Your Rainforest Mind

Support For The Excessively Curious, Creative, Smart & Sensitive


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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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Gifted and Obsessed

photo courtesy of Kyle Glenn, Unsplash

I’m obsessed.

I admit it.

I spend inordinate amounts of time wondering who I really am and what I’m supposed to do with this little life of mine. To make a difference. To have an impact. To create a better world.

It surprises me that everyone isn’t as obsessed as I am. After all, what could be more important, I ask you?

Isn’t everyone an obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinker? Shouldn’t they be? Doesn’t everyone love being in therapy? Diving deep into the abyss of their psyches to wrestle with thorny anxieties, repair ancient wounds, and discover their sparkling Light?

You mean some folks really do just want to watch the Super Bowl?

I remember when I first read this in a John Irving novel: “You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed.” I was so relieved. It wasn’t just me. I fell in love with John Irving then and there.

Of course, I hear you. If I’d decided to procreate, I wouldn’t have the time or energy to question and wonder and analyze and imagine like I do. To dive so deeply into my abyss. I made the conscious choice to be childfree. To support my obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinking habit. It’s worked out quite well.

I found a career that would enhance these proclivities. I could be a psychotherapist! Get paid for being with other obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinkers. ( You know who  you are. )

Holy moly.

And then blogging was invented.

Oh boy.

The perfect vehicle for more obsessing. And, as it turns out, for a little worldwide influence. For a little impact. A bit of better-world making.

So.

I’ll be your John Irving.

I’m here to tell you that being an obsessive, introspective, self-analytical, driven, quirky, over-thinker is exactly who you are meant to be. And even if you decided to procreate, and you are now raising a quirky little over-thinker just like yourself, you can still find your way to make a difference. To have an impact. To create a better world.

Just remember this: You’ve got to get obsessed and stay obsessed. 

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To my bloggEEs: Thank you so much for being here and for supporting my habit. Let us know how you’re obsessed or how you plan to get obsessed.

(Note: It could be that raising that quirky little over-thinker of yours is exactly how you’re creating a better world…)

(Another note: Just to be clear, this is not to be confused with the serious and disabling obsessive compulsive disorder. I’m not suggesting that you get OCD. OK?)

There are a couple of events I want to tell you about. I’ll be speaking with the amazing Linda Silverman in Denver, CO on June 2 at her Gifted Women Symposium. (Sorry fellas!) And I’m a presenter at the SENG conference in San Diego in July 20-22. (Tom Clynes will be a keynote speaker.) I’d love to meet many of you so please think about going and introducing yourselves to me.

 

 

 

 


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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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For Gifted Kids And Their Teachers — Strategies For Success

Photo courtesy of Ashim D’Silva, Unsplash

Maybe you are an enthusiastic, hungry learner. You have so many questions and so many answers; your drive to analyze and create is massive and never ending. Your intense curiosity annoys your fellow students and rattles your teachers.

Was this your experience in first grade? Is this your story even now that you’re in grad school? If so, it can be deeply painful and frustrating. You may blame yourself for your too muchness and your seemingly inadequate communication and social skills. You may have been labelled a know-it-all but you wonder how that’s possible when you feel like a want-to-know-it-all and a slacker.

Maybe you’re a teacher who is working valiantly to serve the wildly different abilities of your students. You love your kids but are overwhelmed by their academic and emotional needs. How do you manage their range of abilities, their fears and doubts, and the demands of their parents and your administrators? And what about those kiddos who always finish work early and are asking questions that you can’t answer? Who are passionate about learning but don’t hand in their homework? Who are sensitive to the suffering multitudes but don’t appear to care when correcting your spelling?

What are some ways rainforest-minded learners can navigate the education system? How might teachers meet the needs of the gifted student?

Yep. These are HUGE questions. The following are some tiny answers. (But a place to start.)

For students (and parents):

Look for allies: Ask your favorite teacher to start a philosophy club. Look for mentors during your after school activities and entice them with your sense of humor. Find the other rainforest-y kids and talk to them. Go to office hours with the professor who loves your inquisitive nature.

Don’t believe that something’s wrong with you when teachers misunderstand your effervescence, your high standards, your disappointments or your need to correct others’ errors. Ask to meet with your more sensitive instructors over lunch and explain what you know about yourself and rainforest minds. (Show them my blog!) Ask them to advocate for you. Negotiate a flexible plan to get relevant work completed or to design alternative assignments.

Find inspiration from your research online. Contact fascinating people like Maria Popova from Brain Pickings or Krista Tippett from On Being.

For teachers:

Recognize the importance of your work and the powerful influence you have on children.

Find ways to nourish yourself. Attend conferences like this one. Join NAGC and access their resources.

Use some of the ideas suggested in this blog post such as: “It won’t take much to get your gifted students to adore you. Listen to them. Let them know that you appreciate how hungry they are to learn, then find ways to feed them…”

Read Parker Palmer‘s book, The Courage to Teach. Let his positive vision guide you.

Access curriculum guides published by Prufrock Press and Free Spirit.

Don’t miss the important documentary on gifted children and education titled The G Word that will be out in 2019.

Find inspiring words to tape to your refrigerator such as: “The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts — the place where intellect, emotion, spirit, and will converge in the human self — supported by the community that emerges among us when we choose to live authentic lives.” Parker J. Palmer

For students, parents and teachers:

“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called to shift to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground. A time when we have to shed our fear and give hope to each other. That time is now.”   Wangari Maathai              

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To my bloggEEs:  Tell us about your experiences in school as a student or a teacher. How might you shed your fear and share hope with your self, your family, your school, your community or your world? Thank you to the reader who inspired this post.


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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.

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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 a Plethora of Possibilities

You would think that a smart person could make decisions easily, quickly, and definitively. 

But the people that I know?

Don’t.

How can that be?

Let me explain. Which of the following are true for you:

Your wild mind generates many ideas, options, possibilities and perspectives.

You can argue all sides of most issues.

When you took multiple choice tests in school, you could explain why all of the answers could be true.

There’s never an end to the “what ifs.”

You see beige, ecru, sand and eggshell when others see white.

Your decisions impact others, now and in the future. Choices need to be ethical.

All possibilities have their appeal so you can’t let any of them go.

You need to optimize every decision.

You feel pressure to look intelligent so you need to be right.

You want to keep all of your options open.

You have to make the best choice or you’re a complete failure.

You can generate an unending list of questions. You can’t decide until you answer them.

You care about justice, equality, sustainability and future generations.

Finding the right word matters.

If you make one choice, that means you experience a loss of what you didn’t choose. You want to avoid that loss.

You second guess yourself. Often.

It’s wrong to not take advantage of all of your opportunities.

Procrastination is your middle name.

You want to accommodate others and not hurt anyone’s feelings.

You’re highly sensitive so your choice of  restaurant, movie, soap, fabric, beverage and every other assorted thing, matters.

(And, if you’re a parent, making decisions about your kid, well, multiply all of the above by a gazillion.)

You wondered why you have difficulty making decisions?

Now you know.

One more thing.

Nothing is ever simple in the rainforest mind. Take it from Donald Antrim who wrote:

“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?”

              (from The New Yorker, Dec. 27, 1999 & Jan. 3, 2000. The Pancake Breakfast)

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To my blogEEs: Does this describe you? Tell us more. What helps make decision-making easier?

Thanks to Pamela Price and her Crew for their ideas and thanks to my commenters for their topic requests. And thanks to you, dear blogEEs, for reading.