If we are experiencing the world differently from others doesn’t that suggest we’re experiencing relationship different as well?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes. I would say that relationships would be no exception to “experiencing the world differently.” That said, there is no one size fits all so our complexities would factor in, too. Make sense, M.J? And what do you and others think about this?

      Liked by 1 person

      • B2E & A2E: Before 2E & After 2E. All my past and current relationships were started B2E. I’ve yet to connect deeply, in any form, since learning I was 2E, A2E. If RFM extends into relationship is there a limit to shared connection?

        To explain, this is how my B2E life has been. I meet and connect with someone in a neutral location or event. Our connection grows over time and we decide it would be great to get together and play. We find that playing at their house or playing at the park in between our houses works well. However, it becomes a problem whenever they come to my house to play. Some become scared, others are overwhelmed, a few simply disappear, and no one likes how complex my house is to play within. At some point for the connection to continue and the relationship to grow play entirely stops at my house.

        As I set out for new relationships A2E, what will help people to be more at ease playing at my house? Or, are certain rooms forever going to be closed off to others A2E?

        Liked by 1 person

        • This is a tough one to answer, M.J. I think I’d need more information about you to make any suggestions. It can depend on many variables, like, for example, what type of exceptionality is the other E… But don’t give up on finding friends/relationships!!

          Liked by 1 person

  24. When I was 10 years old , I read “Johnathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach. I remember being mesmerized and satisfied after reading it, but was not at all aware of why I was so intrigued by this bird. When asked, as people often do, what my favorite book is, I usually shrug it off with something like, ” that’s like asking what grain of sand is the prettiest”.
    ( And yes, it would be some time before I realized that comments like that were not well received by MOST people.)

    I recently purchased a copy for my library and started re-reading it, 45 years later!! Needless to say, the magic of it , the trust, the exposure were all so clear to me now. My reaction to that story was one of complete belonging and love for a self I would soon pack away for safe keeping. That story was evidence that my tribe was out there somewhere and as Johnathan surely learned, searching for it is an incredibly lonely journey, but one worth taking.

    Paula, this article has help me finally solve the age old question. My favorite book is , “Johnathan Livingston Seagull”!!!!!
    Because it saved my “self”. For all of us who are struggling with authenticity, check it out. It’s never too late!!

    Liked by 2 people

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