Overexcitabilities — Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them

photo from Azrul Aziz, Unsplash

Overexcitabilities. Those pesky little traits that make your friends roll their eyes, relatives recommend medication and neighbors head home early. Maybe you talk fast and often about your passion for stackable brain specimen coasters. Maybe you cry over the Facebook video of the adorable four year old telling his mother why he must become a vegetarian. Maybe you can imagine 100s of ways your child could be abducted by aliens on a Sunday afternoon. Maybe you can’t sleep because the room is too hot, the sheets are too rough and the gentle breeze is too loud.

Life in the rainforest mind is intense. You may feel like too much on so many levels. Too emotional. Too sensitive. Too analytical. Too verbal. Too enthusiastic. Too idealistic. Too curious. Too smart.

And if you’re a male, well, this too muchness can be particularly humiliating if you’re trying to “man up” or “not be a sissy” or impress your former-high-school-football-star-race-car-driving-ex-Marine boss.

What, then, can you do? Are you supposed to shrink? Dumb down? Toughen up? Become a football-star-race-car-driving-Marine?

Hell, no.


  • Understand that you aren’t too much. You’re gifted. Your emotions and sensitivities are as vast as your intellect. This can feel overwhelming to others and to yourself.
  • Learn the difference between repressing your emotions and containing them. Decide where it’s safe to be fully yourself and where it’s not. Then, practice ways to gently contain your intensity– through mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, exercise, visualizing an actual container, or writing– when needed.
  • Find people with whom you can geek out: book groups, meetup groups, university classes, conferences, mountain bikers, chess clubs, hikers, art-makers, etc.
  • Practice self-soothing techniques to calm your nervous system and your anxiety especially if some of your intensity comes from painful childhood experiences. You may also need these techniques if your empathy is running amok, which it probably is.
  • Use your sensitivities in your job or at home to understand your colleagues/children, create a more compassionate climate, gain insight, and solve problems more holistically.
  • Imagine how the world would be a better place if more people were deeply sensitive and empathetic. Be a role model for the children. Your too muchness is a strength, not a weakness.

And finally:

Instead of shrinking, get larger. You heard me. Go more deeply into your heart and feel yourself expand. Get as large as the universe. Feel your connection to all things. Let that connection hold you and love you. Become the Universe.

Then, go out and buy those stackable brain specimen coasters.


To my dear bloggEEs: How do you cope with your intensity, your emotions, and your sensitivities? How might you see them as strengths? (If you’d like a more detailed post on this topic, click here. Caitlin F. Curley’s blog post includes great ideas plus ideas for helping your sensitive, excitable kids.)






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.

76 responses to “Overexcitabilities — Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them”

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  1. Vivien Avatar

    My auditory overexcitability has become so strong that it’s getting hard to live with it. I have always had good hearing but after absorbing too much emotions from my surroundings without de-stressing through sufficient “alone-time”, I had my first sensory meltdown and from then on, my auditory overexcitability has become unbearable. I cannot even talk because I can’t stand the emotions loaded in my voice nor other people’s voices.

    Being forced out of the room to eat with my family was a total torture as I cannot control nor expect when the next clang of utensils is going to be and it’s terrible when they kept on talking despite that I told them that hearing voices stress me out a great deal. And now I’m back to square 1, cowering by the window, afraid of the next sudden twist of the doorknob and the creak of the door that drive me crazy every time without notice, that scratchy sound of plastic bag rubbing against each other as they were being rummaged through, like having nails scratching against blackboards right next to my ears, threatening to thrust my mind into a shredder. Even with noise cancellation headphones, which have already made things 60% better, beyond the muffled sounds, the irritation and stress still build with the intrusion of unwanted noises into my world, turning my world up-side down.

    No matter how many times I tried to explain to my family about the condition about the need to at least knock so I can prepare for what is coming and also not to talk at me, they would say they understand but they would do the same thing again from time to time and every time I make progress, I’m thrown back to the start. I was starting to be able to listen to songs with lyrics and have just made arrangements with a friend who could phone me and see if I could stand human voices directed at me with no or very little negative emotions, but now I can’t stand music with lyrics again and back to square 1.

    I have exhausted everything I could do and I have already been taking steps to communicate my needs and find ways to solve the problem at hand, and I know it is probably the surroundings that are inhibiting the progress.

    Can anyone give me some advice to get out of this situation?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh Vivien. That sounds so painful. I haven’t heard of an OE situation quite so severe. I’m so sorry that you aren’t getting understanding from your family. I wonder if you might find a highly sensitive smart practitioner who might look for a physiological component?? I see an acupuncturist who has a wholistic view of the body/mind. That might be something to pursue. Or see if there’s something western medicine might discover? Or using some stress reduction tools that could calm your nervous system, insisting on getting alone time?? Maybe look at Judith Orloff’s recommendations for empaths? Sending you hugs. Quietly.

      1. Vivien Avatar

        As I am going to study in UNSW on gifted education to help the other gifted kids in my hometown, (I hope to have my own institution to offer counselling to the gifted by the gifted and help non-gifted people understand how gifted minds work to make the community a more accepting place for the gifted kids who are suffering from what I had gone through) I also went to seminars by experts in that field and one of them is a counsellor for gifted adults. We have arranged a Skype meeting on Wednesday and she’ll help me through typing messages while getting me to try speaking with headphones on. She’ll also help me do referrals to see a psychologist when I start my studies in Sydney. Hopefully that’ll be helpful, and I just need to try my best to survive until Wednesday.

        For stress reduction, I write poems whenever I have that strong outburst of emotions. I have also taught some gifted kids and we stayed in contact and he could sense when I’m not feeling well and will give me riddles to solve which often end with an inspiring message to point me towards things I failed to see alone. I’ll check out Orloff too, but I will probably only be able to get it a lot later because I am planning to leave HK as soon as possible because there are too much “noise” here with all the protests and stuff.

        Thanks for the suggestions!

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Oh my gosh, Vivien, you are in Hong Kong? I imagine it must be very stressful there! I’m glad that you’ve found someone to work with. It sounds exciting that you’ll be starting your own institute!

          1. Ed Eby Avatar
            Ed Eby

            Vivien, I’m sorry you are struggling so much. My heart goes out to you. I’ve watched friends go through similar struggles and have shared some of those myself (although not to your extent).

            You sound like you’re an extreme introvert like me. My friend says that on the end of the introvert scale, there’s a dead guy, then me at the end. So he says there’s a dead guy that’s more extroverted than me. lol. Don’t take offense, he’s a great friend and we get the opportunity to laugh at life together.

            While keeping the OEs in mind, I’ve also had to look outside the Dabrowski paradigm for solutions. One of my biggies was Insecure Attachment as well as several other, more traditional, diagnosis. Obviously, you are the expert on you, so don’t let me push something on you that you don’t have, but there’s a lot out there that might help.

            I had/have Lyme’s disease. As I’ve gotten healthier physically, my OEs are less intense and more manageable. I had to spend tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket to get relief, but solving the physical issues was key to helping with the OEs. As a result of these changes, I’ve now become a published author, and my job is now manageable. So, if there are undiagnosed health issues, these things can drive your OEs off the rails. Again, you are the expert on you, I’m just sharing things that helped me manage life better.

            Another thing that was helpful was to realize that many professionals are now bringing the Gifted into the Autism spectrum. For me, this change/revelation was INVALUABLE. There are a lot of resources out there that are very helpful. When I identify as being on the Autism spectrum, I find a lot more grace for myself and for those around me who don’t “get” me. Your sensory overload is quite common for those on the spectrum. I don’t know if you can find some resources in that arena that might be able to help.

            I’m glad that you are working with a counselor–they are invaluable. I made my counselor read, “Living with Intensity” before we started meeting. That worked great. Paula also has some good material out there.

            Wishing you well on your journey. May you find the peace that your soul is longing for.

            1. Paula Prober Avatar
              Paula Prober

              Thank you for sharing your particular experiences, Ed. And for framing it in a way that is not advice-giving but personal sharing. This will likely be helpful for many readers.

            2. VIvien Avatar

              Thank you both. It’s somewhat creepy for me because that’s exactly what just happened to me, and I have just experienced the most beautiful change and support from both comments here and my supportive gifted friends.

              I have always had the trouble understanding what other people think and I didn’t really feel understood too, and I only noticed that when I hurt my friends so much to the extent that pushed them to the verge of suicide, and from then on, I always see myself as a sinner, that I’ll hurt whoever i care about and I don’t deserve to receive care, and if I ever give out love, it’s only because of redemption.

              During those darkest times in the past few days, I distanced myself from the others, but the gifted kid (He’s just 12!) who I have been teaching and counselling noticed that and would not let me do that. Using various riddles and means, he made me realise that I have been assuming that people will be hurt by my giftedness, but I didn’t consider the possibility of communicating with people who are willing to understand and seeking a solution together. I have always been bounded by the labels that he’s just 12 and not mature enough and I shouldn’t become a source of stress for a student, but then I realise that I haven’t given him the choice to decide.

              I haven’t communicated myself clearly enough to both him and the friend I had hurt. Then last night, I confronted the friend I had hurt again and we talked all the misunderstandings out, and she assured me that she had never been hurt by my giftedness as she shared the same conflicts too, and we had both carried the guilt with us that we had hurt each other and was trying to give the best to each other, but without communicating and in the wrong way, and the guilt I had carried for 8 years just dissolved. It was like I thought it was a straight line leading to nowhere, but I was actually on the way to complete a full circle of growth. I would not have experienced this enlightenment without any of these experiences.

              After resolving this, my OE has become much more manageable, it’s no longer constantly at the brim threatening to overflow, but at a lower level then I can drain from time to time as long as I do so regularly and not be constantly exposed to sounds with too much emotions.

              Right now, I’m thinking of whether to postpone my appointment tomorrow to after arriving in Sydney as I can manage now (it is quite costly after all), or whether I should still talk about it to seek preventive measures.

              Do allow me to share with everyone the riddle he wrote for me (it’s hard to believe this is from a 12-year-old boy whose first language is Cantonese not English):
              “So there’s lava flowing behind you and you’re gonna die if it touches you. It’s charging towards you and you see three doors that lead to your escape, but the doors are filled with things that will kill you if you open them.

              The first door is filled with mercury that will kill you before drowning you in a sea of silver.
              The second one is filled with lava which will also kill you before burning your corpse.
              The third one is filled with blades that launch out as soon as you open the door.

              Now what are you gonna do?”

              1. Paula Prober Avatar
                Paula Prober

                Glad to hear how things have improved already, Vivien. And thanks again, Ed. I love that story of the dead guy.

  2. matthewhdj Avatar

    Good article and nice to hear from others.

    I’m very sensitive to other people and my brain adores novelty, complex systems thinking and creative problem solving.

    Unfortunately, my emotional and intellectual overexcitability has done me more harm than good.

    The amount of stress I’ve put on my body over time has been immense and my nervous system just can’t cope these days.

    I’ve now developed an autoimmune disorder and endocrine issues, which have forced the issue. Basically, I just can’t afford to let my brain ‘go there’ for any length of time as, once the cognitive momentum builds up. it’s so hard to slow things down.

    Fundamentally, it feels like my body wasn’t built to handle my brain.

    It’s hard because I’m increasingly finding it hard to know how to healthily relate to subjects and the world in general.

    All the best.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m guessing that others will relate to your story, matthewhdj. Sounds like it’s important for you to pay close attention to signals in your body and to taking good care of yourself. I hope you’re finding practitioners who are sensitive and insightful. Thank you for sharing.

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

    […] have probably heard about Dabrowski’s study of giftedness and his explanation of overexcitabilities (OEs). He said that it is part of the nature of a gifted person to have intensities in many areas, […]

  4. Gifted Children and Adults — Why Are They So Misunderstood? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] And then you can show us your brain specimen coasters. […]

  5. Abbie Robson Avatar
    Abbie Robson

    I’ve always experienced OEs, and only realised recently since researching the ideas for my daughter, who also has multiple OEs. Realising that you’re not the only one always helps! With Amelia (who’s eight), the issue is nearly always that she talks too much about her stream of ideas, beyond the point when it’s appropriate to stop, with no intuition or awareness of the required social cues to stop talking. So we now have a hand signal for when she needs to stop talking. It’s gentle, everyone around her knows it, and she knows that it doesn’t mean ‘shut up’, it means ‘this is for talking about later’. It’s been so helpful.

    One aspect of OEs that rarely seems to get covered is that it’s not just the positive impacts that are experienced on such an extreme scale, but negative ones too. So whilst my delight at a piece of music is way beyond anyone else’s that I know, my distress at any given thing is amplified. I cry at every TV programme, I can’t watch the news, and in the same way my imagination can go haywire in a good way, it can also go haywire with devastating outcomes. I’m certain now, at 38, that the depression and self-harm that plagued me well into my twenties were responses to the overwhelming OEs that I’m only just learning to recognise and manage. I’m so pleased I know about them now so that I can help and protect Amelia as she grows up.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Great idea, Abbie, to have that hand gesture. I’m sure other parents will relate. And, yes, the negative impacts can be quite painful. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Multipotentiality: Are You Overwhelmed By Your Too Muchness? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] wide empathy, a gazillion questions. See? Kind of like that. (Sometimes these are called overexcitabilities. Find out about OEs […]

  7. Your Precocious Kid Was So Adorable. Now, At 15? Not So Adorable. | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] Remind yourself that overexcitabilities (OEs) are part of the rainforest-minded  package. Gifted kids are naturally more intense […]

  8. Growing up profoundly gifted – Every Crayon in the Box

    […] though people might think I’m highly intelligent they might also  think I have “too-muchness.” Sorry, folks, those are the OEs coming out […]

  9. How Can Sensitive Souls Change the World? | Your Rainforest Mind

    […]  your disabilities, your persnicketiness, your idealism, your sensitivities, your intuitions, your overexcitabilities, your obsessions, your perfectionism, your loneliness, and your bad hair […]

  10. Intense Kids, Intense Parents — Tips for Managing the Mayhem | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] a list of ways to soothe yourself, to relax, and to find nourishment. Then DO THEM. Your kids will benefit. You know this but you […]

  11. Xisca Avatar

    Thank you all for sharing this. Have anyone read about Dabrowski and his positive disintegration? http://giftedkids.about.com/od/socialemotionalissues/p/positive_dis.htm.
    I compare “Instead of shrinking, get larger. You heard me. Go more deeply into your heart and feel yourself expand. Get as large as the universe. Feel your connection to all things. Let that connection hold you and love you. Become the Universe.” with jumping to the next level in this Dabrowski theory.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh yes, Dabrowski has much to say about this. Thank you for the link!

  12. Diana Avatar

    I read this and the readers comments and just want to cry. There are others that experience what I do. I describe it to my husband as extra wires that I have that allows me to “see”, and “feel”, too much that I wish I wouldn’t have. It is extraordinarily overwhelming and painful to me. Many times so beautiful. I can feel a room when I enter it, I can see when someone is not truthful, or fake, I can feel their judgment and thoughts, I can feel their pain or frustrations. I can also see the beauty of the many souls I meet and want to hug them all, but then I have to refrain myself constantly because people wouldn’t understand, or I would be too vulnerable. Always trying to balance and curve my enthusiasm. One thing I’m grateful for is that allows me to see the beauty of my child to an extent that I feel my heart is going to explode in love. When I look at him I see it ALL, and I pray in gratitude for this gift of life I have been given to nurture, protect and guide into the world. I live in this intensity daily and wouldn’t dare to share my feelings with anyone, because none understands it or care too much to understand. They live in what I perceive as blissful unawareness.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing, Diana. You’ve described it so well. The overwhelming pain and the beauty, your heart exploding with love. I’m glad you’re here with us. We understand.

    2. Ro Avatar

      I hear you about parenting with OEs, Diana. When I say that every day I am deeply thankful that I had my daughter before I became unwell… I mean that literally, multiple times every day, I stop and give thanks for having my daughter in my life. Every time my husband and daughter go out the door I bid them farewell, conscious that it might be our last goodbye – because almost anything can happen at any time (but I’m careful not to give off a wistful/clinging vibe). My daughter (who wants to become a globe-trotting professional drummer and actress; two things which her teachers/mentors have said are realistically possible) has inherited my neuro disorder but we have no way of knowing if she’ll ever become seriously physically restricted by it. I can’t tell you all the emotions I have swirling around that issue. Ah, parenting with OEs. It’s a trip. Marriage, too.

  13. Cel Avatar

    Wait, the examples listed in the first paragraph are examples of overexcitabilities? I thought normal people experienced that!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I suspect that “normal people” experience some of these things some of the time. Just to a lesser degree, a lesser level of intensity. There’s more on OEs if you click on the link at the beginning of the post. (Normal people probably also like stackable brain specimen coasters…) 🙂

  14. telperion1214 Avatar

    This is *not* an advertisement.
    One of my more recent discoveries is TRE: Trauma and Tension Relieving Exercises. It helps to sort out what is actual neurological damage due to trauma — both current and past — and tension from everyday life. This technique should be taught and monitored by a professional trained in it. More information can be found at http://traumaprevention.com
    The founder, Dr. David Berceli, treated trauma victims in places like the Middle East and Africa. He noticed that humans all over the world respond to trauma one way until they (we) are around 4 years old. Then the response changes to a different, less effective form.
    I have been practicing TRE for a month now, to help to release childhood abuse. Being gifted helped me to survive my childhood! Having an interest in art and nature kept me going despite the situation at home. Thank goodness for school, for teachers who wanted to work with a bright little girl. Had these techniques been available to me then, I might not be as physically compromised as I am now.
    I truly appreciate what Ed has to say about OEs and angry clients. During my working years, certain people were the designated scapegoats of the workaday world. Secretaries got blamed for everything that went wrong. Now IT folks are the ones. Although I am willing to bet that secretaries still catch it. LOL
    I learned how to gently but firmly set a boundary with people, letting them know that I was doing my best to work on helping them. It did not always earn me the respect that was deserved. Respect seems sorely lacking in our world today. But it did help me to know that I was not just swallowing stuff from others all day long. In the end, that has its own set of repercussions. I live with those now. I encourage anyone like Ed to do what you need to do to learn how to stop taking in the OEs of others and to shed what has been taken in.
    When we mirror the anger of others, we may look Type A but really, we reach saturation point and cannot absorb any longer!
    For me now,OEs seem to me to be attached to energy. As my energy has depleted, so has my level of OEs. I’d love to have some of them back. 🙂 Yoga nidra is also helpful to me. I mentioned that above.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I will check it out, telperion1214. Always appreciate hearing from you.

  15. Mary Avatar

    If you are overexcitable and oversensitive and ‘over’all those other things, go to the tabernacle, sit still, and let your mind dwell over the ultimate master of the universe who was – and is – all that, and much more than you can ever imagine….
    He won’t let you down….

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Mary.

    2. Ed Avatar

      Mary, I share your faith. But right now I am struggling with how a loving Master of the universe would create a person with the HSP/OE/gifted/Empathic traits. Somebody decided to use the label “gifted”, but it is truly a curse. The more I study, the more I realize how truly cursed I am – there seems to be no cure. I am working with my Pastor on this issue, but right now I’m stuck. I just want the curse to go away, but it seems that I will have to live with it the rest of my life. So yes, I feel that He has let me down. I know that at some point I’ll reconcile, and accept how I am created. But for now I’m not there. Not ready yet. Still see myself as being cursed. Still see phrases like “he won’t let you down” to be a trite and rote saying.

      Sorry Paula, you probably didn’t want religion to be a part of your blog. Hope I don’t unleash a torrent of religion bashing comments. I don’t mean this to be religion bashing at all – it’s just what I’m struggling with right now.

      1. Mary Avatar

        Dear Ed,
        I am sorry you feel cursed for the way you are. The fact that you struggle and keep on struggling because of the way you were created, Ed, the simple fact that you keep on struggling already implies that you are not cursed. Giving up, surrender would be the real curse. When you consider the suffering and the passion of he who was and is love and nothing but love – in prayer, in thoughts, by the tabernacle, in the rosary or through the eyes of his holy beloving mother – might ease your own suffering and lighten your burden in the long run.
        He calls like a soft summerbreeze:
        ‘Come to me all you who labor and are burdened,
        and I will give you rest.
        Take up my yoke upon you and learn of me,
        for I am meek and humble of heart:
        and you shall find rest to your souls.
        For my yoke is easy and my burden light.’
        Bon courage!

        Thank you Paula for transmitting this message. It comes from all over the Atlantic. And thank you for your blog.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          I’m glad you’re with us, Mary.

      2. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        This is fine, Ed. So far, my blog hasn’t brought out any bashers! And I can moderate comments, if it does.

  16. Ro Avatar

    Hello Paula, I really love your post. This part especially:
    “Instead of shrinking, get larger. You heard me. Go more deeply into your heart and feel yourself expand. Get as large as the universe. Feel your connection to all things. Let that connection hold you and love you. Become the Universe.”
    To me, this means embracing and running toward my sensitivity (and perhaps the stuff that hurts) instead of repressing/denying it. By denying my sensitivity I deny who I am – and I am choosing not to live that way anymore.
    Thank you also for the links you shared. Great info there.
    On top of OE’s, my body cannot maintain homeostasis due to a neuro condition. So I also live with swinging and uncomfortable bodily sensations/symptoms every waking minute. How do I cope? Not very well, at times. But I’m learning not to beat myself up about it. For a long time I deadened my sensitivity in order to cope with abuse – but as of 13 months ago I broke free of all that.

    Now I practice mindfulness and meditation and I’m doing what you suggest near the end of your post – I’m going back, walking right into the truth of who I am (sensitivity and all). It feels good. Perhaps the repression and denial ultimately causes more difficulty than it solves. Through the mindfulness practice (and much reading on the topic) I’m picking up skills that are assisting me in finally growing up. I’m learning how to self-soothe.
    Spending time in nature helps me a lot; tension seems to dissipate and I feel refreshed afterwards. Playing music is also essential for me. I can’t get up to play the piano easily, so I play the ukulele as well now. Reading poetry (a new endeavour) is also a refuge. Writing helps me make sense of what’s in my head.
    The most transformative practice I’ve encountered thus far is Metta or loving-kindness meditation. I can’t explain the mechanism, but it is changing my life from the inside out. It’s something a person needs to give a good try in order to understand, I think.
    Best wishes Paula! Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Wonderful to have your input and experiences, Ro. You make this blog so much richer. I’ll have to look into Metta.

  17. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    I think the cruel irony of overexcitabilities is that to most people they appear to be symptoms of anything BUT giftedness, and usually not anything good at that. Even to those who may know that we are gifted, when they are overwhelmed by our OE’s the assumption is often that we just aren’t trying hard enough to not be, well, so much US.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, OEs don’t look like people’s beliefs about what giftedness is supposed to be. Interesting way to say it, Mark. Not trying hard enough not to be yourself!

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        Thank you. Once again you’ve nailed another post.

        I’d like to know if this resonates with anyone else: other than the aforementioned OE’s, a big reason I still struggle with the concept of being gifted is because a big part of me is rather primitive — I feel most at ease when operating in a more instinctual, spontaneous way. In other words, I often have a hard time coloring within the lines. Which kind of explains why I have always been attracted to intense “counterculture” sports, culture and art (skateboarding, punk rock, horror movies/imagery etc).

        1. Beth Avatar

          Your experience of the “cruel ironies” of OEs/giftedness resonates with me, as does the feeling of being largely or mostly primitive. I may experience it a little bit differently, but I’d be happy to give up intellectualism (as much as possible) for more primitive impulses. I’d rather go lick a tree or imagine what language the moon might speak than try to convince a panel of academics that I deserve a PhD. I think living in a “more instinctual, spontaneous way” feels like a more direct and potent experience of life, which is a very primal craving that many of us “rainforest minds” probably never outgrew and still desire.

          Was good to read your post. Thank you.

          1. Mark V Avatar
            Mark V

            If gifted introverts can be likened to cats, I am definitely an OUTDOOR cat. 🙂

  18. Mary Avatar

    This is a wonderful article. This describes me perfectly!

  19. Jens Lyon Avatar
    Jens Lyon

    A question… What makes a gifted person’s overexcitabilities different from the sensory processing issues experienced by individuals on the autism spectrum? Or are they pretty much the same thing (i.e. your system overloads and you freak out over things that don’t bother neurotypical people)?

    1. Ed Avatar

      The gifted/polymath actually experience some of the same challenges as the Autistic. There are many resources out there for the Autistic – Autism Speaks may be one of the more well-known. I have a friend that has an Autistic child and have done a lot of study on the subject. I had to answer the question for myself to determine if I was Autistic or not, but I do not meet the criterion for Autism.

      1. Jens Lyon Avatar
        Jens Lyon

        I haven’t been tested for anything, but when I look at the criteria for autism, I have some characteristics but not others. I also have some of the symptoms of dyspraxia and some of the symptoms of NVLD (nonverbal learning disability) but not others. Whatever is responsible for my many quirks, I have never been neurotypical.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Might be interesting for you to look at the 2e literature and see what might fit. I think a person can have a sensory processing disorder without being on the autism spectrum. Thanks for sharing, Jen.

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m not the best person to answer this question, Jen, although I will say that there are differences that can be identified. It can be quite confusing, though. There are also people who are 2e or twice-exceptional who are both. If you read Caitlyn’s blog (the link is in this post at the end), she writes about her child who is 2e. Also the people who wrote Bright Not Broken, know a lot about this. http://brightnotbroken.weebly.com. (for people who are “just” gifted, without the other issues, I’d say it’s a lot easier to calm the nervous system and to find ways to work with the OEs and to enjoy the sensitivity and empathy. But it’s still challenging, as you can see from what Ed is describing.)

      1. Jens Lyon Avatar
        Jens Lyon

        Thanks for the links. I’m probably some kind of 2e, but that term was not in use when I was a kid. Their concept of gifted was based on the Terman model.

  20. Emily VR Avatar
    Emily VR

    Paula, I love your post so much. (as always!) Especially since my 5yo has just decided to become a vegetarian. 😉 Thank you for wonderful insight and compassion.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I appreciate hearing from you, Emily. Let us know how it goes with your 5 year old.

  21. Ro Avatar

    Hello Ed, I really feel for you after reading what you experience at work. My own awareness of how people in professions like yours are regularly mistreated is why I’m very conscious of being friendly and easygoing when I ask for assistance. Trying to restore the balance slightly…
    As to the issue of people coming into your office in a rage; firstly, I think it’s sad that we’re at the point where this kind of behaviour is deemed normal. My initial reaction is that you shouldn’t be required to deal with these out of control people at all. I’m guessing it’s expected that you /will/ deal with them, though.

    I’ll toss a couple of ideas out there – have you learned about active listening? From Wikipedia: “Active listening is a communication technique used in counseling, training and conflict resolution, which requires the listener to feed back what they hear to the speaker, by way of re-stating or paraphrasing what they have heard in their own words, to confirm what they have heard and moreover, to confirm the understanding of both parties.”
    You might already practice active listening in your job. Some people calm down when they feel heard. Some.
    Another idea I had was this: If you can stay calm enough when an angry person walks in, could you gather a pen and paper and say something like ‘OK, I should be able to help you with that. Could you please take a moment and explain what’s going on to me clearly, so I can write down the details and we can work on a solution?’ Sometimes people calm down when required to explain things clearly.
    As a last resort, do you have an exit strategy? I still don’t think you should be required to sit in the room with somebody in there who really just wants a dance-partner for their anger. If you feel you’re being pushed past your limit – perhaps this is when an exit strategy is required. Excuse yourself from the room if you can (with a fabricated excuse at the ready – a realistic one, but one that the other person is least likely to argue with). Then you can both have some time to cool off.
    The book ‘When I say No, I feel Guilty’ might be of some assistance, though you have perhaps read it already. It contains some handy assertiveness techniques. Basically, in order to cope with these angry people, it seems like you need to find a way to create a strong boundary between them and yourself – one that they can smash on and wail against all they like… without it harming you. This is a difficult undertaking for the majority of human beings – let alone somebody with OEs. For what it’s worth it sounds like you are taking really good care of yourself outside of work, and you’re coping relatively well at work under difficult circumstances. So you’re not perfect. None of us are.
    Best wishes Ed. I’m sure others will have good ideas to share. Of course, as Paula also mentioned, I totally recommend mindfulness practice if you haven’t gone down that path yet.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Great suggestions, Ro, for all of us. Do I have a bunch of great readers or what?? 🙂

    2. Ed Avatar

      Good ideas on the active listening. I will check that out. Thanks.

  22. themonthebard Avatar

    Just for reference, I’m a software developer. But during a particularly bad patch of life — a divorce — I told my then-employer that I simply could not keep my mind on development, and wanted to switch to customer phone service for a while. That might strike people as an odd choice, but I found it a lot less stressful: you had a pile of complaints to sort through, and a set procedure, and since I’d developed most of the code the customers were complaining about, troubleshooting wasn’t hard work. It was a small company, and I wasn’t in competition with anyone for call handling.

    One thing I did insist on was civility, and I had only a couple of callers who got out of hand. I put them on a blacklist and refused to deal with them — they got written up in my docs, and bounced to upper management. When a CEO or VP calls back a customer and gets an earful of profanities and personal abuse, it’s generally followed by another phone call that tends to put the abuser on the unemployment rolls.

    That’s what HR backing looks like. You have a right to EXPECT civility.

    1. Ed Avatar

      The problem is not other people, the problem is ME. I absorb the emotions of everybody around me, then my OE amplifies everything. OE management does not solve the problem. Somewhere out there is the answer on how to turn OFF the OE/HSP/Empath thing.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        I’m not sure about turning it OFF, Ed. But getting help, definitely. Have you gone the route of working with an empath?? Reading books by Judith Orloff, for example? Or seeing someone with those skills? Some people are put off by the idea of strong empathic or psychic abilities. But I know of people who clearly have a “sixth sense.” These people have ways of protecting themselves from “assault” because they’re so sensitive to other people’s energies. This might be an avenue for you?

        1. Ed Avatar

          I had not heard of Judith Orloff. That one will go to the top of my reading list. I finally found an audio book by Karla McLaren “Language of Emotions” that I’ve listened to over and over. There is a lot of good stuff in Karla’s book. Yes, I have several empathic friends/acquaintances, and although they have much stronger empathic abilities than I have, they do not have the OEs that amplify everything they receive – they seem to be able to manage better than I do. I have not been able to forge the type of relationships with these people where they can mentor me through the challenges. I am comforted to know that there are others out there like me, but that doesn’t help me manage my own stuff. Thanks for the book suggestion – I will definitely check that out.

          1. Paula Prober Avatar
            Paula Prober

            Oh yes. I’ve heard that Karla McLaren is good. I wonder if some of your empathic friends don’t have the gifted part so they don’t have to deal with the OEs, too. That may be why they manage better. Thanks for sharing all of your thoughts here, Ed. I’m guessing that our discussion will benefit others. If you haven’t already, you might deepen the connection with nature that you already have and see if nature and your religion can give you some guidance. And, if this is complicated at all by trauma or dysfunctional family issues from your past, then, that might be another factor.

      2. telperion1214 Avatar

        Yoga nidra has helped me with this. Calming. It is yogic sleep, a form of meditation. It is done lying down and listening. The body scan helps me the most, and the fact that it is generated from outside of myself rather than within. Look it up on You Tube and try it some time.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          I’ve heard about yoga nidra from others who’ve found it very helpful. Thanks!

  23. Ed Avatar

    Paula wrote this post at my request (and possibly requests from other people). My OEs are probably my biggest challenge at this point in my life.

    As an I.T. professional, I daily deal with frustrated people. It seems that normal people and technology are apparently sworn enemies. I frequently have people rush into my office “with their hair on fire.” Meaning that they think they have an emergency that is worthy of a National Guard deployment. And I better be able to fix it, and it’s probably my fault that they had the trouble in the first place. I can feel their negative energy before they even get to my office door.

    I find myself constantly bottling my emotional response and doing my damnedest to hide it from others. I seem to be doing pretty well, because I’ve quietly asked friends and they seem to think I’m doing okay. Although occasionally when my emotions slip out, I find myself in the HR office.

    Regina Hellinger says, “For many gifted individuals it is their emotional overexcitabilities that are the source of their greatest vulnerabilities.” (http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/the-gift-of-emotional-overexcitabilities). Unfortunately, Hillinger recommends that we just “acknowledge and nurture” our sensitivity – perhaps she meant our emotional OE (paragraph 4 of her page). While this might be okay for a 6-year-old, it is definitely not good advice for those of us that are trying to keep our jobs.

    I do everything I can to manage my OEs.
    1. I have taken a lower-pay (and usually) lower-stress job – and one that gives me more satisfaction.
    2. I live in the mountains and commune with nature every chance I get
    3. I nurture my many many hobbies which include the arts
    4. I am part of a novelist group, a technology group, and a music band
    5. I try to be in tune with my OEs, and limit my sensory input when necessary
    6. I have read stacks of books and articles on the subject

    But even with all this, I still have many days when the little “intensity guy” in my head is rattling at the bars of his cage screaming to get out. It is in these moments when I am being forced to press through my OEs and remain professional, that I find myself coming off the rails.

    So how do I deal with my intensity, sensitivity, and my emotions? Well, some days I do great – I can conquer the world. Other days I just kind-of muddle along and do the best I can. Then there are the horrible days, when I know that I’ve unwittingly offended half the world by violating some stupid unwritten social rule – or maybe “the wheels have come off my toys” because I’ve absorbed somebody’s anxiety and then bad things happen.

    I have not yet been able to find the “magic bullet” that will harness the OEs. When I have a computer-user that’s standing in front of me, red in the face and spouting profanities about a technology problem, then I find myself on the verge of meltdown myself. Indeed, my emotional OE is my biggest vulnerability.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Ed, I had you and others in mind when I wrote this. I didn’t know the nature of your job, though!! Oh boy. It sounds so hard. People get so panicky when their computers aren’t working. No wonder you want to freak out! Of course you do! This is a great list of things to do and readers will benefit from your ideas and will empathize with your experience, I’m sure. I’m sorry I don’t have more to suggest or a “magic bullet.” Have you looked into the mindfulness literature? It could be that if you start a meditation practice that, over time, you could calm the “intensity guy.” Maybe that and a punching bag?? Thanks for reading and for sharing your thoughts. I hope we get some comments that will help.

      1. Ed Avatar

        Thanks Paula. I am a religious man, but having tried multiple meditation techniques I have given up on that particular stream. I can’t make the little guy inside my head calm down enough. Instead, I find that burying myself in an art project, an intellectual pursuit, or a good novel are tools that I use to calm myself. Watching nature (deer, elk, squirrels, etc.) is critical to my emotional health. I’m not sure of these tools are dissociation, or if they are what I need to do to survive. But I know that without them I’m a mess.

        So to answer your question, no I do not meditate, and no I have not looked at that particular literature. When I try to meditate, I just can’t get the little intensity guy in my head to shut up and it makes me even more anxious and frustrated. But thank you for your idea.

        1. Ro Avatar

          Hi Ed, for what it’s worth – that little guy in your head doesn’t have to shut up in order for you to meditate. It’s often referred to as the ‘monkey mind’ as is a normal part of the human condition. It’s our relationship to the monkey mind that changes over time. It can do it’s hooting and hollering, without us getting so caught up in it. That said, meditation is not for everyone and it seems you’ve found your own ways of finding peace.

          1. Paula Prober Avatar
            Paula Prober

            Thanks for this clarification, Ro. I’ve run into a number of gifted folks who have trouble with meditation because there’s so much thinking going on. But I do explain to them that it’s not about stopping the thoughts but it’s about coming back to the breath once you realize you’re back in monkey mind.

            1. Jennifer Avatar

              I discovered in the UK that mindfulness meditation I’d contra indicated for certain mental health disorders including social anxiety which I have. I then happened upon Alexander technique for my chronic pain and use AT semi supine relaxation with my eyes open (Vids available on YouTube) which has been really helpful and better for me as it tunes me into my body better too rather than into too much ruminating which I am prone to.

              1. pprober Avatar

                There are so many options for healing, Jennifer. Important to find the modalities that fit for you.

        2. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Ed. It looks like you’ve gotten some great responses from readers. I hope they’re helpful. (and I don’t think your calming strategies are dissociation– they’re great tools!)

    2. themonthebard Avatar

      Ed, back up a second. Aggressive behavior is aggressive behavior. If one of your IT consumers walked into your office and took a swing at you, you’d certainly expect HR to back you up in defending yourself from harm. Verbal and emotional bullying is also something that you should be able to expect firm backing from HR. So these people who come in “with their hair on fire” are in the wrong — if, as you say, they are “standing in front of you, red in the face and spouting profanities about a technology problem.”

      If your HR department is telling you that you were hired to be a punching bag, you might want to consider a different place of employment. This has nothing to do with giftedness, overexcitabilities, or magic bullets — it has to do with an employer that allows (and perhaps even encourages) bullying.

      So you might want to reconsider whether this is your problem of being over-excitable, or is instead a serious and toxic environmental problem. What you’ve described strikes me as the latter.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Thanks for responding to Ed, themonthebard. I didn’t think of this but, of course, it makes sense. And helpful that you’re in a similar line of work.

    3. Beth Avatar

      As a fellow IT professional, my experience aligns exactly with yours and so I really appreciate your response. The 6 approaches you’ve come up with to manage your OEs exceeds what I’ve come up with on my own. I feel inspired and hopeful after reading it. Thank you, Ed.

  24. Ro Avatar

    Reblogged this on Ro on a journey and commented:
    Beautiful words from Paula Prober. We don’t need to crush our sensitivity. There are self-compassionate ways to relate with it (that will likely help us better relate with the sensitivity of others, too).

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for reblogging this, Ro.

  25. Gail Post, Ph.D. Avatar
    Gail Post, Ph.D.

    Great advice, beautifully written. You capture the essence of it.

  26. KtCallsita Avatar

    I needed this today! Thank you. I was just told I talk too fast by family at a dinner last week and I was so surprised, I thought I’d slowed down so much, and it wasn’t like I had a lot to say either! With an entire house full of rainforests, I think we all need this, especially this time of year when it all seems to be overwhelming to us and everyone around us.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yep. This can be a very rough time of year for many people. Interesting how you feel slowed down, and you are, but it’s still fast to others. Argh!! Good to hear from you!

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