Smart Sensitive Men Are In Trouble

Flickr, Creative Commons, Kamil Porembinski
Flickr, Creative Commons, Kamil Porembinski

Smart sensitive men are in trouble.

You know what I’m talking about.

What do you do with all that emotion? All that empathy? All that awareness?

How do you handle your grief? Your love of art or poetry or pink? Your despair over the violence you see in the world? Your tears?

I think it’s hard for many men to fit into the rigid view of masculinity. But for rainforest-minded men, there are extra tangled vines and more mosquitoes.

I wonder if you were a little tyke who had intense meltdowns. Maybe you expressed your fears and your joys with gusto. You didn’t know about The Boy Code yet. And because you were smart, adults expected you to be more logical and less emotional. Your expressiveness looked like immaturity to them. How can my 7-year-old who plays chess and beats his uncle every time, be so immature? But what if you were born with an unusual capacity to feel deeply? What if your sensitivity was just as large as your intellect? What if you seemed younger than your age peers because you purposely wanted to avoid the weight and hypocrisy of adulthood?

Then there was school. You may have been bullied because you were eager to learn. At recess you preferred examining the grasshoppers to throwing the balls. Maybe you felt more comfortable with girls.

Am I on the right track?

And now, there are the expectations. Oh, yes. If you’re so smart, then, you’re supposed to be able to do anything. Be a high achiever. Make lots of money. Be a good provider. Be tough and man up. But what if the pressure leaves you paralyzed? What if you feel like a failure each time someone close to you is disappointed? What if you’re looking successful but dying inside? What if you were criticized by a father who was full of shame over his own sensitivity? Or what if you feel responsible for living up to some potential that you can’t find and don’t believe you ever had?

Like I said. Smart sensitive men. In trouble.

What, then, can you do?

1. Redefine masculinity. I mean it. Use that creative brain of yours to design a new model. One where sensitivity, tenderness and wonder are signs of strength and achievement. Because they are.

2. Recognize that because you have a rainforest mind, you’re hardwired to be extra sensitive and soft-hearted. Blame your operating system.

3. Read about giftedness (Jacobsen) and realize that she is describing you. There aren’t many books that I know of on gifted boys/men specifically except by Kerr and Zeff but there are some on raising boys that could also be helpful.

4. Write the book on gifted men.

5. Allow yourself to get support, help and guidance. Don’t think that you have to tough it out alone. You hear me? Help comes in many forms: counseling, 12-step groups, spiritual practices, music, acupuncture, yoga, massage, tango, book groups, camping, poetry, hiking, meditation, star-gazing, physical activity, art. It’s a sign of strength to ask for help.

Flickr, Creative Commons, Abhinay Omkar
Flickr, Creative Commons, Abhinay Omkar

6. With a counselor or in a journal or both, meet with your sweet, enthusiastic, curious little-tyke-self. Listen to him. Hold him close. Let him cry. Tell him that he’s perfect just the way he is.


To my dear bloggEEs: As usual, let us know your thoughts, questions and feelings. Are there books you’d recommend? Other ideas? Thank you for reading and sharing. A post for women will be coming soon-ish.







Author: Paula Prober

I’m a psychotherapist and consultant in private practice based in Eugene, Oregon. I specialize in international consulting with gifted adults and parents of gifted children. I’ve been a teacher and an adjunct instructor at the University of Oregon and a frequent guest presenter at Oregon State University and Pacific University. I’ve written articles on giftedness for the Eugene Register-Guard, the Psychotherapy Networker, Advanced Development Journal and online for psychotherapy dot net, Rebelle Society, Thrive, Introvert Dear, and Highly Sensitive Refuge. My first book, Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth, is a collection of case studies of gifted clients along with many strategies and resources for gifted adults and teens. My second book, Journey Into Your Rainforest Mind: A Field Guide for Gifted Adults and Teens, Book Lovers, Overthinkers, Geeks, Sensitives, Brainiacs, Intuitives, Procrastinators, and Perfectionists is a collection of my most popular blog posts along with writing exercises for self-exploration and insight.

51 responses to “Smart Sensitive Men Are In Trouble”

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  1. Jennifer Avatar

    We cannot measure our life accomplishments by comparing ourselves to others. And when we try to, most of us feel immobilized by comparison. Because there is no objective standard by which to measure success. There is always someone who seems to have achieved more than we have. The real way to measure accomplishment is subjectively, by reference to the subtleties of personal context. That is, what have you had to overcome emotionally, relationally, physically, and structurally, in order to make your way through life? What did it take to get here? I know many so-called “great achievers” who had a leg up at every turn. And many unknown people, who have achieved far more by working diligently in the deep within to transform their individual and ancestral landscape. From the place they come, their small steps are momentous and (r)evolutionary. So, if you are shackled by the idea of someone else’s accomplishments, throw comparison to the wind. And sit down before yourself and applaud how far you have come. It may not be anything you can ever put to words. But, you know. YOU know.

    I have just found your blog Paula and am really enjoying it. I identify with so much of what you write and love your playful humour too. I knew Jeff Brown has some good quotes on what’s being discussed in the comments (though I know I’m seven years late lol) & found this one which resonated with the discussion.

    1. pprober Avatar

      Never too late, Jennifer. I’m so glad you’re here. Hope to hear more from you.

  2. Young, Male, Gifted, And Black In Canada | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Intensity, Sensitivity […]

  3. The Less Obvious Traits of Giftedness — Intense Emotions, Intuition, and Empathy | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] learned to manage those emotions in a healthy way or you may judge yourself for them (especially if you are male). Managing the highs and lows via self-soothing and self-compassion is important. You don’t […]

  4. renovatio06 Avatar

    I wish I lived closer to where you are. For starters and to modulate the anguish and despair I’ve arrived at I’d start counseling with you. And in person.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, yes, renovatio06! That would be lovely. That said, look for a counselor where you are. It’s not easy to find a good match, but it’s possible! Sometimes you have to meet a few people before you find one that can meet your needs. This post will give you some ideas of how to go about it: There are also therapists with The School of Life in the UK who work online. They don’t have the same restrictions we have here. I like their philosophy, at least from what I can tell. So they might be an option.

      1. renovatio06 Avatar

        Thanks galore, Paula! Always a good ressource for help and for meeting other rainforestminded ppl 🙂

  5. Managing Your Young Gifted Child’s (And Your) Emotional Intensity | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] are males, this sensitivity often goes underground when they reach adolescence. (For more on this, go here.) But if you are raising a gifted little boy, you know what I’m talking about. EMOTIONS. […]

  6. Mike Avatar

    I can redefine it all I want, problem is girls don’t want to have sex with men with these traits, and I have a high libido. And it’s a problem. These traits are in most cases a biological turnoff. That’s why it’s viewed as a problem and it is.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, I’m so sorry you’re not meeting girls who appreciate your sensitivity and your other gifted traits. But they’re out there. One suggestion I’ve made to help RFMs meet each other is to try social dancing, in particular the Argentine tango. If you like to dance and you like a challenge, the tango is it. And sensitive, empathetic, creative men who learn to lead are often very popular. Just a thought. Thanks for writing.

  7. Pam Avatar

    So thankful to read this. I have a 10 yo son who struggles to fit in. He is compassionate, caring, empathetic, creative, thoughtful, intuitive, spiritual, concerned, sweet, well mannered, kind, musical, poetic, generous and very bright. To the culture, his grandparents, his teachers and his peers, he is not athletic, he is immature, has trouble staying on task in class, not a high achiever for sports and academics, he’s not tough, he’s too sensitive and more. I spend time trying to explain him but he doesn’t fit the mold. Their mold. I’ll be reading more about Rainforest men. This might be him… It’s making me mad that women can aspire to these traits he has but generally men cannot.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hope that these posts help you find support for your son, Pam, and perhaps, some of the others in his life might read a post or two and begin to shift their thinking. Thank you for writing.

  8. Too Sensitive, Too Dramatic, Too Intense –What Is Emotional Intelligence? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] post for some ideas. And here are more resources. And, of course, there’s my book. (And if you’re a male, this is even more complicated. Read about it here.) And, of course, if you feel anxious, depressed […]

  9. Marie Avatar

    My husband had the “sensitive” “excited” and “curious” beaten out of him at a young age. Only recently, since we’ve been together, and more so, since we’ve had our son, have these traits come out a lot stronger than what they were before. He does everything possible to ensure our little rainforest minded boy, expresses himself truely & at every opportunity. I can’t wait to see the un-repressed version of my man grow before my eyes!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      How wonderful that you and your husband are nourishing and appreciating your sensitive son. It will be healing for your husband to give what he didn’t get. He also may get triggered some of the time by your son’s intensity if he was traumatized, which is sounds like he was. Your husband can learn ways to soothe the child inside himself, if that happens. Your support and understanding will also be a gift to him.

  10. Will My Gifted Kid Ever Be Truly Happy? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] *Note: If you have a male child or if you are a male, all of this may be even more complicated by the societal rules against sensitivity and emotional expression in boys and men. But that’s a whole other blog post. […]

  11. Overexcitabilities — Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] if you’re a male, well, this too muchness can be particularly humiliating if you’re trying to “man […]

  12. holbart Avatar

    My gifted husband still examines the grasshoppers. LOL 12-step programs have saved him, emotionally and spiritually. I just read this article to him. In a somewhat disgruntled, protesting manner he says, “I don’t know. I guess some of it applies.” He has such a hard time seeing himself as “perfect the way he is.” I guess I’m just going to have to keep giving him hugs.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      I think that’s a hard one for most of us, realizing that we’re perfect just as we are. But those hugs can really help. Good to hear from you!

  13. Charlotte Heaps Avatar
    Charlotte Heaps

    This is my dh to a tee! It is the first thing he has read which he has truly related to, thank you! I would love to see more of his “little tyke” self too! More men articles please!

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks, Charlotte. I’m glad your dh could relate. There will be more posts about men for sure.

  14. Carly Avatar

    Lovely post, thank you. The first half describes my five year old son and the rest describes my husband, perfectly in each case.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks for the note, Carly.

  15. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Beautiful summary of what gifted men experience. So many men hide their feelings. But gifted men often feel more intensely and react with more sensitivity, making it even more difficult to conform to societal norms. What a great article about how they can free themselves from this. Thanks.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Hi Gail. Somehow I missed this comment. I always appreciate hearing from you.

  16. Cait Fitz Avatar
    Cait Fitz

    Another lovely post, Paula. I, too, love these sorts of fellows and I hope to raise two. Thanks for this!

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      I’m sure you will, Caitie. Your boys are so lucky to have you!

  17. david Avatar

    I love you for putting this in words… my life, my family, and my career. Writing the book indeed! Thank you for this precious gift of compassion and non-judgmental understanding. Hugs.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      You’re very welcome, David. Thanks for the note.

  18. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    As a sensitive male I felt somewhat blessed to be able to succeed in the rough and tumble macho world of sports, at least ON the field of play. My athletic talent was my passport into the mainstream world that I otherwise felt I did not belong to. On the other hand, OFF the field of play my seemingly incongruous sensitivity and eccentricities made me stick out like a sore thumb which often felt like a curse. So in retrospect, perhaps spending time in that world exposed me to even more trauma than I would have been had I no athletic talent or interest in sports?

    Anyway, I am not sure if this is directly related to this particular topic, but I was wondering what you think about the modern self-help/positive thinking/motivational messages that are everywhere these days? It seems to me with a lot of the new “wisdom” that is widely proclaimed and shared that there is an underlying message of “there are no excuses for failing to succeed or fit in”, and that this has the potential to be more harmful than helpful to those of us who simply do not fit the typical mental/emotional mold.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      For some gifted males, it’s been helpful to have athletic ability because they’re then seen as more acceptable to the mainstream. But it sounds like that wasn’t your experience. It made you stick out more? Were you more vulnerable because you weren’t able to hide? Thanks for sharing, Mark. Can you say more about the other topic? I think it’s a good one to write about in a post. How does the popular positive thinking message affect the gifted person? My quick answer is that those messages are often simplistic and miss the subtleties of a real human’s experiences, particularly a complicated rainforest-minded person. There’s some value in the idea of focusing on positive thoughts and attitudes and yet if we deny and repress grief, for example, it can come out in unhelpful, passive-aggressive or even aggressive ways. There’s a book titled Healing Through the Dark Emotions that talks about the value of “negative” feelings. That’s my short answer!

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        Hey thanks. I have a million things swirling in my head that I want to touch on but I’ll try and keep it brief.

        An example of what I was getting at is how every day on social media someone is sharing some quote or video by some “motivational speaker”, “leadership expert”, or “life coach” who rambles on about how to achieve “excellence”, “discipline”, “life effectiveness”, blah, blah, blah…. (I once knew one of these guys from my sports days. Apart from his success in sports, the guy can’t think his way out of a paper bag, but I digress.)

        I don’t get along with most of my family. I think they see the disparity between my various abilities and my lack of success plus the fact I suffer from anxiety and depression as evidence that I am a negative person who lacks discipline and motivation. To back their arguments up they often trot out the same kind of pop-psychology platitudes that “gurus” like my motivational-speaker friend does.

        It’s often pretty hard to defend myself from what these days has become almost unassailable “conventional wisdom”, perhaps because I live out there in the rain forest where none of them have ever been and where they can’t see how much faith and positive thinking it takes to create my “magic” (I am very creative in multi-disciplines), and where being someone who is so busy experiencing and learning about everything in the world that they haven’t had time to become a big, well-adjusted success. 😉

        1. paulaprober Avatar

          That’s it, Mark. “someone who is so busy experiencing and learning about everything in the world that they haven’t had time to become a big, well-adjusted success” Yes! It could be that the platitudes do work to some extent with people who don’t have such complicated minds. But for a rainforester it’s just not that simple. I may write a post about “success” that could be helpful. (could I quote you?) I appreciate your sharing.

        2. Mark V Avatar
          Mark V

          Thank you, I’d be honored to be quoted!

          From the outside I think it is easy to look at gifted people and their lack of success and simply assume “they must be doing something wrong”, rather than looking at all the things they may be doing right or differently, and wonder why that does not necessarily lead to success (at least an easily quantifiable version of it).

          Personally I am less concerned with how people might be treating me differently (or indifferently) because of my lack of success, and am much more concerned with how it limits my opportunities to experience, experiment and explore. (The “three Ex’s” ?)

          1. paulaprober Avatar

            Perhaps we can define success to be: opportunities to experience, experiment and explore. Sounds good to me!

  19. Amy Voros Avatar
    Amy Voros

    Reblogged this on Creative Catapult Coaching and commented:
    This is a great thought for emotional, well rounded, men.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks, Amy.

      1. Amy Voros Avatar
        Amy Voros

        Well, that seemed like a cool feature. I don’t know where the reblog went!

        1. paulaprober Avatar

          Hm. You could try again?

  20. Amy Voros Avatar
    Amy Voros

    I know so many guys like this and like one of the commenters above, these are the ones I always find most inspiring, fun, and attractive to be around.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Me, too!

  21. jenmarten Avatar

    You are describing my son to a T! I wrote this about him 2 years ago.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks for the link, Jen. It’s a great post. Good to know about your blog.

  22. telperion1214 Avatar

    How serendipitous that this comes on a day when I was thinking about my brother (now deceased). He was not able to accept his smart sensitivity and became a heavy smoker and drinker, very sarcastic and aggressive. How sad that he was not allowed to be who he was.
    When men can accept their sensitivities as masculine, it is going to allow women to accept our strengths as feminine. We won’t need to define characteristics by gender; we can move to seeing them as personal.
    I hope the man who writes this book that Paula proposes is doing so right now!

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      So sorry to hear about your brother. Sadly, too many men follow that path because society can’t support their smart sensitivity. Yes, I want to meet the man who’s writing the book!

  23. byamtich Avatar

    I love your article! I see most of the work of manhood as information management: discerning which stimuli to attend to with the emotion, empathy, and awareness that you speak of. It’s all about priorities and daily effort. Also, it may take two to tango, but it only takes one to aikido. If I could level up in anything, it would be baseball and bean bag tossing.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Thanks, Bob. Interesting, information management, priorities, effort. And oh yes, martial arts can be so helpful for self-care and self-therapy. Not sure what you mean by “level up.” ??

      1. byamtich Avatar

        Paula, “level up” is a concept from Dungeons and Dragons type role-playing games. With life experiences, from completing adventures or slaying demons, a character can improve strength, wisdom, charisma, and other attributes. I was trying to add to the list of positive activities other than computer games.

        1. paulaprober Avatar

          Of course. That makes sense. I should have known that. Showing my age, I guess!

  24. Sara Yamtich Avatar
    Sara Yamtich

    Love this, Paula. These are the men I’ve always fallen for (either romantically or in friendship) — the boys who sat in the back of the classroom reading literature and writing poetry and examining grasshoppers. 🙂

    I’ve always been so passionate about creating a world where concepts of masculinity and femininity are redefined. And I really love the call for some rainforest-minded man to write the book on gifted men. Yes! Wouldn’t that be incredible?!

    Thanks for writing this!!! It really spoke to me.

    1. paulaprober Avatar

      Glad you liked it, Sara. Thanks for writing.