Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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I’m Not Gifted, I’m Just Weird

photo courtesy of Eugenio Mazzone, Unsplash

You’d think that gifted people would know how smart they are. You’d think that gifted individuals would find life to be smooth and easy. You’d think that gifted folks would feel superior and judgmental of all non-gifted humans everywhere.

Nope. No way. Not the ones I know. And I’ve known a lot of them. I’m that old. (My former middle school students are turning 50. Yeah. Old. OK. Old-ish.)

Granted, I work with a particular variety of gifted souls. The rainforest-minded (RFM). Not all gifted folks are the RFM type. Some can be cognitively advanced but not highly sensitive or empathetic. Some can be very academic and scholarly, but not have multipotentiality. So, yes. Maybe some of the non-RFM-gifted know how smart they are, find life to be easy, and are judgmental. Maybe.

But, they weren’t in my classroom when I was a teacher in the mid-’70s and ’80s. They haven’t been in my counseling office for the past 25+ years. The RFMs I’ve known will tell you: I’m not gifted. I’m just weird. And they will struggle. With: Sensitivities. Injustice. Decisions. Choices. Achievement. School. Relationships. Communication. Emotions. Careers. Belonging. Parenting. Anxiety. Depression. Perfectionism. Guilt. Politics. Climate change deniers. Conspicuous consumption. Not enough time to read all of the books ever written.

And that’s if they grew up in a healthy family.

If you throw dysfunctional family into the mix, it gets even more complicated. I’ve written about that here and here. With more to come.

So, if you have a rainforest mind or if you love someone who does or if you work with them or teach them, it’s time to get out of denial.

It matters.

Why?

It matters because everyone will benefit if our rainforest-minded humans understand why they struggle and what to do about it. It matters because RFMs are raising RFM kids. If the parents know who they are, they’ll be better able to support their children. It matters because educators, psychotherapists, doctors and other professionals will stop misdiagnosing their clients and will be more effective practitioners.

It matters because we all need the intelligence, compassion, creativity, and sensitivity that our rainforest-minded beings share with us. Like we all need our tropical rain forests.

We won’t survive without them.

We won’t survive without you.

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To my bloggEEs: Do you recognize your giftedness? How do you struggle? Have you just felt weird much of your life? What would it be like if you accepted yourself as a gifted soul? Thank you, as always, for being here.

 

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If I’m So Smart, Why Can’t I Make A Decision?

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

You would think that a smart person would find decision-making easy. But, no. It’s often quite the opposite. 

There are gazillions of reasons for this. Well, maybe not gazillions. But lots. Here are just a few:

You want to make the right decision but you can think of arguments for all sides of the issue.

You see how everything is related to everything else.

You’re not sure which choice is the most in line with your ethical stance. And ethics matter.

You want to choose the right thing but then you have to let go of all the other things you didn’t choose. And that’s painful.

You’re concerned about how your decisions will affect others. Not just family members. Everyone.

You’re easily overwhelmed by the number of options.

You feel pressure to do the right thing because that’s what everyone expects and you can’t disappoint them.

From the time you were a toddler, you were tuning in to what others needed and trying to please them. You’re still trying to please them.

You have a pile of books by your bed but you can’t decide which one to read first because you want to know everything– NOW.

You grew up in a chainsaw family so it was life-threatening or humiliating to make a wrong choice.

You care deeply about social justice so you want to be fair to everyone.

You are a multipotentialite.

You like keeping things open-ended because there’s always new information on the way.

You believe that you’re a complete failure if you make a wrong decision.

You’re terrified of screwing up your children.

So, what can you do?

You’ll find some ideas in this earlier post. The emphasis there is on developing and trusting your intuition. Writing dialogues with parts of yourself. Meditating. Tai Chi. Time in nature. Building a spiritual practice. (Be sure to read the comments.)

Those ideas work well for big decisions. What about the every day choices?

This is tricky. But I’ve made a list of mantras that you can say to yourself when you need them. Keep the list handy. It helps to breathe, too. When faced with a “simple” choice or decision, say to yourself one or more of these:

~ No one will die.

~ Mistakes will make me more likable.

~ I can change my mind at any time.

~ Perfection is over-rated.

~ Maybe I was never prom queen/king, but I’m still an extremely cool person.

~ My kids will grow up healthier if I model resilience.

~ I can comfort the child part of me who is the one who is freaking out. The adult part of me knows what to do.

~ It’s all a grand experiment.

~ I am a dynamic work of art. In process.

~ No one else will even notice.

~ I’m more critical of myself than anyone I know.

~ My memoir will be much more fascinating if I make some ridiculous decisions.

And, if all else fails, remember the wisdom of Donald Antrim:

“The simple question “What color do you want to paint that upstairs room?” might, if we follow things to their logical conclusions, be stated, “How do I live, knowing that I will one day die and leave you?”

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To my bloggEEs: A person on a Facebook site about giftedness said that she thinks that the comments on this blog are the best comments on the whole internet! I have to agree. Keep ’em coming. And thank you. What decisions are hard for you? What helps you make them?

(Oh, and you may have noticed that I have some new photos. If you want to see my latest look, go to my About page! You can even see my over-excitable, effervescent hair in its free state.)

 


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For Gifted Kids And Their Teachers — Strategies For Success

Photo courtesy of Ashim D’Silva, Unsplash

Maybe you are an enthusiastic, hungry learner. You have so many questions and so many answers; your drive to analyze and create is massive and never ending. Your intense curiosity annoys your fellow students and rattles your teachers.

Was this your experience in first grade? Is this your story even now that you’re in grad school? If so, it can be deeply painful and frustrating. You may blame yourself for your too muchness and your seemingly inadequate communication and social skills. You may have been labelled a know-it-all but you wonder how that’s possible when you feel like a want-to-know-it-all and a slacker.

Maybe you’re a teacher who is working valiantly to serve the wildly different abilities of your students. You love your kids but are overwhelmed by their academic and emotional needs. How do you manage their range of abilities, their fears and doubts, and the demands of their parents and your administrators? And what about those kiddos who always finish work early and are asking questions that you can’t answer? Who are passionate about learning but don’t hand in their homework? Who are sensitive to the suffering multitudes but don’t appear to care when correcting your spelling?

What are some ways rainforest-minded learners can navigate the education system? How might teachers meet the needs of the gifted student?

Yep. These are HUGE questions. The following are some tiny answers. (But a place to start.)

For students (and parents):

Look for allies: Ask your favorite teacher to start a philosophy club. Look for mentors during your after school activities and entice them with your sense of humor. Find the other rainforest-y kids and talk to them. Go to office hours with the professor who loves your inquisitive nature.

Don’t believe that something’s wrong with you when teachers misunderstand your effervescence, your high standards, your disappointments or your need to correct others’ errors. Ask to meet with your more sensitive instructors over lunch and explain what you know about yourself and rainforest minds. (Show them my blog!) Ask them to advocate for you. Negotiate a flexible plan to get relevant work completed or to design alternative assignments.

Find inspiration from your research online. Contact fascinating people like Maria Popova from Brain Pickings or Krista Tippett from On Being.

For teachers:

Recognize the importance of your work and the powerful influence you have on children.

Find ways to nourish yourself. Attend conferences like this one. Join NAGC and access their resources.

Use some of the ideas suggested in this blog post such as: “It won’t take much to get your gifted students to adore you. Listen to them. Let them know that you appreciate how hungry they are to learn, then find ways to feed them…”

Read Parker Palmer‘s book, The Courage to Teach. Let his positive vision guide you.

Access curriculum guides published by Prufrock Press and Free Spirit.

Don’t miss the important documentary on gifted children and education titled The G Word that will be out in 2019.

Find inspiring words to tape to your refrigerator such as: “The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts — the place where intellect, emotion, spirit, and will converge in the human self — supported by the community that emerges among us when we choose to live authentic lives.” Parker J. Palmer

For students, parents and teachers:

“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”   Wangari Maathai              

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To my bloggEEs:  Tell us about your experiences in school as a student or a teacher. How might you shed your fear and share hope with your self, your family, your school, your community or your world? Thank you to the reader who inspired this post.


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Gifted: The Movie — A Review of Sorts

photo used with permission from Fox Searchlight

I confess. I love sweet sentimental movies with happy endings. Call me crazy. Or old. But, hey. In today’s world? We all need some happy endings.

Not only that. If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll know that I’m all about giftedness. I write about it. Talk about it. Think about it. Dream about it. Sing about it. (OK. I don’t sing about it.) Giftedness grabbed me when I was a young lass of 25 and didn’t let go.

Don’t ask why. I don’t know. After all, I didn’t raise a gifted child. Didn’t grow up in a gifted family. And, truth be told, I’m barely gifted myself, as far as I can tell. But, as many of you know, I started teaching gifted kids back in my young lass days. Now I’m a counselor/consultant for gifted adults slowly gaining notoriety for my oh-so-witty blog, my fresh-off-the-press book, and my capacity to nurture the intense, questioning, emotional, sensitive, perfectionistic, brilliant humans who are my clients.

But, wait. Back to the topic at hand.

The film, Gifted. It was more than sentimental. More than a happy ending. It brought up important issues that those of us in the field grapple with every day. Issues that real gifted folks face. Go, Hollywood! Some of my lovely blogging colleagues (and moms of gifted children) have written reviews that, I have to say, have more substance than what I’ve read in the mainstream media. Here are a few: Pamela, HeatherCaitlin and Jen.

The film doesn’t dive deep but it opens the door. To these questions: Can a gifted child be a “normal” kid? Might it be appropriate not to shoot for normal but, rather, for authentic? What are the best ways to balance a child’s intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical lives when the child is wired gifted? How do we help them find friends?What are the options for education? How can educators support these youngsters? What pressures to achieve do gifted children experience? When does the pressure become so great that the person considers suicide? How do we support the emotional needs of the gifted, including their intense sensitivity and empathy? What kind of support do parents need to raise these kids? What types of giftedness exist in addition to math prodigies?

And I’m just getting started. You will likely come up with even more questions. And for answers? Well, the bloggers I mention above. Me, of course. More bloggers and resources here and here. If you’re a conference goer, check this out. (I’ll be there presenting!) And you’ll want to know about a documentary in the making titled The G Word from the filmmaker Marc Smolowitz. It’s in process right now and I’m confident that it’ll be both inspirational and informative.

So, my dears, go see the film. Take your kids. (There’s just a little profanity and a little sex.)  Then talk to your kiddos, your educators, your psychotherapists, your relatives and your one-eyed-cats about what being gifted (or, as I call it, having a rainforest mind) might mean.

Go get yourself some sweet sentiment and a happy ending.

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To my bloggEEs: Let us know if you see the film and what you think. And thank you, as always, for your you-ness.


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Your Precocious Kid Was So Adorable. Now, At 15? Not So Adorable.

photo courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash, CC

Your daughter, Jenny, is editor of the school newspaper. She’s a math whiz, a voracious reader, and a star athlete. At 15, she looks destined for a great life.

Why, then, is she freaking out over what looks like nothing? Why is she still having meltdowns? Why is she screeching at you about your fundamentally inadequate parenting?

She was so darned cute when she was three.

But now, school is a struggle. She questions her teachers’ authority and refuses to turn in assignments that aren’t up to her standards. She criticizes the values of her so-called friends. Even though she has great empathy for the suffering multitudes, there’s no empathy for you. None. Nada. Zilch.

Welcome to adolescence. Welcome to GiftedKid 2.0.

I’m exaggerating. A little. In fact, she really does have empathy for you. Believe it or not, she feels guilty for her outbursts and hides a pressing need to please you. She worries that she’s a disappointment and that she’ll never live up to your expectations. (or her own) Her burning need for intellectual stimulation and her loneliness at not being deeply seen, also trigger her emotional reactivity.

Not to mention, um, hormones.

And, of course, your teen may not be like this at all. Gifted kids come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. But if you relate to the above, you’re not alone.

What can you do? Besides escape to a deserted island until she’s 21?

• Remind yourself that overexcitabilities (OEs) are part of the rainforest-minded  package. Gifted kids are naturally more intense emotionally as well as intellectually.

• Notice if you have your own set of OEs and learn how to nourish yourself, soothe your soul and get your own intellectual needs met.

• Try your best not to take the criticism personally. This is not easy. Breathe. Learn to meditate. Get exercise. Try therapy if your childhood pain is being triggered.

• Listen and reflect her feelings during the emotional turmoil. Problem solve later. No advice. No criticism. Listening is key. It’s a simple idea but not easy to do.

• Read Eileen Kennedy-Moore’s book Smart Parenting for Smart Kids and, ahem, my book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth. 

And, when all else fails, take comfort in the words of Andrew Solomon:

“Like parents of children who are severely challenged, parents of exceptionally talented children are custodians of children beyond their comprehension.”

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To my bloggEEs: For those of you who are parents, let us know how you experience your precocious adolescents. If you’re a gifted teen, does this sound like you? Or if you were a gifted teen, does this sound familiar? In a future post, I’ll focus on teen boys. But the suggestions apply if you have boys, as well. Thank you all, as always, for being here. Note: Just to clarify. I’m not saying that it’s not OK to question authority, to have high standards or to examine your friends’ values. Heavens, no. OK? Just clarifying.


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Paralyzed By Your Great Potential

photo courtesy of Josh Marshall, Unsplash, CC

When you were a child, you were praised for your abilities. You did most things earlier and faster than your peers. You scored well on tests. Everyone was impressed. And they told you so. They said that you had so much potential. So. Much. Potential. You determined that you had to keep performing at that highest rate to keep the attention and accolades coming. Before long, it turned into pressure. Your self-worth depended on it. It was something that you had to live up to or you would no longer be the superstar, the golden child, the winner, the prodigy.

Maybe you kept achieving in spite of the pressure. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, this great-potential-thing? It had an impact. A significant impact.

So now, in adulthood, you may ask: At what age do I no longer have potential? Am I no longer precocious because I just turned 30? If I actually achieve something, does that mean that I lose my potential? How do I live up to these expectations? If I have to work hard to achieve something, does that mean that I never really had potential? If I don’t reach my potential am I a shiftless, sluggish, slothful slacker?

So many questions. So little time.

Potential becomes a burden when we see it as a predestined calling to impressive accomplishments. Both parents and children can become seduced into focusing on performance rather than growth, on being The Best rather than making progress, and on accumulating external awards and accomplishments as the primary measure of worth. Worst of all, this one-dimensional perspective on potential creates a terrible fear of failure.”   Eileen Kennedy Moore

What if we rethink great potential? What if it includes impressive failures along with outstanding accomplishments? What if great potential means resplendent mistakes along with notable achievements?

And here’s a revolutionary thought: What if great potential has very little to do with specific accomplishments?

Potential is not an endpoint; it’s a capacity to grow and learn. Nurturing children’s potential, in the broadest sense, means cultivating their humanity. It involves supporting their expanding abilities to reach out to others with kindness and empathy, to feel part of something bigger than themselves, to find joy and satisfaction in creating a life that is personally meaningful…and so much more.”   Eileen Kennedy Moore

So, go ahead. Cultivate your humanity. Reach out to others with empathy. Find joy.

Live up to your great potential.

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To my bloggEEs: Do you feel pressure to live up to your great potential? What does that mean to you? How have you been impacted? What do you think of this new way of looking at it? I appreciate hearing from you. Your comments add so much. And, thank you to the readers who inspired this post.

 

 

 


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If I’m So Smart, Why Do I Feel Like A Failure?

photo courtesy of Vanessa Bumbeers, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy of Vanessa Bumbeers, Unsplash, CC

Was this you? You were told repeatedly that you were so smart; that you had a high IQ. You were the top student. Your parents and teachers praised you often for your abilities and achievements. School was easy so you could get high grades without studying. You won awards. Teachers said that you were gifted. Your parents said that you’d do great things when you reached adulthood; That you could do anything you wanted. Expectations were high. 

And so was the pressure. But you didn’t realize it at the time. Until you got to college. Suddenly, you were surrounded by smart kids. You were no longer the star. Not only that. Some of your classes were hard; studying was required. Studying? What’s that? You got your first “C.” You loved psychology and philosophy but you’d never faced a workload like this. No one else seemed to be having trouble. You started procrastinating, as usual, but last minute finishes didn’t work anymore. It was confusing and overwhelming. Your identity was crumbling; you became anxious and depressed.

In your mind, it became clear that you’d been faking your smarts all of these years. You weren’t gifted. Never had been. You’d gotten by on your charm. Now charm wasn’t enough. You were a failure. Every little mistake, every question you couldn’t answer. Failure.

Is this you? Or someone you know?

Let me give you a hug and an explanation.

Kids who are gifted are often told, repeatedly, how smart they are, by well-meaning adults. High grades and other achievements may be praised excessively. This can lead children to believe that they’re loved because they’re “so smart.” Their identity becomes dependent, then, on their capacity to continue to show their advanced abilities and on the praise and attention they receive.

This can lead to unhealthy perfectionism: fear of failure, avoidance of activities that don’t guarantee success, impostor syndrome and procrastination. It can lead to anxiety and depression. Being smart becomes a static thing. You either are or your aren’t. And because you’re used to learning many things quickly, you think that’s the way all learning should be. If you don’t get it fast, well, it just proves that you’re not gifted. Not gifted? Not lovable.

What can you do?

Understand that your worth as a human isn’t due to your accomplishments. Your worth is about who you are, not what you do. It will take time to really believe this.

Make a list of your values. What do you appreciate about others? Compassion? Generosity? Sense of humor? Can you admire these values in yourself?

Imagine your life as a work in progress or as a form of artistic expression. Focus on the journey or the process instead of the product or the outcome.

If you’re in school, design a plan for studying and completing assignments. Break projects down into smaller steps. Look for resources online about dealing with procrastination, perfectionism, expectations, and fear of failure.

Learn about Dweck’s more recent work on mindsets. Even if giftedness is the way your brain is wired, that doesn’t mean it’s an all or nothing phenomenon. You can still have strengths and weaknesses. You can make mistakes and still be a lovely human. You can have high standards and not be perfect.

Make a list of your thoughts and beliefs about your “failures.” Are they rational? Replace your irrational beliefs with what’s actually true. If you’re really struggling, try this book. The book includes ways to self-soothe and calm your anxiety.

Read biographies of eminent people and make note of their struggles, mistakes and failures. Elon Musk and Steve Jobs failed multiple times.

If you’re a parent, avoid praise. It’s often meaningless. Instead, encourage your children by giving specific feedback and asking questions. “I noticed how kind you were to that boy.” “I’m enjoying the details about the characters in your story.” “How was it for you when your team worked so well together?”

If you’re a parent, encourage your child to engage in activities where they need to struggle. They will learn how to deal with mistakes, failures and set backs and will form a stronger sense of self.

And finally, hold on to your dreams!  Even if you feel discouraged and anxious some of the time, or a lot of the time, there is love in you. There is beauty in you. You can do this.

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To my bloggEEs: Thank you to the reader who inspired this post. Share your thoughts, feelings, questions and dreams here, please. We all benefit from your experiences!