Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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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.

_______________________________

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!

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Being Told That You’re Gifted — Good News And Bad News

I make a pretty convincing argument in this blog that you have a rainforest mind. In spite of yourself, you have to agree. Right?

photo from Jeff Sheldon--Unsplash

photo from Jeff Sheldon–Unsplash

On the other hand, when I tell you that you’re gifted, I can see you squirm.

For many reasons.

For one– being told that you’re gifted is both good news and bad news.

It’s bad news when it comes with enormous expectations to achieve “greatness” or when it means that you’re paralyzed by pressure to prove your worth through your achievements. It’s bad news when you can’t risk appearing un-smart so you don’t try anything that might be difficult. It’s bad news if you think you’re either smart or you’re not. It’s bad news when you interpret it to mean that you can never make a mistake or fail at anything. It’s bad news if you use it to hurt others. It’s bad news when you’re bullied or bored at school. It’s bad news if you never learn how to study or apply effort to solve a problem. It’s bad news if you become dependent on praise and believe you always have to be the best at everything.

It’s good news because you will understand why you’ve had particular problems with school, relationships, perfectionism and so on. It’s good news because knowing that you’re naturally extra sensitive and extra perceptive and extra analytical will help you interpret your experiences more accurately. It’s good news if it leads to teachers allowing you to learn at your own level and pace. It’s good news if it helps your parents understand your quirks.

It’s good news because accepting your giftedness will strengthen your capacity to live the life you’re meant to live.

And that will be good news for everyone.

So what do I do?

Do I tell you, or not?

______________________________

To my bloggEEs:  Were you told that you were gifted when you were a child? What did it mean to you? Are you just realizing that you’re gifted now? How do you feel about it? Do you still believe that you’re not gifted but that you’re fooling everyone, including me? What emotions, thoughts and questions do you have?


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The Hazards Of Praise And Too Much Smartness

Flickr Creative Commons Brad Flickinger

Flickr Creative Commons Brad Flickinger

Perhaps you were a curious, effervescent 8 year old. You adored your books and your teachers. You excelled at academics and got straight A’s. Your parents were thrilled by your accomplishments and told you how smart you were. Teachers appreciated your helpfulness and praised you for your grades. The attention was well-meant but excessive. It felt good, and yet, you questioned the truth of it; you felt that there was so much more you could do. As the years went by, you got used to being at the top of the class and good at everything you tried. It was easy to excel. You could wait until the last minute on any assignment and still get an A.

Then things changed. Here are three possible scenarios. Do you find yourself in one of them?

• You became increasingly uncomfortable. The pressure to achieve was overwhelming. The praise continued. You didn’t believe it but you relied on it. You felt like a fraud. Some day it’ll all come crashing down. And it did. You attended a high-powered college. Suddenly, you weren’t the smartest one in the room.  You had to study. You didn’t know how. Your worst fears were realized. You started to lie about your grades and identify as a loser.

OR

• You hit high school and started to question the meaning of life more often. School seemed pointless. You stopped handing in homework. Your grades dropped. None of your peers seemed to care about the melting ice caps; they stayed glued to their iPhones. (Actually, this was probably before iPhones. Maybe even before the internet. You’re how old? But you get the idea.) You became lonely and disillusioned. You were appalled at how you were disappointing your parents and teachers but you didn’t know what to do or how to explain what was happening. They wondered why you were suddenly “lazy.”

OR

• All went well through high school as you continued to achieve but were terrified of failing. So far you’d never failed at anything but you feared the inevitable. So you chose a safe college. One where you knew you wouldn’t be challenged academically. And you weren’t. You could procrastinate and still get A’s. But you felt shame at your choice and wondered what would have happened if you’d chosen the university that frightened you. Where would you be today? You worry that your anxiety will always control you and it’s too late to change your future.

Do you recognize yourself in one of these scenarios?

OK, then.

You aren’t a loser. You aren’t lazy. It’s not too late.

These are the hazards of praise and “too much” smartness. It’s what can happen when we don’t understand how to help our precocious kids navigate through the school system and through life.

But it’s so tricky.

There isn’t a simple solution when you’re talking about a rain forest. How could there be? All of those thick, tangled vines and flying monkeys.

Well, OK, the monkeys aren’t flying.

Flickr Creative Commons Lars-Goran Hedstrom

Flickr Creative Commons Lars-Goran Hedstrom

But still.

It’s complicated.

The things you need to know: Your worth as a human is not based on your smartness or your achievements. You are lovable because of your kindness, your compassion and your sensitivity. Your you-ness.

Don’t believe me?

Take a moment. Sit down with your child self. Look at his or her eager, idealistic, adorable face. Breathe. Hold this child close and say: No matter what you accomplish or don’t accomplish, you are a dear, kind, sensitive soul. No matter what you achieve or don’t achieve, you are loved. Achievements may come. Achievements may go. Love is the point.

Now embrace that child’s tender sweetness. And know your own heart.

______________________________

To my blogEEs: Let us know in the comments if you’ve had similar experiences, how they’ve affected you and how you manage your fears. What are your questions, feelings and thoughts? And thank you, as always, for reading.

 

 

 


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I’m Not Gifted, I’m Just Lucky

I’m not gifted, the teacher likes me. 6364521809_95b50bba35

I’m not gifted, I’m a good test taker.

I’m not gifted, I barely passed calculus.

I’m not gifted, this is easy.

I’m not gifted, I haven’t done anything remarkable.

Sound familiar?

But what if you are g-g-gifted. Why do you feel like you aren’t? Why do you feel like a fake? An impostor? Why do you feel like you’re just sneaking by and one day it will all come crashing down?

As usual, with you, there are no simple answers. But take a look at the following list and identify which of these situations are true:

• You were praised a lot by your parents for your early achievements so you now feel enormous pressure to perform perfectly because your worth depends on it.

• You were told that you were so smart, over and over. You came to believe that learning anything should always be easy.

• School work was not challenging. You could procrastinate until the very last minute and still get an “A.” So the grade didn’t mean much because you didn’t put in any effort.

• You were praised by your parents and teachers for things you felt you didn’t deserve. You could see your mistakes and had higher standards for yourself than they did.

• You think you should know how to do many things without working at them or without having to practice.

• You were singled out in school for your good grades and then bullied by your peers. You intentionally started to get lower grades.

• Your sibling was the intelligent one. You were the other one.

• You grew up in a seriously dysfunctional family so your perception about who you really are is quite distorted.

• You were criticized excessively by your parents and, now, even when you succeed, you hear their voices in your head.

(Note to parents: So sorry that this puts lots of responsibility on you but I’m a therapist. What did you expect? Smile. Groan.)

• When you know how much better your work could be, you aren’t content with your achievements.

• You didn’t get good grades in school. You were highly sensitive and creative. Your intelligence wasn’t noticed.

• You dropped out of college.

• You believe strongly in equality so you try not to appear smarter than anyone else.

• Racism and sexism have been internalized so you doubt your abilities.

• You’ve gotten mixed messages about achievement. If you’re a female, you’re not really supposed to excel too much. You’re told it’s unfeminine and unattractive.

• When you don’t work hard or don’t have to struggle to achieve your goal, then you can’t give yourself credit for it.

• If you acknowledge that you’re very smart, then you have a responsibility to contribute to creating a better world. And that responsibility is terrifying.

274158994_eeea519707I know this is a long odd conglomeration of things but do any of them fit for you? Many of them? A combination of these experiences could lead you to conclude that your achievements are not due to your intelligence. And most unequivocally not your g-g-giftedness.

Which you don’t have.

At all.

 __________

Note to my blogEEs: I’d love to hear your reactions to this post. How does it fit or not fit for you? Women usually relate to impostor-ism the most. If you’re a male, how do you experience this impostor syndrome? Do you? Your thoughts, feelings and comments will help me select what to write in a future post, which will include ideas on what you can do about it. I promise.

Photos from creative commons: