Your Rainforest Mind

Support for the Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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The Many Faces Of Giftedness — Beyond Sheldon And Sherlock

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.)

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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.


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The Gifted Extrovert

photo courtesy of Emile Guillemot

I’ve been ignoring you. Those of you who are extroverts. My last post favored introverts. As did this one on Rebelle Society (adapted from the blog post). And I wrote a piece on IntrovertDear that will be out February 1st. ( How I Found a Career That Had Introvert Written All Over It ) You’ll want to read that one. It describes my personal trek “from extrovert wannabe to introvert queen.” Which, you see, is the thing. My bias. I’m a wholehearted, full-throated, undeniable introvert.

Even though it may be that more introverts choose therapy, so those are the people I spend most of my days with, I’ve met enough extroverts in my practice and personal life that I can tell you about them.

(Note: You may not identify as either extrovert or introvert. You might say that it depends on the context. That you’re multifaceted. OK. Then you might be an ambivert. Very rainforest-y of you.)

I love extroverts. I wanted to be one. In many cases (there are always exceptions): You carry the conversation. Get me out of my house. Have fascinating stories to tell.  Introduce me to your friends. Chair the meeting. Run for office. Organize the bake sale. Set up the Go Fund Me campaign. Attend the political protests. You are energetic, dynamic, and witty collaborators.

But it’s not all that simple when extroverts have rainforest minds.

I remember Rosemary. She was a grad student in the music department at our local university. Articulate, generous, and brilliant. Rosemary yearned for friends and mentors. But she was several steps ahead of everyone she met. Even her professors couldn’t keep up. Rosemary loved collaborations. She depended on them. But it was hard to find people who wanted to work with her. She had more experience and knowledge than her peers and ran out of patience when they didn’t measure up to her expectations. She would “pump the brakes” to slow herself down, but it usually wasn’t enough.

I remember when she told me about finally finding a couple of cohorts who agreed to go out for drinks after class. She was looking forward to deeply invigorating analysis, debate, and fun. But it didn’t happen. She said she was so disappointed, but not surprised. Her level of intellect and enthusiasm wasn’t matched. She was hitting her stride at 1am when they were heading home. The constant experience of loneliness was overwhelming.

Another client, Jill, said that her introvert friends enjoyed movies alone or were irritated by interruptions during a film. For her, movie going was a shared experience. Both during the film and after. Noticing the reactions and responses of her friends. Analysis on the way home. The film was an opportunity for human interaction. Jill also loved big musical events for what she described as “mirroring my experience, a tethering” and an essential experience of existence and belonging. She liked to be anonymous where no one asked anything of her. She could dive into the crowd and experience the “organism.” Feeling a part of humanity and being nourished by the large, pulsing energy of the group.

Loneliness is an issue for all rainforest minds. But it’s so much trickier for extroverts.  As you can see, extroverts are energized by groups of people. Humans are your fuel. Also, if you’re an external processor, which many of you are, you need a person to externally process with. It’s not very satisfying to talk out loud to yourself! And if the few people you do find, can’t keep up with you, even when you pump your brakes, you have no reliable source of rejuvenation and nourishment.

What this means, then, is that it’s essential that you understand yourself as someone with a rainforest mind and then use your charm and verbal skills to find your pack. I know you may feel discouraged and hopeless after years of trying. But other gifted extroverts are out there! Here are some suggestions on how to find them. Another source I’ve found recently is The School of Life based in the UK.

So, my dears, whether you’re an extrovert, introvert, or ambivert, we’re all in the rainforest mind clan. So dive in. Get nourished. You belong here.

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To my bloggEEs: Are you an extrovert? Can you give us some examples of what that means to you and how you grapple with loneliness? We also want to hear from the introverts and ambiverts who are here. What are your thoughts, feelings, and questions? And, I realize that you live all over the world. So if my descriptions aren’t accurate for cultural or other reasons, please let me know! And let us know where you live. What are the attitudes toward rainforest-mindedness in your country?

Thanks to the clients who inspired this post. And thank you to you all. Click on this link to read more posts from professionals and parents about giftedness and belonging.

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