Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


30 Comments

When Perfectionism, Anxiety, and Giftedness Go To College

photo courtesy jeshoots, unsplash

Ellen was a fast talking, deep feeling, super insightful 20 year old. She’d been a high achiever throughout her public school years. The work was easy. She could listen to one teacher while she did her homework for another. She was conscientious and energetic. Curious and imaginative.

She was also anxious. Her active rainforest mind came up with so many worries and then worried about her worrying. She was also a perfectionist. She had an innate desire to create beauty, harmony, justice, and precision. What I call intrinsic (healthy) perfectionism. And she also experienced the extrinsic (unhealthy) variety of perfectionism. She questioned her worth as a human being if she didn’t perform at the top of the pack at all times.

Throughout public school, Ellen had managed her anxiety and perfectionism. She had loving parents who didn’t pressure her to achieve and she didn’t run into much that she couldn’t figure out quickly. But she put plenty of pressure on herself. Excelling in school was intricately linked to Ellen’s sense of self. She was not particularly athletic and often had trouble maintaining friendships. She would be frustrated when other kids didn’t respond well to her complicated play. She didn’t have the same interests as her peers.

Because her early schooling was not intellectually challenging, Ellen came to believe that all learning ought to come quickly and easily. She thought that she ought to “know it before I learn it.” She didn’t learn how to struggle with a concept or how to study for an exam. Ellen also didn’t learn how to manage her time. She never had to. Ellen wanted to be the best. Always get A’s. Be as thorough as possible in all things. And she was successful.

Until college.

Suddenly, Ellen was on her own. Not only dealing with coursework that was more difficult but also planning her schedule, choosing classes, and managing: study time/homework, new friends, dorm life, exercise, sleep, meals, fun activities, laundry, and all those other daily decisions that you can’t predict. Not to mention, she still wanted to excel in all of her classes. She said that she didn’t know how to do it any other way. If she didn’t give 100%, she felt lazy. Or, she thought, maybe she wasn’t so smart after all. Her identity would teeter on the edge. Anxiety overload. Perfectionism paralysis.

What did I suggest to Ellen?

What insights will help the anxious college-attending perfectionists in your life?

~ An extremely active, thinking, analytical, imaginative mind mixed with multiple sensitivities and extraordinary empathy will most assuredly create anxiety. How could it not?

~ Intrinsic perfectionism comes naturally to rainforest minds. High standards and expectations along with an appreciation for beauty, harmony, justice, and precision are inborn. You need to appreciate this about yourself and then find ways to prioritize assignments so that you can manage your workload. What is truly important? Does your chemistry lab report have to be beautiful? Do you need to rewrite your lit paper yet again because you didn’t research every single related subtopic that you thought of? Will your professors still appreciate you if you get an A-?

~ Will giving less than 100% on occasion make you a lazy slacker or is it a realistic way to make time to rest and to feed your soul, which will ultimately allow you to be more productive and kinder to others and yourself?

~ There are some good apps for reducing anxiety: Insight Timer, Calm, and Headspace. There are many other suggestions for calming your worries in this post.

~ Get to know what it means to have a rainforest mind. Read more posts from this blog!

~ Chapter 3 in my book goes into depth about the types of perfectionism and provides guidance and resources. Read it!

~ It’s possible that your anxiety might be affected by particular foods or hormone imbalances. Meet with a doctor or naturopath to explore this. Acupuncture, exercise, or neurofeedback can help. If your anxiety is frequently intense and overwhelming, medication might be an option. It can provide enough temporary relief so that you can put some relaxation techniques in place and feel the results.

After a while, Ellen began to speak more confidently about her rainforest mind. She had a greater understanding of her anxiety and perfectionism and was developing ways to manage them.

She explained: “I’m listening more to the calming voice within me. The self-critical voice isn’t quite as loud. I’m learning that I need to be more patient with myself…I can’t do everything. Things take time. Be gentle with myself.”

Be gentle with yourself. Listen to the calming voice within. And be sure to feed your fast talking, deep feeling, super insightful soul.

_______________________________________________

Thank you to the clients and readers who inspired this post.

To my bloggEEs: Does this sound familiar? How does your perfectionism show up? What have you done to calm your anxiety? Did this happen to you or your kids in college? By the way, not all perfectionists are high achievers. But that’s the topic for a future post. For more posts on perfectionism from parents of gifted kids and from professionals, click on the link.

Advertisements


34 Comments

A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum — Part Two — Anxiety and Perfectionism

photo courtesy of Thought Catalog, Unsplash

You may have read about Ben. He’s the gifted teen who said “I have to know it before I learn it.” He learned to read early. No one taught him. Learning was easy. He knew what they were teaching in school before they taught it. He came to believe that all learning happened this way. He didn’t feel particularly smart, though. Doesn’t everyone remember everything that they read? Isn’t everyone fascinated by fractals? Doesn’t everyone want to be an anthropologist-poet-engineer-actor-scuba diver when they grow up? 

It’s assumed that these kids will be fine because they’re so smart.

Not Ben. Not the gifted kids I know.

Anxiety. Perfectionism. Expectations. Pressure.

To the max.

Does this sound like you or your kids?

“I should be good at everything. I feel lost, empty, and helpless when I don’t know something. When I was very little, I was frustrated when adults didn’t respect me. I didn’t have the words to express my intense feelings and I felt powerless and angry. My body couldn’t accomplish what my mind could imagine. I can still feel that helplessness. Probably why I need so much control now.”

“They kept saying that I was so smart so I felt that if I didn’t get high grades, I’d disappoint them. Or worse. They’d see that I wasn’t so smart. And that would be devastating. Who was I if I was average? Or mediocre? I couldn’t even bake a cake without worrying that I’d make a mistake.”

“I feel everything so intensely. That includes frustration. Sadness. Empathy. All of it. No wonder I’m anxious.”

“…I am so afraid of failure. I tend to work on skills privately to protect my self-image. If it’s not ready for prime time, no one sees…”

“Up to a certain point, most things came easily. When I didn’t automatically know what to do, I watched or mimicked a few times and then the information or process was stored for good. But if I didn’t think I’d be successful at something in a short period of time (or at all), I wouldn’t even try…”

“…when you can imagine the ideal creation in greater detail…(or when you can imagine so many more different VERSIONS of perfection) then it’s much harder, emotionally, when you inevitably fall short…The scary thing about actually working to achieve something is that there’s always the possibility that, even if you work hard, the product could be mediocre…” 

“…I’m now in my forties and have multiple advanced degrees, but I still struggle with forgiving myself when learning doesn’t come easily. My daughter exhibits similar behaviors, and as I help her learn about how her brain functions, I’m finding the compassion to help myself…”

What, then, are some ways that you can help yourself and your kids?

• Understand that your perfectionism and anxiety might exist not because of something that you’ve done wrong but because of the nature of growing up gifted. The complications begin at an early age. You have a right to take the time to focus on your self-understanding and growth.

•  Make a list of self-soothing techniques that work for you. Try the different apps that exist such as Calm, Insight Timer, and Headspace. It often helps to create a daily meditation practice or exercise plan. Some people have found morning pages from The Artist’s Way to be useful. Notice if food sensitivities or hormones are a factor. Get help from a smart, sensitive practitioner, such as a bodyworker, acupuncturist, naturopath, or therapist.

• Make a list of calming reminders. Here are some items on one teen client’s list: I’m a fallible human. I make mistakes, like everyone. I’m learning. I’m experimenting. Making a mistake does not make me a bad person. Am I catastrophizing? Do I need to be this upset? My body tends to be anxious, but I’m actually safe. It’s going to be OK. I’m older now and I have more control over my experiences. Now that I’m older, it makes sense that there will be many things that I won’t know. 

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Bourne is a good resource if you need many specific techniques.

Procrastination by Burka and Yuen is a good resource for perfectionism and procrastination.

•  If you’re a parent, share these ideas with your children. Listen to them as they share their frustrations and fears. Careful listening and reflection often works better than advice giving or rescuing. If they’re very young, give them the specific words for their emotions.

• You have great compassion for others. Let yourself receive some of that sweetness, too. Forgive yourself for not being perfect.

And remember, above all, your kids and you will learn more from your mistakes than from your successes. And your memoir will be much more fascinating because of your failures, your foibles, and even your fears. Where would David Sedaris be today without failures, foibles, and fears?

__________________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: You may notice that some of these quotes come from your comments. Thank you so much. What else do you have to say about anxiety and perfectionism? Clearly, sharing your experiences helps us all! And thank you to the client who inspired this post and gave me permission to use some of her words.

Thank you to those of you who’ve read my book. If you could write an imperfect review on Amazon, I’d be so grateful. And if you don’t have my book yet, well, ahem, what are you waitin’ for? And, if you go to my About page, you’ll see I’ve added a podcast and an interview about parenting gifted kids. Sending you all much love.


64 Comments

What Does Gifted Look Like in My World?

photo courtesy of rawpixel on Unsplash

The controversy is intense.

How do we explain giftedness? Is it high achievement? Talent? Productivity? Eminence? IQ? Financial success? 4.0 grade point average? 10,000 hours of practice?

Nooooooooo. 

I shriek.

Politely.

I mean, it might include any of those things. Sure. But it doesn’t have to.

Instead. Here is my explanation.

Totally anecdotal. If you want data, you can stop reading now. Or skip to the end and the link to neuroscience.

If you want experience, I’m your gal.

Gifted looks like Ebony. Sixteen. Intense. Talks fast, thinks fast, moves fast. Asks questions no one can answer. Struggles in school: Doesn’t turn in papers that aren’t up to her standards. Procrastinates to avoid feeling like a failure if she gets less than an A. Tries to engage her classmates in some intellectual repartee when all they want is to watch Netflix. Some teachers think she’s arrogant. Feels a spiritual and intuitive connection to the ocean and the ravens. Lonely for a friend who gets her and who has read Lord of the Rings 11 times.

Gifted looks like Carlos. Forty-two. Self-taught, successful IT expert. Highly sensitive, empathetic, and emotional (although he hides it well). Bullied in school because he preferred grasshoppers and string theory to football. Spends hours writing a three sentence e-mail. Repeats himself often in an effort to be deeply understood and to calm his anxiety. Researches for days in order to make a decision. A slower, deliberate, deep thinker and processor. Learning to dance the Argentine tango so that he can finally experience being followed.

Gifted looks like Martin. Eight. Energetic. Extremely curious and kind. Wants to be Richard Feynman for Halloween. Refuses to complete worksheets of arithmetic problems that he already knows. Teachers complain that he must be ADHD and not particularly bright but he can concentrate for hours at home building complex lego contraptions or reading Popular Science. Sleeps with a dictionary when he does sleep, which he resists mightily. Exhausts his parents with his emotions and his need for creative and intellectual activity.

Gifted looks like Frances.  Fifty-nine. After running her own children’s bookstore, raising two kids and their friends, volunteering on the board for the ballet, and remodeling her home, she’s in her latest job working as a city planner. She’s considering going back to school for another Masters degree because she’s always wanted to be an art therapist or a landscape architect or a stand-up comedian. She thinks she’s flakey or shallow because she’s walked so many different career paths. Her sense of social responsibility keeps her awake most nights. Her intuitive abilities frighten her.

Gifted looks like Carmen. Thirty-six. A successful social worker and loving mom who promotes energy efficiency everywhere she goes. Been in therapy for years courageously addressing serious trauma from her family of origin. Dealing with complex physical symptoms due to chronic anxiety from growing up terrified and abused. In spite of her own pain, able to be generous, empathetic, optimistic, spiritual, and accomplished. Working on setting better boundaries with people who want her to rescue them. Learning how to create reliable, sweet friendships where she receives as much as she gives.

That’s what gifted looks like in my world.

And, if you really want to know, gifted looks like a rain forest. (Note: If people are like ecosystems, some are meadows. Some deserts. Some oceans. Some rain forests. All are necessary and beautiful.)

In his must-read book, We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement that Restores the Planet by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, the tropical rain forest is described:

“The feeling of being in the rain forest is the feeling of being surrounded by life. It’s home for hundreds of thousands of animals, and their survival is connected to the survival of us all. The magnificence of the rain forest is something powerfully sacred, something so clearly worth protecting...the rain forest is one of the most important biomes on the planet for human survival…it offers us an unbelievable abundance of nourishment and resources…” 

Right?

Sounds just like you.

______________________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: You’ve been doing an amazing job adding your comments to my posts. Thank you so much. Let us hear from you now. What does your giftedness look like?

(Note: For those of you who are persnickety, and who among you isn’t, I have a confession. I made rain forest into an adjective, as in rainforest mind, and then made it one word. You may have been wondering about that for a long time. You’ve noticed my inconsistency. The truth is finally revealed.)

(Another note: The people described above are composites of clients, students, and other assorted gifted folks I’ve known. Names, of course, have been changed.)

For those articles on neuroscience and giftedness, click on this link.

 

 


85 Comments

I Have to Know it Before I Learn It — A Gifted Kid’s Conundrum

photo courtesy of Talen de St Croix, Unsplash

My 16-year-old client, I’ll call him Ben, was struggling in school. No one thought he was gifted. His grades were average. He didn’t turn in many assignments. He didn’t get high test scores. He was so anxious, he’d miss many days of school. His parents were confused. They knew he was capable of completing the homework. Why didn’t he just do it?

Because I’d seen many kids like this, I could tell that Ben was, indeed, gifted. He asked penetrating questions. Had multiple interests. Spent hours online researching musical genres , computer coding, bike repair, mathematics, psychological theories, and on and on.  He was highly sensitive and empathetic with all plants, animals, and humans.

Ben had difficulty relating to youngsters his age. The friends he did have, he wanted to rescue. They were often the troubled kids. He could feel their hopelessness and their anger and felt a responsibility to intervene. He didn’t understand why they didn’t respond well to his help or why they weren’t interested in his intellectual pursuits.

Ben wanted to learn what he wanted to learn and when he mastered, say, a new guitar playing technique, he’d raise the bar and keep questing for the next big thing. He’d spend many hours worrying about the future of the planet and how he might make an impact.

These are the traits of a gifted human; a person with a rainforest mind.

One day he said to me, I have to know everything before I learn it.

What?

I have to know everything before I learn it.

It took me some time to understand what he meant and why this was his experience.

Like many gifted children, Ben learned how to read at an early age. No one taught him to read. He just started reading. Learning was easy. He’d read and he’d remember. He could watch someone riding a bike and be successful on the first try. He taught himself guitar. When he started school, he already knew the material. He knew it before he learned it.

This was the conundrum.

He came to believe that all learning should come easily. If it didn’t, there was something terribly wrong. Ben never learned how to study. Or that it was normal for some learning to be a struggle. Ironically, even though he felt like a failure and like he wasn’t smart because of his experiences in school, he also believed that he shouldn’t have to study something to understand it. This created confusion, anxiety, paralysis, and avoidance when there was a chance that he might not grasp a concept fast enough or succeed at a task. If it wasn’t easy, he didn’t do it.

With gifted kids who, unlike Ben, have been told repeatedly that they’re so smart, this is still a problem. They also know it before they learn it. And they can feel great pressure to achieve, to please the adults who are praising them, and to prove their worth through their accomplishments. So, for them, if they’re facing a difficult task, their identity is threatened. And they, too, can experience confusion, anxiety, paralysis, and avoidance.

Either way, having to know it before you learn it, is a tricky proposition.

And you wondered why it was so hard to parent these kids?

Or to be one yourself?

Welcome to your rainforest mind.

And to one of its many tangled, multi-layered, sticky, complicated conundrums.

_______________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: Was this you? Tell us how you dealt with the pressure to always know it before you learned it. To have the right answer. To prove how smart you were. Do you avoid activities where you might not succeed? Did you learn how to study? We’d love to hear from you. Your experiences make this blog so much richer. And thank you, dearest ones, for being here.

And for more information about gifted kids, here’s a recent podcast interview with me and Kathleen Casper of the Florida Association for the Gifted. We’re talking about the social, emotional, and academic issues gifted children face. Join us!

 

 


41 Comments

So, You’re Gifted. Who Cares and Why Does it Matter?

photo courtesy of Jeremy Thomas, Unsplash

It matters. Even if no one else cares. It matters that you know. And that you care.

Why? you ask with that quizzical oh-so-disarming look of yours. (Yes, I know that look.)

Because, my darling:

You will understand that what you imagined were your poor communication skills, was actually your inability to slow your super-speedy thoughts. Not to mention your assumption that everyone thinks as deeply, as quickly, and as multi-dimensionally as you do. They don’t. (This does not make them terrible people. I know. It just means that they might not comprehend your perturbations.)

You will give yourself permission to be the voracious learner that you are. To let yourself dive into the esoteric, obscure, mysterious, complex topics that other people can’t possibly grok and wouldn’t want to.

You will allow yourself to be obsessed with beauty, balance, harmony, precision, and justice. (Your healthy perfectionism.) Even if it means that you don’t get as much done because you’re crying over the majesty of the night sky.

You will have compassion and appreciation for your ridiculously high standards and expectations and your need to ruminate over the exact wording of your email to the plumber.

You will understand why you’ve been lonely all of these years and stop thinking it’s because you don’t smile enough, don’t make small talk, or because you suck at sports.

You’ll find an appropriate career path or two or ten.

You’ll protect your sensitivity and empathy from the assault of perfumes, ragers, leaf blowers, chemicals, clamoring hoards, noisy chewers, creepy humans, nasty Facebook messages, boring lectures, and houses that are painted orange.

You will understand that what looks quirky, eccentric, weird, and geeky to others is what makes you fascinating.

You will stop misdiagnosing yourself with labels such as OCD, ADHD, bipolar disorder, Aspergers, slacker, weird, or just-plain-crazy. (And, sure, you may be twice-exceptional, 2e, and have a particular diagnosis along with your rainforest mind, but there’s a whole lot of misdiagnosing goin’ on, too. So you’re gonna stop that now.)

You will appreciate your curiosity and your questioning of everything. And you’ll continue to search for meaning, purpose(s), and justice. This will result in benefits to your children, neighbors, relatives, friends, animals, plants, ancestors, the planet, and humanity at large.

Let me say that again in a different way.

Knowing that you are gifted, matters. It will explain what might otherwise create confusion, self-doubt, anxiety, depression, angst, or despair. It will allow you to blossom into the best human that you can be.

And this will result in benefits to your children, neighbors, relatives, friends, animals, plants, ancestors, the planet, and humanity at large.

Even if they don’t know that they care.

____________________________________________

To my bloggEEs: This is for those of you who may actually accept that you have a rainforest mind but are still wondering why it’s important that you know it. What’s your reaction to this post? What else do you need to know that will help with your self-acceptance? Thank you, as always, for being here. And, I have a request. If you’ve read my book, can you take a moment and write a review on Amazon? It doesn’t have to be long or perfect. 🙂 (And if you haven’t read it, well, now would be the optimal time, doncha know…)

 

 

 


12 Comments

Educators: What To Do About The G Word (#Gifted)

logo courtesy of The G Word film

You don’t have to use the G Word.

Even though, let’s face it, you use it for athletes, artists and your quirky Aunt Millie.

But you do have to recognize that gifted children exist in your school.

Because they do.

I’m talking about the kids you know who, from a very early age, are faster learners, deeper thinkers and more sensitive feelers. Who ask questions you can’t answer. Who correct your spelling. Who know more than you do about black holes. Who cry when other children are hurt on the playground. Who are overwhelmed at birthday parties. Who annoyingly hang out at your desk because they’d rather talk to you about Darwin than talk to the other six-year-olds about the letter A.

You know who I’m talking about.

This is not about loving these kids more or singling them out as superstars. They don’t want that. That doesn’t help them.

If they’re told things like: You’re so smart. You can do anything. You’re so lucky. Or Why did you get that B? Learning should always be easy for you. Or Stop asking so many questions. Nobody likes a know-it-all. Or No, you can’t read ahead. They’ll get anxious.

They’ll feel like they can’t ask for help. Like they can’t make mistakes. Like they have to know everything before they learn it. Like they’ll disappoint you if they don’t live up to your expectations. Like they have to hide their abilities and their enthusiasm.

But, still.

You don’t have to use the G Word.

But you do have to find ways to meet their academic needs and to understand their extra-sensitivities. Some of those ways are described in this post and this one. It’s not as hard as it seems. In fact, these kids will love you if you make the time to listen to them. Start an after school club for philosophers or mathematicians. Nourish their interests and let them read ahead! Don’t assume that they aren’t doing the homework because they’re lazy or defiant. Get creative with your curriculum. Use Carol Dweck’s work on mindsets to reduce the pressure on your (gifted) students. Explore Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences model if you want to help all of your students understand learning differences and abilities.

And one more thing.

I’m not saying that you can’t use the G Word.

In fact, it could help.

One of my students, years ago, was relieved to hear that he was gifted. His response, Oh, that’s what’s wrong with me. He had his own label. Several of them: weirdo, alien, nerd, crybaby, loner, freak, crazy.

But. You don’t have to use the G Word.

_________________________________

(Note: Whether you label or not, gifted kids will need help understanding their complexities. Their perfectionism, sensitivities/ empathy, loneliness, existential depression and anxieties. Their rainforest minds. Send them or their parents to this blog, for a place to start. And thank you, dear teachers, for your caring hearts.)

Thank you to my niece, Alicia, for inspiring this post and for being an extraordinary teacher and human.

Speaking of The G Word, a powerful documentary on that topic will be released in 2019. Here’s some information about it.

To my bloggEEs: My niece sent me this video from Stanford professor, Jo Boaler. It inspired this post. Let us know what you think. Thank you, as always, for being here.


79 Comments

When Humans Keep Letting You Down

photo courtesy John Nakamura Remy, Unsplash

Humans disappoint you. They don’t live up to your expectations. Sure you have high standards. But you’re not asking all that much, right? If people just tried harder, they could accomplish quite a lot.

Couldn’t they?

Not just relatives and friends. Not just politicians and educators. But others. Contractors, internet providers, artists, activists, doctors, celebrities and psychotherapists. Disappointing.

What is wrong with humans? Don’t they care about quality? Excellence? Compassion?

Now, I don’t actually know all humans. But I’m guessing that most of them do care. That said, here are some things that you need to know.

When you have a rainforest mind, you have many abilities. A large capacity for learning and a love of knowledge. You may know a lot, in multiple fields; sometimes more than the “experts.” You can also have exceptionally high standards for your work. Producing quality is part of your identity. Being fair and compassionate matters to you. And all of this feels normal. Isn’t everyone like this? 

No. Everyone is not like this.

You may not have any training in home building but you may know that your contractor’s plan for your family room will not work. You may not have a medical degree but you may know that your cardiologist is not seeing the whole picture. You may never have run a nonprofit but in two weeks you could set up a system that would provide for much greater efficiency and productivity. You may not have a psychology degree but you’re a better counselor than your psychotherapy-trained coworkers.

People tell you that you expect too much. That you need to be satisfied with less. That mediocrity is good enough. That you’re an overachiever and an arrogant know-it-all. That you need to “shut up and sing…” (to quote a powerful song from the Dixie Chicks)

These messages and experiences can make you feel a little crazy. A little less than. Maybe a lot less than. Lonely. A little too responsible.

Or you may wonder how to live your best life when people you’d like to depend upon keep dropping the ball.

You’re tired of always picking up the balls.

So darned many balls.

But your family, your community and your world needs you. Your excellence. Your quality. Your compassion. Now, more than ever.*

So you can still sing. Definitely sing.

But don’t shut up.

_______________________________

To my dearest bloggEEs: How do you deal with this? Are you tired of juggling all the balls? Are there ways you take care of yourself when you feel discouraged or exhausted? Are there people that you’ve found who will show up for you? Where have you found others with rainforest minds? Can you allow yourself to acknowledge your limits and create a healthy balance? This blog post is just the beginning of the discussion. We need to hear from you!

*That said, repeat after me: I am not responsible for everyone’s dropped balls.

Thank you to the bloggEE who suggested this topic.

Here’s the story behind the Dixie Chicks’ song.