Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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The Roots Of Unhealthy Perfectionism And What To Do About It

photo by Dylan Siebel, Unsplash

What if, from the time that you were 2 years old, you were told how smart you were. Over and over. Enthusiastically. By (well-meaning) parents and doting relatives. What if they praised you repeatedly for your many achievements and your perfect grades. What if you could tell that your parents needed you to be smart; that they felt better about themselves because you were so capable. What if you were so persuasive that they gave you too much control and not enough limits.

What if, when you arrived at elementary school, the work was too easy. You knew it before you were taught it. You learned things without really trying. What if you could get perfect scores on tests without studying and your scores were held up as an example for your fellow students. What if you were told by your teachers that you were the best student they’d ever had.

Do you think that you might grow up terrified of failure? Afraid to disappoint others? Hiding mistakes? Paralyzed by anxiety? Believing that if you aren’t a super achiever or the best at everything that you’re a failure? Thinking that all learning must be quick and easy or else it means that you’re not smart? You’re an impostor? A fake?

Do you think that you might grow up thinking that you should know everything before you learn it so that practicing or studying or effort feels boring or scary or unfamiliar? That you have to be mature and adult-like at all times? That you can’t tell anyone that you don’t know something because you have to know everything?

Well, my dears, this, yes this, may be the root of your unhealthy perfectionism. This may be the root of your (possibly unconscious) belief that you have to be super smart at all times or you’re worthless and unlovable. 

By the way, parents, relatives and educators aren’t conspiring against you. They don’t realize the effects of their reactions. Responses like these are very common. (In another post, I explain this more and suggest what parents can do.)

Understanding this root is the first step in changing its effects. 

So, now what?

This is not easy to change, especially if you’ve been living with these beliefs for a long time.

Know this: You are more than your grades, your achievements, your intellectual abilities. So much more. You are worthy of love, whether you write the perfect essay, win the competition, enter the elite school, get the high paying job, make the right decision, invent the iPhone or if you don’t achieve these things.

Somewhere deep inside yourself you know your worth. You know who you really are. So, here’s an idea:

Imagine that there’s a place in you that isn’t about achievement or accolades or winning or losing. This place is just about Love. Just Love. It’s radiant and joyful. Maybe it’s a very young child part of you. Maybe it’s an old wise part. Maybe it’s in your heart. Maybe it’s in your gut. But trust me. It’s there. Waiting for you to notice.

In a journal or in your mind, write to or picture this part of yourself. Take your time. You may be skeptical. You may need to meditate first or sit by your favorite tree. Write a letter to this Radiance. Ask it to show itself to you. Ask it for help. Then write or hear its response. It might come quickly or you might need to wait for a while. Start a relationship.

I’m betting that finding the Love will soften you up. It’ll remind you of what’s really true.

And of who you really are.

______________________________

To my bloggEEs: Do you struggle with unhealthy perfectionism? Tell us about it. What have you done that helps? We all appreciate hearing from you.

Note: There is a healthy form of perfectionism. You were born with it. I don’t know any rainforest minds who don’t have it. It’s your innate deep need for beauty, balance, harmony, precision and justice. It can create challenges for you but it’s not something you need to heal. I write about it here.

Another note: This will be extra hard or more complicated if you had chainsaw parents. If so, you might need therapy, too.

A final note: If you need more assistance, here’s a lovely book by Christina Baldwin.

A final final note: Thank you to the clients who inspired this post.


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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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The World Needs More Overthinkers

photo courtesy of Unsplash, Tachina Lee

Thinking has gotten a bad rap. If you do a lot of it, which you know you do, you’re called an overthinker. And that’s something you’re supposed to avoid.

Personally, I know people who are under-thinkers. I bet you do, too. Don’t you just wish those under-thinkers would overthink once in a while? I know I do.

Granted, you can think so much that you get super anxious. You can think so much that you don’t score well on multiple choice tests because you can explain why all of the choices are correct. You can think so much that you never finish painting your bedroom. You can think so much that you don’t have time to sleep. You can think so much that you forget to tie your shoes.

Too much thinking can become a problem. We know this.

But, honey, you’re kinda stuck with it. It’s how your brain works. Your big brain is very very active. All of the time. So, for you, it’s not overthinking. It’s just thinking. Or being. It’s curiosity. Analysis. Wondering. Creating. It’s the quest for the holy grail.

It’s you being you.

And yet, your colleagues, friends, relatives, partners, teachers, therapists and maybe even your children would like you to STOP THINKING SO MUCH.

Yeah. I get it.

And maybe you also tell yourself to stop thinking so much.

I think you need to rethink thinking.

And, of course, find ways to take care of yourself when your thoughts turn into anxiety or paralysis or sleeplessness. Give yourself permission to self-soothe. Whatever that looks like for you. If you need some ideas, try this post on anxiety and this one on worry.

But don’t stop “over”thinking, wondering, creating, and analyzing. Seeking the holy.

Being. You.

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To my bloggEEs: Have you been accused of overthinking? When is it a problem for you? How is it beneficial? Do you have a way to explain it to others? Thank you for sharing your feelings, experiences and complexities. All are welcome here.

You can find more posts on this topic from the fabulous bloggers with hoagiesgifted.org. Click on the graphic.


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Are You A Driven Perfectionist In A Slacker World?

photo courtesy of Andrew Branch, Unsplash

Angela is driven. At her job as a graphic designer and communications coordinator, she works 10-12 hour days, and some weekends. Her standards for her work are well beyond those of her colleagues, including the CEO of the organization. Coworkers depend on her to keep the company functioning but also resent her high expectations, her critiques of their writing and her evaluation of their less than adequate customer service.

Angela didn’t attend college. She was raised in a seriously dysfunctional family. It’s hard to understand how she knows what she knows, unless you realize that she has a rainforest mind: A mind that learns quickly and deeply whatever it finds appealing, fascinating or complicated. A heart that feels extreme empathy for humans, animals and plants.

Coworkers take advantage of Angela. Because her work is always of the highest quality and completed in less than half the time, she’s one person doing a two-three person job. Not only that: Workmates ask her to create invitations to their kids’ birthday parties and to design the programs for their Aunt Matilda’s half-sister’s memorial. In her spare time. For free. She does it because she can and because she can’t say ‘no.’

Angela is a driven perfectionist in a slacker world.

I tell her: “Just because you’re able to do it, doesn’t mean you have to do it. You have a right to set boundaries. To say ‘no.’ To have a life outside of your job.” But her extraordinary abilities, her empathy and her early trauma all tell her ‘no’ is not an option.

I tell her: “Feel your satisfaction-sometimes-joy in finding the perfect phrase and the most striking images. Understand that others may not notice or care. Feel your satisfaction-sometimes-joy anyway.” This is the healthy perfectionism that comes with a rainforest mind. Regular people may not understand it.

I tell her: “If you feel resentment, anger or extra stressed at your job, consider allowing some of your work to be less than extraordinary. Settle for excellent. Notice if you need to excel because it gives you joy or because you have to prove your worth. Or both.” If it’s unworthiness, it’s unhealthy perfectionism. You can thank your dysfunctional family for that. Your therapist can help you detach your sense of worth from your achievements.

Well, then. If you are, like Angela, a driven perfectionist in a slacker world, take heart. Find the places where your drive, idealism and high standards are appreciated and needed. (Your favorite struggling nonprofit? Your gifted kids? Your community garden? Your elderly neighbors?) Spend time in those places.

And, your coworker’s Aunt Matilda’s half-sister? I’m pretty sure she won’t mind if there aren’t any programs at her memorial.

________________________

To my bloggEEs: Does Angela sound like you? Do you find yourself overworked and under-appreciated at your job, at school or at home? Are you a perfectionist? How do you manage your drive, high standards and expectations? How do make time to rest? And, if you’re wanting to improve your work environment , in spite of the slackers, and don’t know where to begin, try the folks at Rebels At Work for ideas and for a community of like-minds. And thank you for being here.


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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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What Does Gifted Look Like? Clearing Up Your Confusion

photo courtesy Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash, CC

photo courtesy Marcus Dall Col, Unsplash, CC

People are astonished by how much you can do. You think you’re lazy. There’s so much that you’re not doing.

People tell you how smart you are. You feel dumb. You know how much you don’t know and you still haven’t decided what you want to be when you grow up.

People admire your (musical, artistic, mathematical, linguistic, etc.) talents. You think they’re patronizing you. You notice all of the mistakes you make. Surely, they do, too, but they’re too polite to mention them.

How is it possible that you see yourself as a lazy not-so-smart slacker and others see you as so-lucky-to-be-gifted? How can your sense of yourself be so different from how others see you?

Like life in the rain forest, it’s complicated.

Maybe it’s your super high expectations. You don’t realize that others don’t have similar standards. Doesn’t everyone want to create beauty, balance, harmony and justice all of the time? Don’t all people value precision?

Um, no.

Maybe it’s your enthusiasm for learning about, well, everything. Isn’t everyone obsessed with reading and researching multiple disparate topics instead of sleeping, which is such a waste of time? Aren’t all people thrilled that MIT is offering classes online? Doesn’t everyone dream of changing career paths every 3-5 years?

Not really.

Maybe it’s your capacity for observing and perceiving and noticing. Isn’t everyone bothered by the buzzing florescent lights, the crooked pictures on the wall, the house in your neighborhood that was painted chartreuse?

Nope.

Maybe it’s your extra sensitivity and empathy. Can’t everyone feel the distress in the room? Isn’t everyone overwhelmed by the news? Don’t all humans want to save the world?

Nah.

So, if you’re confused by the difference between the feedback that you get and your own self-perception, time to get unconfused. Maybe it’s your highest standards, your zest for learning, your keen capacity to perceive, your intense sensitivity and your exceptional empathy.

Maybe that is what gifted looks like.

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To my bloggEEs: Thank you to the reader who suggested this topic. Let us know if you’ve lived with this confusion and what you think and feel about it. I appreciate hearing from you! By the way, there’s another factor that might contribute to your confusion: Growing up in a dysfunctional family. Find out more here and here.

There’s a new podcast interview of me. You can find it here. It’s a two-parter from Christy Harvey about gifted adults and parenting gifted kids.

And here’s an earlier podcast, if you haven’t heard it. This one is from Aurora Remember with a focus on me!


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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!