Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 


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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!


89 Comments

Afflicted With Too Much Talent

photo courtesy of Glen Noble, Unsplash

photo courtesy of Glen Noble, Unsplash

When you were a teen, did you hear this?

“You’re so lucky. You can do anything you want, when you grow up. You could be a doctor, lawyer, musician, engineer, professor, IT professional, journalist, artist, anthropologist–anything. Aren’t you lucky!”

You didn’t feel lucky.

You felt confused and overwhelmed. Guilty and ungrateful. Paralyzed and like a failure. Did I mention that you didn’t feel lucky?

And what happened to that kid who used to be full of excitement and enthusiasm? Reading voraciously. Sleeping with the encyclopedia. Dancing spontaneously. Curious beyond measure. What happened?

Let me guess.

Maybe it was school. Maybe it was your dysfunctional family and your chainsaw parents. You’re complicated so it was probably more than one thing. But just for today, let’s look at your unending number of interests and abilities. Your passion for learning new things. Your boredom with something once you’ve mastered it. Your multipotentiality.

You are afflicted with multipotentiality. Or, as Emilie Wapnick calls it in her TED talk, you’re a multipotentialite.

Yes, indeed. I’ve known many rainforest-minded folks with this affliction. And you won’t get any sympathy from the masses. Too much talent just doesn’t bring out the compassion. But, for you, it can stop you in your tracks. How do you choose just one thing? How do you make a career out of psychoneuromusicalanthrobiocomedy? Not to mention being a psychoneuromusicalanthrobiocomedic parent.

Your coping strategies? Procrastination. Depression. Anxiety. Hot Fudge Sundaes.

Not so great.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. You don’t have to stick to one job/career.
  2. Multipotentiality is not a sign of weakness or inability to focus or ADHD or slackeritis.
  3. Use your creativity to craft careers that combine many talents and interests. Good resources for guidance are here and here. (and Emilie)
  4. Look for the book Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher.
  5. Don’t feel guilty anymore for your abundance. It’s not your fault.
  6. If you’re a parent, make a list of all of the ways parenting meets your needs for variety, emotional growth, problem solving, deep loving connection and intellectual stimulation.
  7. Make a list of all of the things you’ve done so far in your jobs/careers and family life to prove to yourself that you’ve accomplished a lot even if you feel like you haven’t. Meet with a coach or career counselor who has also slept with her encyclopedia.
  8. Let yourself grieve over the choices that you don’t take because even though you can do a lot, you probably won’t get to everything in one lifetime. Believe in reincarnation.

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To my bloggEEs: Are you afflicted with too much talent? What do you do about it? Have you created several career paths along the way? Thank you as always for reading and sharing!

 


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Most Popular Posts of 2015

Here are the top six posts of 2015. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, sharing and living your sensitive, intelligent, emotional, curious, compassionate rainforest-y life! Join me, dear bloggEEs, for more treks into the depths in 2016. Let us know, in the comments, how you’re doing and what you’d like to see next year.

Imagine A World Where Gifted Kids Don’t Have To Wait

Photography by Servando from Flickr cc

Photography by Servando from Flickr cc

My Smart Kid Is So Emotional, Am I A Parenting Failure?

photo by Diego Diaz, Flickr, CC

photo by Diego Diaz, Flickr, CC

Still Gifted After All These Years

photo courtesy of Jordan McQueen and Unsplash

photo courtesy of Jordan McQueen and Unsplash

If I’m So Smart, Why Was School Such A Drag?

photo from Flickr, Creative Commons, Phil Roeder

photo from Flickr, CC, Phil Roeder

What Psychotherapists Need To Know About Gifted Clients

photo courtesy of Anne Allanketner

photo courtesy of Anne Allanketner

If I’m So Smart, Why Am I So Dumb? Part Two

Photo by Cindi, Flickr, CC

Photo by Cindi, Flickr, CC


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If I’m So Smart, Why Am I So Dumb? Part Two

Photo by Cindi, Flickr, CC

Photo by Cindi, Flickr, CC

The following are my top ten reasons why you may feel “dumb,” not so smart and certainly not gifted :

#10. You’re highly sensitive, emotional, idealistic and lonely. Gifted people are cynical, logical and objective and prefer being alone to think.

#9. You have multiple interests and can’t decide on one career path. Gifted people pick one thing, stick with it and achieve greatness.

#8. You start many projects that you don’t finish. Gifted people finish things.

#7. You didn’t excel in school. Gifted people always get straight ‘As’ and never have learning disabilities.

#6. You grew up in a seriously dysfunctional family. Gifted people come from happy homes.

#5. You daydream a lot, can’t decide what color to paint your bedroom, and forget to tie your shoes. Gifted people make decisions easily, don’t daydream and never forget anything.

#4. You’re terrified of failure and have exceedingly high standards so you avoid taking risks and you procrastinate. Gifted people learn quickly with no effort and get things done on time.

#3. You’re afraid of success so you hide your abilities. Gifted people love to succeed and always do.

#2. You feel overwhelmed by the suffering in your community, your country and the world and you need to do something about it. Gifted people don’t get overwhelmed and they solve problems easily. They’re self-absorbed and only care about how smart they are.

51lwGdYA0tL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_#1. You aren’t Elon Musk. Gifted people send rockets into space, build fancy electric cars, and create thriving clean energy companies all at the same time. And they’re rich.

Here’s the thing, dear readers. What gifted people supposedly do or supposedly are, as listed above, may be true, for some. But from where I sit, in the world of the rainforest mind, it’s not so simple. All of these other things that you probably are– sensitive, emotional, idealistic, empathetic, perceptive, analytical, daydreamy, terrified of failure, curious, questioning, compassionate, creative, loving learning, perfectionistic, overwhelmed by suffering, needing to make a difference–all of these things, and more, are what make you smart, what make you gifted.

And I bet, if you asked Elon Musk, well, he’d agree.

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To my blogEEs: I’ve heard from several people how your comments are just as intriguing as my posts. (well, maybe my posts are a teensy bit more intriguing…) So, my dears, keep them coming. Your thoughts, feelings, reactions and questions add so much. Thank you.


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Top Ten Reasons Why Smart People Procrastinate

booksTop ten reasons why you procrastinate:

10. You’re really good at it.

9. You have no idea how not to procrastinate. Your entire academic career was built on it.

8. You can still get an “A” or produce something that impresses your coworkers.

7. Time pressure will make something dull a bit more interesting.

6. You’re overwhelmed by many things, including your own curiosity and creativity.

5. You delude yourself into believing that you do your best work under pressure.

4. You won’t disappoint anyone because their expectations will be lowered. You won’t disappoint yourself (as much) because your expectations will be lowered.

3. You’ve always been told that you’re so smart.

2. If you take plenty of time and fail, then your true stupidity will be revealed.

1. Perfectionism.

Can anything be done about this? Are you destined to live out your life as a prodigious profligate perfectionistic procrastinator?

Yes. And no. In that order.

Here’s what I suggest. Small steps. Nothing overwhelming or intimidating.

Start here:

You’re likely to love this post from the blog Wait But Why.

Then go here for more details from the same very funny procrastinating blogger.

Finally, you’ll be ready for a wonderfully comprehensive practical guide. This book.

And just so you know, a pattern of procrastination isn’t easy to change. Here’s why: “Confronting and changing long-held assumptions about you and your family can be unnerving and disorienting. This is why procrastination is so hard to overcome. It’s not simply a matter of changing a habit; it requires changing your inner world.”*

But it’s worth it.

“However, as you access capabilities and parts of yourself that have been held back by procrastination, you can derive great pleasure in claiming your whole self.”*

*Jane Burka & Lenora Yuen, Procrastination

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To my blogEEs: Tell us why you procrastinate and if you’ve found any resources or techniques that have helped you deal with it. And thank you, as always, for commenting and sharing.