Gifted Boys To Men — How To Thrive In A World That Misunderstands Your Sensitivities

photo courtesy of Abhinay Omkar, Flickr

What happens to super smart, sensitive, curious, empathetic, talkative, emotional little boys when they become men? Where does all of that emotion go? All of that empathy? All of that energetic curiosity? How do gifted men thrive in a world that doesn’t understand or appreciate their sensitive natures?

I wrote about this in a post two years ago. I’m going to recycle that post with a few changes because I couldn’t have said it better myself. Oh wait. I did say it myself… Anyway it’s worth sending out again!


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

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?

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,  Zeff  and me, 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.

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 he’s perfect the way he is.


To my bloggEEs: Many of you are new here since this post was first written. Let us know what you think and feel. Your comments add so much. And thank you, as always.

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.

49 responses to “Gifted Boys To Men — How To Thrive In A World That Misunderstands Your Sensitivities”

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  3. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    The problem with being misunderstood isn’t simply that people get it wrong. It’s that most of them are so intolerant of doubt and uncertainty that they will quickly pull a simple explanation out of their a55es, no matter how baseless, in a desperate attempt to avoid the accompanying anxiety.

    This happens to me all the time. My “psychological androgyny” is what allows me to be highly creative, but it also makes me hard to categorize and understand. This creates tension for people who like everything and everyone to fit in nice, neat, easy to understand packages. Thus the “creepy” label gets casually thrown around.

    “In all cultures, men are brought up to be “masculine” and to disregard and repress those aspects of their temperament that the culture regards as “feminine,” whereas women are expected to do the opposite. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping. When tests of masculinity/femininity are given to young people, over and over one finds that creative and talented girls are more dominant and tough than other girls, and creative boys are more sensitive and less aggressive than their male peers.”
    Brain Pickings: Why “Psychological Androgyny” Is Essential for Creativity

    When I was in college my best friend was an attractive young woman. Despite the fact both of us were straight, we lived happily ever as platonic friends.

    Just kidding. It blew up in my face.

    Platonic relationships are weird and untenable for most people. And so all of the men were constantly in my ear, saying to me “Why the hell aren’t you f***ing her? Go for it!”
    Meanwhile the women were constantly haranguing me with questions like “What are your intentions? If you’re not gay, why aren’t you dating her? If you’re not romantically interested then you need to stop stringing her along.”

    Lord knows what they were all putting into her ear but I doubt it was good.

    All kinds of pressure was placed on me to actively push our relationship forward toward some kind of more acceptable, understandable, NORMAL resolution. Why?

    Gender stereotypes, that’s why. Even now all these years later, they remain for the most part. The only significant difference is that we now have a few more labels to apply to ourselves to announce to the world that we don’t fit most of the other gender stereotypes.

    Boy oh boy we sure love our labels, don’t we?

    But what if labels don’t apply? And why do we need so many labels in the first place if so many of them do more harm than good? As I wrote in a comment above, I ran into serious problems with psychiatrists and therapists for the precise reason that none of their labels applied to me. Nevertheless that didn’t stop them from still trying to slap one or more on, either with medications, nomenclature or both.

    For example it was suggested that the reason that I am socially awkward and anxious is perhaps because I am somewhere on the autism spectrum. I am definitely not. I am very funny and charismatic, at least when I am relaxed. But I get socially anxious when I cannot be myself in most situations. There are so many unwritten rules you have to follow to not draw suspicions and unwanted hate or even aggression toward yourself, that I expend enormous energy monitoring myself and my intensity, my eccentricities and my seemingly contradictory personality traits.

    That self-monitoring makes relaxing in social situations next to impossible.

    I totally understand why so many of my fellow singers, musicians and artists die too young of addictions and mental health problems. When even the experts don’t have a clue how to understand you, for the most part you’re left to cope with being misunderstood on your own.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Mark. Good to hear from you. Thanks for the Brain Pickings quote, too.

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        I hope my rambling is useful to someone. I haven’t felt like writing at all lately, but I was inspired by the recent death of a man I knew.
        He was a gifted, sensitive artist and the singer of a band that was well known worldwide. He also had mental health difficulties, and died from the long term effects of his addictions.

        1. Ian Avatar

          Yes, I agree completely about the “psychological androgyny” thing – I think I mentioned that source as well on a different blog topic not so long ago. I have had so many experiences of feeling that I am the odd one out because broadly speaking my female peers are X, my male peers are Y, and I am an awkward mix of both X and Y.

          I had a similar childhood experience with a close, non-sexual cross-sex friendship failing partly because it became strongly targeted with “X fancies Y” rumours and pressure to progress into a romantic relationship or drop the friendship altogether. This friendship break-up was so emotionally damaging that for many years afterwards I was afraid of getting close to other female friends in case the same happened again. In adulthood I find that these pressures are a lot subtler and more insidious, but they still exist.

          I remember that when I was a little boy, I was told, “Girls can look tough in blue. Boys can’t have pink.” It sums up an issue out in the adult world – women seem to have more leeway to acceptably be psychologically androgynous than men, with the only exception being domestic familial and parental roles (viz. the loving husband and father who does a fair share of the housework). I notice that when I flag up cases where I end up on the wrong end of gendered double standards, the prevailing response tends to be “That’s life, get over it” and “Check your privilege”.

          It seems to me that to a large extent “not manly enough men” are a group that falls between the cracks of most anti-discrimination initiatives. A lot of the stigmas that I encounter as a “not manly enough man” seem to me to be closely related to the subjugation of women and various minority groups, and I feel that many smart, sensitive men have a lot to offer society as equality and diversity allies and trailblazers, if only they were allowed to make use of it.

          1. Paula Prober Avatar
            Paula Prober

            Thanks for sharing, Ian. I do wish that more attention would be paid to how we raise boys so “manly enough” would stop being an issue and put so much pressure on males. I think more people are writing and thinking about it but it looks like it’s still not part of mainstream thinking.

            1. Ian Avatar

              I think one key point is that it’s a lot more insidious than it used to be. I very rarely get directly told to “man up” and “be a man” these days, but I get told that I have to act appropriately for the social situation. Usually I find that acting “appropriately” means conforming to the same standards that, when I was younger, were called “being a man”. Thus, there is an illusion of considerable progress, but a close look reveals that things haven’t progressed as much as it first appears, and the requirement to “be a man” gets rationalised away as an etiquette/social appropriateness thing. Another observation is the tendency for various behaviours that used to be considered “gay” and “effeminate” to be called “inappropriate” and “creepy” today. It may be that these prejudices are so deeply entrenched that they keep finding ways of sneaking in “through the back door”, and most people don’t seem to look deeply enough to see it happening.

              1. Mark V Avatar
                Mark V

                When I was in the early stages of therapy I was positive that one day soon I’d grow a thicker skin. I was convinced that my sensitivity and emotional intensity were signs of deep disorder, and it didn’t help that I’d never met a doctor or therapist who thought any different.

                I thought with all my intellect and creativity that I would eventually “solve the problem”.

                I don’t look psychologically androgynous, (I’m about as far away from Ziggie Stardust as you can get). This adds to peoples’ confusion. Many of them are disappointed or even disgusted when they find out that a significant part of my inner makeup does not match the exterior. Few are pleased.

                It all added to the feeling of being other. That I am broken. Not more, but less. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Ian Avatar

    Reading over Andrea McD and Mark V’s comments in particular, I think there may be overlap here with “needing to slow down”. I think that in this society, when we get instances of men behaving extremely badly, the standard reaction is “hang ’em and flog ’em”, and this tends to involve tarnishing men who are considered “different” by association with men who get the “creepy” label in the worst sense of the word. To avoid being seen as “creepy”, men have to be “normal”, which for example means promoting gender equality and respecting women only to the extent that is currently considered the norm. In my experience a man can be considered “creepy” for being “too” pro-gender equality and having “too much” respect for women as human beings, as well as for being “too little” in this area, as it results in him being seen as “different” and thus as suspicious. This results in a sense of being required to “slow down” to mainstream society’s rate of progress instead of surging ahead, and produces very ironic upshots like having to respect women less in order to be accepted as a man who respects women. I also often feel that I am in a minority of one in noticing absurdities like this.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      What I see often is that gifted folks notice “absurdities” that others miss. There is more capacity to observe, see, feel, and intuit. It can be an isolating experience for sure.

    2. Mark V Avatar
      Mark V

      Thanks. I had a few more thoughts to add about this below.

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  7. Themon the Bard Avatar
    Themon the Bard

    Thoughts on the Man Club.

  8. The Man Club « Themon the Bard

    […] latest post on Paula Prober’s blog, Your Rainforest Mind, touches on the issue of toxic masculinity, particularly as it affects men on the gifted spectrum, […]

  9. medleymisty Avatar

    My spousal person is a dude. He was at the same Duke TIP award ceremony I was in 7th grade, although I didn’t meet him until we were 18.

    He’s extremely introverted, and I don’t think he much cares what other people think about him. Like we love cats, and at his job (which he’s always been drawn to jobs that are mostly filled by women – currently he works at the library, and he used to be a CNA), another dude kidded him a bit when he changed his personal icon in their computer system to a picture of a kitten, but he was just like “Yeah, really, I like cats.”

    He once said that he doesn’t really consider himself gendered.

    He’s never told me the details, but I know he got bullied at the Catholic school he went to for K-8. He’s never said much about high school either, but I got the feeling that while he didn’t really have many friends, at least he wasn’t a target anymore.

    He seems pretty aware of things – we talk about gender and sexism and things a lot, and the last book he brought home for me to read from the library is one about sexism in STEM fields.

    I’d get him to comment here with his own thoughts, but like I said he’s very introverted and he doesn’t have much of an internet presence. We play WoW together on and off, and he’s posted occasionally on our guild’s forum, but that’s about it for him.

    Which actually in WoW, he’s been playing a healer ever since we started in 2005. The stereotype is that in couples who play together the female is the healer, but well, he’s always defied stereotypes. He also likes chocolate, romantic comedies, and soft slow music a lot more than I do. 😉 Also he’s always done most of the housework and all of the cooking. He says it’s his way of showing affection, to do all that and let me write my stories.

    He seems pretty comfortable with himself. I’ve been with him for 18 years now, and I’ve never seen him freak out about his manhood. He has traces of a male ego, but it’s just traces, and over the years those traces have gotten smaller.

    From what I can see, I think he just really doesn’t care about what other guys who are all up into their toxic masculinity think about him. Neither one of us seem to care nearly as much about matching what’s on TV or fitting into stereotypes or that sort of thing as other people do. Actually we don’t care about it at all, and I didn’t know that other people cared about matching what they saw in B and C grade media until I’d spent years online observing other humans.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      He sounds like a wonderful dude, medleymisty.

  10. Kazza Avatar

    I was having my boy tested for Austim hoping to be able to find a way through life that way. He’d got so upset the injustice of a bully hating him that he pulled a clump of hair out but then proceeded to make a paintbrush out of it! I recently realized his cries for help were to be understood to be given space by his dad and i to talk mess about be creative together and try to break creativity ‘boundaries’. I read a book by Gary Chapman called the five love languages this has helped to fill my boys love tank up with his love language so tjat when trouble.comes as it does for all of us he can stand through it knowing he’s ok to be him. I love his sensitivity and passion and believe the rest of us are in need of fixing to be more sensitive! I say to all my children they are gifted because in each of them they hold so many blessings for the world around them….and bullies are too frightened to let themselves shine. Tools.we use are a questions jar a night, a rule tjat no one is ever too big to cry that crying in public is the ultimate strength but we have a zero tolerence on rage but adress amger head on….be angry but process the anger don’t allow anger to be top heavy emotion always let sensativity win.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Kazza, wouldn’t it be a better world if everyone was more sensitive. “…let sensitivity win.”

  11. Themon the Bard Avatar
    Themon the Bard

    Interesting that you say, “Where are you, fellas?” The answer, I think, is “Laying low.”

    Mark V touches on the core issue, I think. Some cultures have very few sexual taboos, but obsess over what people eat. Our culture celebrates indiscriminate gluttony, but has some very weird sexual taboos. Of course, the difference between men and women is sex, not what we eat. Seed-spreader or child-bearer. Outies or innies. Very little else.

    You can’t talk about “men” without implicitly talking about sex. And that is a thicket of very weird, messed-up taboos, many of which cannot even be spoken about. The very concept of a “man” is a twisted definition in a twisted wood.

    What is more quintessentially human that to weep with grief while being held in another’s arms? How many men — in our culture — have ever grieved in this way in the arms of another man? It happens, but the extremity of grief required to make it “acceptable” is sufficient to cause its own permanent damage: the grief of watching all your mates in a platoon blown into legs and arms, for instance. How many of us could expect to be held by our best friend for nothing worse than losing our job? Or having a wife leave us? This is an essential piece of humanity stolen from “men” by the their very definition as “men” in this twisted wood.

    It isn’t so easy to simply redefine this. An example: my wife cannot support us, financially. It isn’t because she isn’t as smart or capable. It’s because she has an innie. She’s inherently less likely than I to land any job that might support us, and even if she does, she’ll get 70% of a living wage. The “breadwinning” — the health insurance, the Social Security benefits, the income, the power to make certain kinds of decisions — falls upon me, because I’m the one given the opportunity to do it. I’m presented with that opportunity because, and only because, I have an outie. Which makes as much sense as hair on a cue ball, but that is the nature of our twisted wood. So the question for me is — as it is for all humans with outies — am I going to succumb to being overwhelmed by the tearing thorns of this twisted wood, or am I going to contort myself to avoid the barbs, learn to ignore inconvenient sensitivities, kill off parts of my soul, and “man up” and “do what a man’s gotta do?”

    Humans with outies in our culture are raised to be half-dead, and at least partly insane. I don’t think I overstate the case.

    Now throw in the rainforest mind.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Themon the Bard, for sharing. I can imagine how commenting on this post might take too much time as you sort through your complexity of thoughts and feelings, so our male readers, in particular, would be “laying low” as you said. It’s a much bigger topic than my blog can provide for, for sure. I appreciate your thoughtful sharing. Powerful words.

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        Powerful words indeed. Damn it I cried, but thank you Themon.

  12. Crucible Architecture Avatar
    Crucible Architecture

    This article is really difficult to read but thank you for it. I don’t know that I am “gifted” but I have an overdeveloped sense of justice, empathy and sensitivity and the reason that it is painful for me to read this is because I have passed all of this along to my now nine year old son. I am watching him struggle mightily with all of these issues (he is in therapy). Looking at a nine year old version of me and trying to explain how the world works and seeing how confusing and difficult it is for him is…gut-wrenching. I just ordered a few of the books above – hopefully we can continue to ease his journey through life.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      One thing to remember is that your son has you to help him through. And you understand him better than anyone.

  13. Mark V Avatar
    Mark V

    This is definitely not a time when I feel comfortable discussing male issues.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hear you, Mark. I’m not sure about my timing here either considering the recent events in the news.

      1. Mark V Avatar
        Mark V

        Not to make this about me — because there are others whose feelings and experiences are more important atm — but what is happening has been very distressing.

        Because if you’re a man who is different and is some of the things you describe above, then chances are you’ve been deeply misunderstood and have been called names. The types to hurl names at those of us they do not understand rarely use the term “different” or even the less benign “odd” or “strange”, and often even skip over “weirdo” or “freak” to go right for the throat with “creep”. Of course “creep” is the exact same term we all use to describe the scum that has been making the news lately.

        Being lumped in with people like that despite all your best intentions simply because you’re different is horrifying and traumatizing. Even talking about it is scary, because chances are that someone will read this and think that I am outing myself as a creep simply because I am openly admitting some dummies called me that. But I am trying to be brave because my inclination is to withdraw whenever I fear people.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Sounds so painful, Mark, and that the recent major exposure around sexual harassment and assault is triggering for you, as it is for many I know of who’ve been traumatized one way or another. Thank you for your courage.

          1. Mark V Avatar
            Mark V

            Yes, as an individual it is painful. (I am getting triggered by a lot of things lately.)

            But as a global citizen I am outraged and terrified.

            Because if we still can’t tell the basic difference between people who are trying to be good and do good in the world from those who couldn’t care less, what are our chances of surviving the many complex challenges we face?

            Btw, I don’t think your timing is bad – maybe it is precisely the right time to talk about this stuff. I don’t know. I just noticed that no other males had posted a comment so I thought I should say something.

            Thanks Paula.

            1. Paula Prober Avatar
              Paula Prober

              Thanks, Mark. I would like to hear from more of our male readers. Not about what’s going on politically (there are other forums for that), but about the topic of this post. How do you deal with your sensitivities? What do you relate to in the post in particular?

              Where are you, fellas??

              1. Mark V Avatar
                Mark V

                It was not my intention to make a political statement, but what I was getting at is it’s pretty hard to talk about individual aspects of giftedness such as sensitivity without approaching the taboo of questioning how we define what it is to be a man.

                You see, the thing about Man Club is that it is just like Fight Club: the first rule is you do not talk about Man Club. ESPECIALLY if you have anything bad to say about it, because that is what whiners do, and whiners are sissies that get kicked out of Man Club.

                I got myself thrown out of Man Club for various offenses a long time ago, so here I am, a fool in no man’s land with not much else to lose.

                1. Themon the Bard Avatar
                  Themon the Bard

                  Here’s the thing, Mark (speaking as a grandfather).

                  That Man Club thing? Well, it’s kind of like that gang of three popular guys when you were in grade school, the one that terrorized you through junior high, the one that promoted their guy into being Prom King in High School, the one that called you a geek and a weirdo and a freak and a creep and a Nancy-boy. You went off to college, got married, got a job, had kids, and you decide to go back to your twentieth high-school class reunion, where you run into the Gang of Three. The Prom King is an alcoholic, twice-divorced, and having been Prom King is still the highlight of his life; he won’t stop talking about it. His number-two guy runs a junkyard outside town. The third has been in and out of prison, and is at the reunion on parole. None of them has travelled more than thirty miles from town — ever. They’re hanging together, getting drunk like old times, and when they see you, either of two things happens: they are fascinated with you, and look up to you as a guy that really “made it” in the world — or they’ve remained the same jerks they were twenty years ago and sneer at you and call you a geek and a weirdo from their slouch at the bar. In fact, as they slide deeper into their cups through the course of the evening, you may get BOTH responses. You have a sudden realization: that ever-so-important Gang of Three, the one that loomed so large in your childhood and early life, was always pathetic.

                  The Man Club is exactly the same. Oh, it’s much bigger, and it’s a bit trickier to “leave town” and get that larger perspective on it. But it happens to some extent automatically as you get older, even if you do nothing, and it isn’t that hard to accelerate the process. I’ll offer some thoughts on this.

                  1. Paula Prober Avatar
                    Paula Prober

                    Oh, this is great, Themon the Bard! Love it. You had me laughing. So true!!

                  2. Mark V Avatar
                    Mark V

                    Thanks for that. I’m glad my Man Club analogy was inspirational, but I’m actually not complaining too much – because that’s for sissies, remember? 😉

                    Having said that, while I agree with everything you say here and in your excellent blog post, the influence of Man Club is not so easy to escape. Right now my primary focus is on two things: my survival and how I can best use my gifts to ensure it. But by myself out here in no man’s land that is very difficult. We haven’t even hit the midway point of the month yet, the festive season is upon us and I have less than $200 to live on until the new year.

                    So when it is suggested we find a counselor, I think “Great idea, but HOW?” I can’t afford one, certainly not a qualified one who will not do the same kind of damage that all the other therapists and doctors I saw over the past 30 years did to me. My doctor agrees, he tries to console me and has apologized on behalf of his colleagues who did that damage, but he also admits that he is powerless to help.

                    That is one of the lasting impacts Man Club can have on us. If you’re out of the club and fall down or fall behind, there are far fewer people (if anyone) to help us back up. When I was in the club, people used to call me up for advice or just to hear my voice because it made them feel better, but when my own problems overwhelmed me they stopped calling. That common reaction is another more subtle branch of Man Club that extends far beyond the dumb high school idea of manhood.

                    I live in a country that is idealized by some for the way we supposedly care for our people, and yet a couple of recent studies showed that more than 40% of our citizens think that mental illness and/or poverty are the result of laziness or other failings of moral character. Of course that kind of nonsense comes right from the high command of Man Club. But because so many people accept it as articles of faith, one cannot simply ignore all of them unless you are independently wealthy because my inadequate benefits are a direct reflection of that common belief.

                    ANYWAY….personal challenges aside, the farther my life detoured from the norm, the more I asked myself: “I’ve seen our culture from two totally different perspectives. Is this merely a personal tragedy for me to overcome, or is there any greater value in this for me or for others?”

                    Put another way, if there was no one like me who utterly failed to fulfill his potential and then saw the underbelly of the society that Man Club created, who would be there to report it? Looked at from that perspective, perhaps my situation is part of a greater plan.

                    Or I could be a deluded fool. Who really knows?

                    1. Themon the Bard Avatar
                      Themon the Bard

                      Ouch. Yes, you’re in a much darker thicket of the Man Club. I’ve been watching this for several years. The dynamics of it are pretty simple, actually. You can’t have exponential economic growth on a finite planet. In fact, you can’t have sustained exponential economic growth if you live in a finite number of dimensions. Our economic system insists on growing exponentially, but exponential growth is not possible: so the appearance of growth is sustained through cooking the books, and preying on the lower percentiles in the economy to fuel it. That economic rot is working its way up from the poor, through the middle class, to the lower fringes of the upper class. My head is still above water, but it’s like surviving a tsunami: it isn’t your efforts, your intelligence, your charm, or your goodness that keeps you breathing. It’s pure luck. And as I watch this national and global catastrophe slowly unfold, helpless to do anything about it, I’m suffering some survivor’s guilt. As is your doctor, no doubt. Combined with a kind of terror, because nothing protects me from being next.

                      Of course, it’s all papered over by fault-finding on the part of the survivors. You drowned because you didn’t know how to swim. You drowned because you didn’t try hard enough. You drowned because you were a sinner in God’s eyes. You drowned because you didn’t…. you weren’t…. you, you, you.

                      Bleaugh (sound heard frequently from the bathroom in a frat house as midnight on rush night approaches).

                      Two positive comments.

                      First, you can do all the inner psychological work yourself, without any help at all: and in fact, that’s how it really works, anyway. The counselor is just an assist when you’re starting, and perhaps when you get to some of the early sticky parts. The key is to develop a relationship with an inner guide that will steer you out of the cultural thicket, out of the Man Club mindset, out of being stuck. It helps to think of the guide as being outside yourself: a spirit, an angel, a deity. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. But there’s a quality you can sense when you shoot high, and it helps to separate the good inner advice from the monkey-mind chatter. And always balance inner advice against simple common-sense prudence. I had an inner conversation with what I’ll call a 70’s Jesus, once, you know, the laid-back, it’s-all-good kind of pot-smoking Jesus. A second Jesus showed up, the temple-scourging, Puritan, you’re-going-to-hell Jesus. Then the Devil showed up to say, “Oho! I see some mischief brewing.” They got into a huge inner argument, and I pulled up from my meditation, said, “F*** all y’all, anyway,” and went and had lunch. Do exercise humor and common sense.

                      Second, the underbelly you see is real, it is spreading, and it needs witnesses. You have a good command of language. Observe. Record. Report. Maybe start a blog — you clearly have access to the Internet, and WordPress accounts are (still) free. But start with the inner guide.

                    2. Mark V Avatar
                      Mark V

                      Thanks Themon. I do my homework. That includes not taking any expert’s opinion as gospel (which is a reference to one of the core principles in the book “Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm”).

                      Ten years ago my doctor sent me to see a psychiatrist to investigate the possibility I suffered with ADHD. I was indeed diagnosed with ADHD, but I was also diagnosed with comorbid Bipolar disorder.
                      We tried quite a few medications, but I also continued to do my own extra-curricular research.

                      Unlike his predecessors that psychiatrist seriously listened to me when I eventually said “These medications are not working. Perhaps my giftedness and creativity are appearing like
                      ADHD and Bipolar”, (the “gating deficits” referred to in Plant Intelligence). He agreed and undiagnosed me, declaring “I guess you are just an artist”.

                      While that was progress, of course I was still stuck out here on my own, left to do the work by myself. That is where the bipolar symptoms come into play. During manic or hypomanic states is when many of my ideas or insights come. Then, during the depressive states when the rose colored glasses we unconsciously wear have fallen off is when the good ideas or insights are separated from the bad. That’s because almost everything sucks when you’re depressed, so if something still seems good then, chances are it is.

                      I am working on a semi-autobiographical project about the underbelly of Man Club and the self-destructive society it created. It is part Kafka, part Hunter S. Thompson, part Lou Reed, and part Sex Pistols among many other influences. I was always reluctant to include parts of my own life in any art that I created, but I eventually realized that my story is everyone’s story. What is happening to me is just the tip of what is happening to many others, or will happen to them unless we start to think a different way.

                      I was already aiming in that general direction when you introduced me to Plant Intelligence and the Imaginal Realm. Reading that book strengthened my resolve to finish the project in the manner I envisioned, so my many thanks for your continued wisdom and kind words.

                    3. Mark V Avatar
                      Mark V

                      Dang it, here we are talking about Man Club and like a dumb dude I totally failed to mention some of the female artists who are inspirations: Margaret Atwood, Maya Angelou, Siouxsie Sioux, Bjork and Frida Kahlo for starters.

                      Now it’s time to shut the hell up for a change. 😉

                2. Paula Prober Avatar
                  Paula Prober

                  I hear you, Mark, and appreciate your thoughtful sharing. It makes sense to me that we look at both individual and collective experiences as we look at giftedness.

  14. Kamala Quale Avatar
    Kamala Quale

    It’s good to address boys and men. I’ll bet a lot of people will read it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Kamala. Yes, I hope it’s read widely.

  15. Guiding Bright Avatar
    Guiding Bright

    This is wonderful Paula! So glad to have this to share with parents of sensitive boys! Thank you.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Tina. Appreciate your sharing with others!

  16. Andrea McD. Avatar
    Andrea McD.

    I have an amazing husband and two incredible sons — all of them have the biggest hearts. They’re all very intense, and I’m trying to help my sons learn that their emotions are JUST FINE, but they do need to learn to manage them (not because they’re male, but because we all need to learn how to manage them in a healthy way).

    One thought I have about this is that I’ve watched gifted men with enthusiasm and drive end up being criticized for mansplaining and talking over women, etc. — even when they may be the most sensitive, caring guys at the forefront of working for equality! While I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of unwelcome male dominance, I also sense gifted men can particularly be misunderstood because of excitement and often charisma. The same traits we try to encourage in children of both genders become potential minefields for our boys as they grow older.

    Last weekend, at a middle school robotics competition, I did a little observational experiment where I watched men and women, and boys and girls, walk around the school. Invariably — at ALL ages — the women and girls shift their shoulders so that the men/boys can walk through unheeded. This occurred again and again and again. 🙁 They all learn it SO early. But in conversation and interactions, a healthy middle ground must exist, where we give and take equitably, and one gender mustn’t always “shift.” And particularly if someone’s natural inclinations are exuberance and conversationality (perhaps not a word, but it fits what I’m trying to say), they need to feel welcome but aware of others’ participation.

    I neither want my daughter to feel that men can speak over her, nor do I want my sons to believe *they* must learn to take the default “shut up” position. I’m still trying to figure out how to navigate this in terms of advice I give my kids. Would love to hear thoughts from others!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You raise some important points, Andrea. Let’s see what other readers say. Certainly, it would be important to talk about this with your kids. Maybe suggest that they do their own experiments and observe boys and girls seeing what patterns they discover. Then they might come up with their own solutions! About managing emotions, I use the visual of a container they imagine that can hold their emotions when it’s not appropriate to express them intensely. They learn to contain versus repress. Then they empty the container when they get home. That can help.

  17. Rebecca Avatar

    Thank you for posting this. My son is an emotionally gifted guy and he finds a lot of comfort in nature. He is in Boy Scouts and I try to encourage him to seek out nature via hiking, camping etc. As a way to reduce stress.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Nature. So important for so many reasons. Thank you, Rebecca.

  18. tracylomax Avatar

    As always, love this, Paula. I have the honor of a husband and son who fit this mold and make our world a more sensitive, gentle place.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Wonderful, Tracy. We need sensitivity and gentleness in this world.

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