Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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If You’re Gifted, Are You Responsible for Everyone and Everything Until the End of Time?

photo courtesy of Ayo Ogunseinde, Unsplash

The following questions can plague the rainforest-minded:

If someone asks you for help, and you have the skills that they need, are you always supposed to say yes to them?

If someone asks you for help, and you have the skills that they need and you say no, should you feel utterly and totally guilty for the rest of your life?

If your intuition is often accurate, and you pick up information about someone, are you responsible for telling that person what you suspect is true about them?

If you can see into someone’s wounded soul and you have compassion for them, but in everyday life they’re toxic, manipulating creeps, do you have to keep being their friend?

There are many other questions, of course. Bazillions of them. But the above questions are in a particular category. It’s: If I’m gifted, I must be responsible for using my gifts to the fullest capacity possible all of the damned time.

That category.

You’ve probably heard this all of your life. From relatives, teachers, religious leaders, and yourself. And I get it. It makes sense that you should develop your gifts; that you want to be of service. That you feel a drive to make a difference. To use your superpowers for good.

It’s why I write this blog. I’m driven to be of service to you. So that you can rediscover your strength and your confidence, and walk your many paths to self-actualization, human evolution, and planetary healing.

But there are limits.

Yes, even you. have. limits.

For example:

You have a body that you must take care of. You actually need to sleep. Your sensitivity, empathy, and intuition need to be protected and nourished. There’s only so much time.

If you grew up in a chainsaw family, you’ll have a young child part who learned that they had to be perfect or risk abandonment or annihilation. That child will need your attention, understanding, and love.

And here are some other things that you may need to learn:

You’ll want to learn the difference between obsession with and excitement over a new project that is so very intellectually stimulating that you forget to eat or bathe for days on end. (Yeah.)

Versus–

When you’re responding to just one more email from your clamoring friend or coworker who just has one last teensy weensy request: that you design, write, and print the programs for their long lost fourth cousin’s memorial gathering and you edit the eulogy and order the flowers after you bake their nephew’s favorite cheesecake and don’t forget that it has to be gluten-free and bring your violin to the service just in case… so that you don’t have time to eat or bathe for days on end. (Nah.)

Not only that.

You’ll want to learn that you can’t possibly say yes to every request that you get, even if you could do it faster and better than anyone else available. Just because you are able to do it, doesn’t mean you have to. It would be impossible to actually do everything that you can do. You will have to say no some of the time.

You’ll want to learn that you have a right to select your friends carefully. If you find yourself doing all of the listening and supporting, you may need to say bye-bye. If you always feel drained or weird after visiting, bid them adieu.

You may have highly developed intuitive abilities. This is particularly tricky. When do you share what you know? How do you protect yourself from people with terrible boundaries who will never get enough no matter how much you give? Use that intuition of yours to know when and how much to share. I just started reading a new book by Christiane Northrup on this topic. It looks good so far. You have a right to protect your intuitive/spiritual self from assault.

Do you hear me?

Sure. You will likely want to create a life of meaning, purpose, and service. You may even be heading toward self-actualization, human evolution, and planetary healing, as we speak.

Just remember, even though you’re gifted, you’re not responsible for everyone and everything until the end of time.

I mean it.

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To my darling blogEEs: Do you feel responsible to help others no matter the cost? Do you have a hard time saying no and setting healthy boundaries? Tell us about it. How have you learned to set limits? Thank you for sharing. Know that I read all of your comments carefully, even if I don’t respond to all of them.

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What Do Political Activism, Giftedness, and Your Dysfunctional Family Have in Common?

photo courtesy of Alice Donovan Rouse, Unsplash

Your rainforest mind is often thinking or overthinking or maybe even obsessing about changing the world. Perhaps you were told that because you’re so smart, you have a responsibility to do something important. Or maybe you’ve just felt responsible on your own. Since you were 5, or thereabouts.

Maybe you’ve become politically active. Joined an organization. Run for office. Or perhaps you’re more introverted and quietly spreading compassion around in your family and community. Or you might be composing a concerto or inventing a more efficient battery.

If you’ve chosen an extraverted, activist approach, I have some ideas that might help:

Being a political activist can be discouraging, disturbing, and discombobulating. For so many reasons. The work is often thankless, exhausting, and endless.

You’ve likely heard of the need for self-care. That you should take time to rest your weary bones and nourish your aching soul. That if you’re depleted and despairing, you will not be the most effective or influential.

Perhaps you understand this and are able to take breaks and find ways to stay energized and hopeful. Good. But even self-care may not be enough.

If you find that you’re constantly angry, frustrated, and fearful, and if your fellow activists are often acting like your dysfunctional family, I have a suggestion for you.

You know what I’m about to say.

Try psychotherapy.

Now I know what you may be thinking: I don’t have the time or the money for years of analysis. Or: I know that my family was full of crazies. Why do I need to rehash old stories? What good will it do? Or: The past is over. Live in the now. Think positive thoughts. People in therapy are too self-absorbed.

I get it. And I know that I’m biased. I’m a psychotherapist, after all. But let me tell you what I’ve seen. In myself and my clients.

Our families shape our perceptions of ourselves. If our parents are fearful, shame-based, angry, or abusive, our vulnerable young selves can’t help but absorb variations of that same fear, shame, and anger. We can’t help but interpret the dysfunction to mean that there’s something wrong with us or that we’re at fault because we are being abused or neglected or misunderstood. The effects can be deep and lasting because our parents are all-powerful to us, we’re in these families for years, and our sense of identity is heavily influenced by the behaviors, beliefs, and emotions of our caretakers.

What often happens when we become adults, is that we relive and re-enact these patterns and beliefs, even when we swear we’ll never be like our parents and we move miles away from them. We may unconsciously pick abusive partners, passive-aggressive friends, or angry bosses. We may live in fear of disappointing our parents, have recurring panic attacks, abuse substances, hate our jobs, or live depressed and desperate lives always seeking but never finding the parental acceptance and love that we were denied.

What can you do? Not only for yourself but for the world that you’re out to change?

Unravel this misunderstanding of who you are. Undo the damage. Heal your broken heart. 

And, in my humble opinion, that includes good psychotherapy. Or Diving into the Wreck as poet Adrienne Rich describes it.

This can be a scary proposition. Diving into your wreck. It can take time. Even if you’re a fast learner. The process is often slow and complicated. You may get impatient and think you’re doing it wrong. You may have times when you’re feeling overwhelming sadness. You may wonder why the hell you thought that hanging out in a wreck was such a good idea.

But, eventually, you’ll find that it’s worth the time, money, and tears. You’ll notice changes in your inner and outer worlds. Healthy relationships. Less anxiety. Good boundaries. Moments of gratitude and joy. Well-adjusted kids. Expanded creativity, intuition, and spirituality.

You’ll discover who you really are. Your authentic, smart, creative self. You will have stopped the legacy of dysfunction that was handed down to you from your parents and their parents before them. You will have interrupted deep-seated unhealthy patterns in your family line.

And trust me. This is a big accomplishment.

And that’s not all.

As a social change-maker, your energy and enthusiasm will return. You’ll be more effective. You will act out of this healthier place rather than from a place of need, rage, fear, or guilt. Your fellow activists will stop acting like your dysfunctional family.

And even if your cohorts still do look a little like your needy mother or your angry father, it’ll be OK. You’ll be OK. Because, while swimming around in your wreck, you will have found the jewels.

And they are magnificent.

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To my bloggEEs: As you know, I’m not wanting us to get into a specific political discussion. But I do suspect that some of you are experiencing the frustrations of activism and the challenges interacting with other humans who also want to change the world. Let us know how you deal with your particular brand of social responsibility. And if you’d like more thoughts about psychotherapy that are not written by a psychotherapist, go to this Ask Polly column. Thank you, as always, for being here.


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Spiritual Intelligence: Creating a Compassionate World

photo courtesy of Arunas Naukokas, Unsplash

Being the super sensitive, emotional, deeply aware human that you are, I suspect that you’re feeling a bit discombobulated these days. OK. Extremely distressed and anxious these days. From where I sit in North America, there’s a lot to be discombobulated (read: extremely distressed and anxious) about. A lot. You may be overwhelmed with grief, rage, or despair. You may feel a responsibility to act but not know your best path. You may feel pressure to be brilliant because, after all, you’re so smart.

I want to send you some extra love and inspiration.

To do that, I need to step into more iffy territory. Some of you may balk. But these times require risk, expansion, and iffy territory.

Are you with me?

OK, then.

Here’s the overall plan:  Believe in your deeply introspective journey. It will heal you and inform your outer action. (If your journey includes psychotherapy, thank you for your courage.) Explore your spirituality. Imagine that you can access guidance from a powerful, loving Energy both inside of you and around you. Tap into this energy in Nature and in what might be called the invisible world or, as I like to call it, the Force. Use the techniques that sing to you such as: meditation, poetry, dancing, gardening, art-making, blogging, praying, journaling, yoga, religion, dreaming, camping/hiking, traveling, studying, drumming, or journeying. In this way, find your version of a spiritual intelligence that will move you closer to your greater purpose. Then, you will know what actions to take.

Got it?

Here’s the inspiration:

From mythologist Martin Shaw:

“…When the lots are counted, when we are gathered in, we will find that it was love that mattered. Love expressed, given, received, fought for. So for those of us fighting right now, I say; keep going. As a culture, as an individual, believe in the full life that is your bequeathed inheritance, not the subterranean half-life that terror and impoverished minded bullies will try and spike your wine with. You are too good for that…Wander your oak valleys, linger in ornate chapels at dusk, get thrown out of the tavern at midnight, be kind, kiss the wounded, fight injustice and protect, protect, protect all the trembling bells of delight that you notice out of the corner of your eye when everyone else is oblivious. Value yourself, know yourself, don’t be naive, but don’t be afraid of love. Carry it.”

From psychologist Kathleen D. Noble, Riding the Windhorse:

“…we are never truly alone. Not only does there exist an immense network of intelligent and loving allies who sustain and support us as we struggle to grow, but also some portion of our larger self always comprehends what we are doing and where we are heading. No matter where we might find ourselves in the vast complexity of the whole, there is always a level of awareness that is old enough and smart enough to understand…each of us, no matter how small or insignificant we might sometimes feel, is vital to the whole, to a depth and degree we are wont to forget.”

From Star Wars:

“May the Force be with you.”

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To my bloggEEs: Now that I write this, it doesn’t seem all that iffy. Or risky. I’m guessing that many of you are already in touch with a larger spirituality and sense of Love in the universe. Share your path with us and your thoughts and resources. Where do you find your guidance and hope? How does your spirituality inform your introspective process and your action to create a better world? And thank you for continuing to love and to notice the “trembling bells of delight.”

For more research from Kathleen Noble on the study of consciousness, go here.


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Surviving The Hectic, Harrowing, Holiday Season Hoopla

photo courtesy of Nathan Lemon, Unsplash

The holiday season has arrived. It’s a busy time for psychotherapists. Or it will be: In January when all of the retraumatized, triggered, overwhelmed, lonely, exhausted, disappointed humans reach out for help.

No one is immune to the hectic harrowing holiday season hoopla. You may think that you’re the only one bewildered, lonely or sad. You aren’t. And if you’re super sensitive and if you have high ethical standards and a social conscience, this may be a particularly tough time. It’s a crazy world right now. And if you’re like me, single and childfree, you might have mixed feelings while you watch the frenetic humans running hither and  yon.

But whether you’re single and childfree or not, here are my recommendations:

• If this is a difficult, anxious time of the year for you, know that you’re not alone. Even those people with the big seemingly-happy families that you see on Facebook, are probably actually not that perky. They most likely have one or two or ten obnoxious relatives who dominate the conversation, drink too much, bully the children and bring an orange jello mold to every event.

• Now is a great time to rethink your holiday traditions, habits or expectations. What is it that you really want to do? Who do you really want to be with? What if this were your last holiday season? How would you spend it? Don’t wait until next year.

• Design a spiritual practice that supports your particular quirky connection to the Force. Maybe it includes a tree with ornaments. Maybe it includes the score to the musical Hamilton. Maybe it includes candles and wine. Perhaps you sit with the oak in your yard or you do tai chi by the lake. Whatever it is, make it yours. Let the Force be with you.

• Appreciate the quiet and peace in your home. Notice your exquisite woodwork.

• Order takeout for your holiday meal. Do not feel guilty.

• Start a blog. It’s a great way to express yourself and to feel loved. Ahem.

• Move your body in ways that work for you. This can include exercise. It’s not a great idea to spend the holiday season curled up under blankets eating pie. I recently discovered Katy Bowman’s Nutritious Movement. You might also find it a good alternative to sitting through too many episodes of Longmire.

• If you’re single, get the book Quirkyalone: A Manifesto for Uncompromising Romantics. The author, Sasha Cagen must have a rainforest mind. She’s sensitive, funny and she dances the Argentine tango. Sasha created a movement for single folks who cherish their solitude, want to find a mate, but who would rather be alone than settle for just anyone.

• Find some young, deeply cared-for children. They might be family members or friends’ or neighbors’ kids. Watch them as they unselfconsciously sing and dance to the songs from Moana. It will give you hope for the future. This is what love looks like.

Chances are, you won’t be able to avoid the hectic, harrowing holiday season hoopla. But you can use it as an opportunity to reassess your life. Your choices. The meaning you want to make. The influence you want to have. Instead of being among the frenetic and the retraumatized, use this time to find your voice. To build your path to a better world.

With or without the orange jello mold.

(Note: If you need ideas on building your path and haven’t read my book yet, that would be a good place to start!)

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Thank you to little dancers Sydney, Shane and Bodhi and their fabulous parents for their sweetness and light.

To my bloggEEs: What are the holidays like for you? What are some ways that you’ve managed to celebrate that have been sweet or peaceful? What are ways that you might make changes? And if you’re lonely this holiday season, I’m sending you an extra hug. Thank you commenters for taking the time to share your thoughts, especially if you’re a perfectionist and it takes you an hour to write two sentences. Ha! I know you. And if you’re not commenting because it takes you an hour to write two sentences, I understand. Just keep reading.

 

 


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I’m Not Gifted, I’m Just Weird

photo courtesy of Eugenio Mazzone, Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It matters.

Why?

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

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

We won’t survive without them.

We won’t survive without you.

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

 


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Sensitivity Is Your Superpower

In times like these, you may wish that you had less sensitivity. Life as an empathetic soul is often overwhelming. It can be easy to fall into despair or anxiety. And because you are capable in multiple ways, relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, plants and animals may be clamoring for your assistance. 

You may be happy to help. It could be your calling to serve others . But you might feel inadequate because you aren’t the one dragging people out of burning buildings. You aren’t the one rushing into war zones to cover the atrocities.

And the clamoring may make you want to stay in bed. On your good days. On your bad days, it may make you want to pulverize the clamorers, if you know what I mean. ( Just because you’re sensitive doesn’t mean that you never feel drawn to pulverizing. I don’t recommend doing it. I’m just saying… )

You need to understand that your sensitivity is your strength. Being perceptive, empathetic, compassionate and intuitive are skills that the world needs. Desperately.

But because you’re a sensitive soul, there are some things that you need to know.

First: Just because you can sense someone’s pain, doesn’t mean that you’re responsible for fixing it.  Just because you can do something faster, better and more easily than other people, doesn’t mean that you have to do that something. Practice saying no. Think of it like this: There are many helpers out there. You’re giving someone else a chance to step up. You’re helping someone else learn. I’m not saying that you should shirk your responsibilities. I’m just suggesting that it’s healthy to set boundaries and limits. You’re very capable in many areas. It’s impossible and inappropriate for you to do everything you could possibly do. Exhausting yourself? Not recommended. Look for the times when you’re drawn to something because it’s energizing. Head in that direction.

Second: Get toxic people out of your life. They’ll get help elsewhere. You may be enabling them by letting them rely on you; and we all know that enabling is a no-no. And, by the way, the toxic people might include family members. In that case, get them out of your life, too. ( If that sounds harsh, it is. Most certainly, try therapy first and blunt discussions, if you’re so inclined. But for the truly toxic, you may need to say bye-bye.*) You’ll feel guilt. Try to let go of the guilt. Tell yourself that you’re healing the legacy of dysfunction in your family line. That your ancestors are benefitting. Because they are. ( Trust me on that one. ) Everyone benefits when you stand up for yourself.

Third: Self-care is your friend. You are not a wimp if you need to rest.

Finally: Appreciate your sensitivity. It makes you powerful. Your awareness and your capacity for compassion and loving is vast. And surely this planet, your relatives, friends, coworkers, neighbors, strangers, plants, animals and even your politicians, need all of the love and compassion they can get.

Sensitivity is your superpower.

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* I know that in some cases you won’t be able to say good-bye to toxic family members. In those cases, do your best to set limits, protect yourself and get support.

To my dear bloggEEs: Tell us about your sensitivities. How do you protect yourself from the clamorers? Describe how you use your superpower. And thank you, as always, for being here.


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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!