I was asked on a recent podcast about my work with clients who experienced trauma as children. Are rainforest-minded clients more traumatized than non-rainforest-minded clients when there is abuse in the family? Are they more resilient? Is there a difference between a highly sensitive, intuitive, gifted child and a regular more typical child when it comes to growing up in a seriously dysfunctional family? What about intuition and spirituality? How do they play a part in the life of a rainforest mind experiencing trauma?
Well. As usual, I can only speak anecdotally. But I have worked as a therapist since 1992 so that is quite a few years of anecdotes!
That said, as you might imagine, the answer is not simple. And because I work exclusively with rainforest minds (RFMs), I have no real concrete means of comparison. So, those of you with a more skeptical, analytical bent, bear with me. I am simply sharing what I have seen and I am open to hearing your thoughts.
Another thing. The population of gifted humans I know is also a particular group of folks who want therapy, can afford therapy, and are actively choosing self-examination. So, I will be speaking about a fairly select group.
Yet another thing. I do realize that people write volumes on each of these topics and here I am writing an itty bitty blog post. Apologies.
Eek. One final thing for new readers. Not all gifted folks have rainforest minds. But all rainforest minds are gifted.
Phew. Disclaimers aside. Here ya go.
Over the years, I have worked with many clients who were abused in their families of origin. There are clear impacts that can include: intense anxiety and hypervigilance, depression, safety-trust-control issues, self-doubt, self-hatred, low self-esteem, codependency, boundary problems, relationships that repeat the unhealthy patterns in the family, somatic symptoms, PTSD, and delayed achievement in career paths. And more. Clearly, RFMs are deeply impacted by early trauma.
One might think a highly sensitive child would be more affected in an unsafe environment than someone less aware or less sensitive. And, yes, these kids are likely more vulnerable due to their keen awareness, empathy, and sensitivity. And yet. What has surprised me, even with the greater vulnerability, has been the quality of resilience. In spite of the severe abuse that many of my clients experienced, I have not seen them becoming abusers themselves. They do not develop serious personality disorders. They still maintain their powerful empathy, sensitivity, moral compass, and mental agility.
How is this possible?
Many of my clients tell me that at a very early age, they knew something was wrong with their parents so that they were less likely to fully blame themselves for the abuse. There was a certain capacity for observation or, perhaps, metacognition or intuition. This awareness may have provided some protection from the intense self-hatred and acting out behaviors that many children develop in these circumstances, that can lead to more severe outcomes including serious addictions and deep-seated mental disturbances such as narcissism or psychopathology.
There is more.
The intuition and spirituality that comes with a rainforest mind is a natural resilience builder. RFMs are often quite intuitive. They know things and do not necessarily know where the knowing comes from. They receive ideas, direction, and support from particular intuitive insights or psychic capacities. There is often an unusually strong spirituality including a mystical connection with Spirit or Guidance or Nature or the Universe or God. Clients have told me that when they were quite young, they felt the presence of angels or spiritual guides providing protection, support, and love during those early years.
Many RFMs seek meaning outside of traditional religious circles. Some explore Buddhist practices, earth-centered beliefs, or shamanic influences. They often find peace, a sense of belonging, and wisdom when they spend time in the natural world, communicating with animals, trees, rivers, and plants. One way to think about it is that this intuitive and spiritual circuitry provides a strong safety net when a rainforest-minded human is threatened.
On occasion, I have mused that RFMs might be old souls and all of those lifetimes contributed to their set of unique traits and to their resilience. And, more recently, it has occurred to me, that perhaps these clients are born with a crystalline strength that runs through the center of their body-minds that not even the most horrific abuser can touch, much less break.
Certainly, many rainforest-minded clients have a long, complicated grieving process in therapy to heal from the serious traumas and the devastating losses they have experienced. But they are not broken. At their center remains a powerful, tenacious, enduring, robust, resplendent Light.
And that Light saves them. And just might save us all.
To my bloggEEs: As you can tell, I am a little anxious about this post (Did the 5 disclaimers give it away???) I am not sure why except that, perhaps, this is an even more complicated and controversial topic than usual. And then, I realized I’ve written about this before. Here. Go figure. Please share your personal stories in the comments. Your insights and experiences are so valuable. If you know of good resources about trauma, resilience, intuition, and spirituality, please tell us about them. Here are a few worth looking into: Spirituality: Tara Brach. Clarissa Pinkola Estes. On Being by Krista Tippett. The Evolutionary Collective. Trauma: Judith Blackstone. Complex PTSD. Healing Trauma. Sending you much love.