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

photo courtesy of Ayo Ogunseinde, Unsplash

The following questions can plague the rainforest-minded:

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

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

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

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

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

That category.

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

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

But there are limits.

Yes, even you. have. limits.

For example:

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

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

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

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


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

Not only that.

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

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

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

Do you hear me?

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

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

I mean it.


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

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.

42 responses to “If You’re Gifted, Are You Responsible for Everyone and Everything Until the End of Time?”

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  1. Pegi Ficken Avatar
    Pegi Ficken

    The worst part is the intuition–and thafact that what seems perfectly obvious to you–and therefore not requiring special consideration before mentioning it–may not be perfectly obvious to everyone else. The person may be totally oblivious. You may end up losing friends–or spouses–or children–or…should you innocently mention something that, to you, is something that you can’t imagine a person NOT knowing.
    I am trying not to revert to the teenage attitude that it’s better to just stay away from people.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, Pegi. That can be so hard. Sending you a hug.

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  3. Clancy Avatar

    This is exactly what my girls need to read. It’s taken me getting very sick and realising the world didn’t stop because I wasn’t there to help.. to realise it’s ok to say no.
    They feel the weight of expectations and are learning the burn of knowing how to help but not judging the reception that help receives.
    I’ve learnt the hard way to spot the people who need help and suck the joy from everything.
    I wish I could have read this 30 years ago.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hope your health is better now, Clancy, and that you’re taking good care of yourself. It’ll be good modeling for your girls, too. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

  4. Reina Avatar

    I’ve lost count how many times my mom used to tell me “but you’re the one who knows more so you should help”. No, no I shouldn’t. Who’s going to help me when I need it then? Because there was nobody around for that. I’m not a robot you put coins into and support just comes out.

    This is what made me codependent and a doormat.

    Adios to all that. It made me so furious to be used as a tool with no needs of my own.

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

    All very true. It’s so hard because even the ones who ARE willing to listen are often… not very EFFECTIVELY supportive because they don’t know how to be supportive of rainforest minds. I’m not sorry to say: I’ve supported myself emotionally all of my life because I have insight that those around me do not and whatever they have to say I’ve already thought and am already multiple steps ahead. I figured saying this wouldn’t be considered “arrogant” here, for once in my life. Yet I am still reluctant, but I will post it anyway.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Glad you posted, Reina. It’s often true that listeners are not helpful if they don’t have the depth that we need. Not arrogant, just true.

  5. Margie Avatar

    Recommended book by my therapist: The Empath’s Survival Guide by Dr. Judith Orloff. All of what you wrote here resonates. It has taken me almost 2 years now to realize that I’m not built to take everything in. I always thought I was meant to do that, that I was born to. Not true at all!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, I’ve read some of Judith Orloff’s work. Thanks, Margie.

  6. Pecheoiseau Avatar

    There is so much to unpack here! (Love it!)

    I have learned not to say “yes” to anything that is going to take planning. I’ve gotten to the point that I can barely manage to pull off a potluck dish. Hello, I’m Pecheoiseau and I’m a recovering potluck overachiever. I have given myself permission to *gasp* buy things for potlucks. “But Peche”, they say, “you’re such a good cook!” Nah, it’s too much pressure. Like another poster here, I’m good if I can just show up and do whatever needs to be done. If I am asked to help plan, I feel responsible for the entire project, especially if things do not go smoothly, even if it is not my fault. It is way too stressful! I have the added twist, besides already feeling super responsible, gifted-wise, of having a parent who told me everything was my fault. Double whammy! I am OK with saying “No” to just about everything now!

    When I do say “yes, I will take a look at your project”, guess what? I procrastinate! Which is passive-aggressively saying “no”, I guess. It saves everyone time and grief if I say “no” to begin with. Part of this is having no idea (being a perfectionist) if this “just take at look” will take me 10 seconds or 10 hours to work on. I dread going down that rabbit hole of hours of unwashed and unfed unless it is anything other that my own rabbit hole I just discovered a second ago! Hey, I might like your rabbit hole too, but I’m going to dig in my heels, psychically, about it. That cycle of procrastination is so painful. Don’t want to–>feel responsible–>don’t want to–>feel responsible…Lather, Rinse, Repeat!

    I don’t know what to do with the insight into others’ psyches bit. It makes me feel weirdly voyeuristic and longing for resolution. Meaning I wish they would ask me for my insight so I could unburden myself. It helps to remind myself to shine the light into my dark places instead.

    Ah, and then there is feeling responsible for looking out for the wounded. For not “hurting people’s feelings”. That’s like a triple whammy of giftedness/intuition, being taught by my family that others’ feelings are my responsibility, and being taught by society that others’ feelings are my responsibility. It’s sure a heck of a lot easier to say “no” to a gourmet potluck dish than to a needy friend!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      “…recovering potluck overachiever…” Yeah! Procrastination as passive-aggressive “no”– good to think about… Thanks for unpacking with us!

  7. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

    There are many layers to this. First I think many of us are just natural care-takers. Being so highly empathetic, perceptive, good listeners, needier people find a welcome audience in us. At least this is my experience. And second, we may have had a mother or father who over relied on us for emotional support, due to their own psychological issues (my experience also). So third, we grew up with disappearing boundaries, not able to distinguish between others’ needs and our own. And so fourth, this isn’t the healthiest foundation for establishing and building healthy relationships, and we struggle for years not understanding or being mystified by our lack of connection with others. And this leads to layer 5 (! ha ha) – because of the lack of mirroring from our parent(s), we try to compensate for this by ‘saving’ others, when in actuality all we’re doing is feeding their sickness / neediness, and setting ourselves up for total frustration. So it’s been a long road for me, to come to the point where when I say ‘no’ to someone, or don’t rush in to try and save someone from their discomfort, that I don’t feel guilty or bad.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you, Beth, for this helpful explanation of your experience, which I’m sure many will find relatable.

    2. Reina Avatar

      Thank you Beth. You summarized my life, and I’m positive many others’ here as well.

  8. Noemí Trujillo Avatar
    Noemí Trujillo

    Justo eso me estado preguntando en esta semana ¿Por qué siempre tengo algo que hacer para los demás? Tengo ganas de un día no hacer algo por nadie o para nadie más que por mi, me siento agotada. Y he pensado ya no aceptar más compromisos, ya no ofrecerme voluntariamente a tantas cosas, es más ninguna cosa más, ya fue demasiado, amigos, compañeros, familia siempre ando haciendo favores de todo tipo grandes y pequeños. Y sí a veces siento la enorme responsabilidad de decir algo, porque intuyo fuertemente que si no lo digo nadie más lo hará, y ahí ando hablando cuando es necesario, incomodando si es necesario, asumiendo toda consecuencia pero feliz de haber hecho lo que sentía fuertemente que tenía que hacer, y creo que es lo que le da sentido a mi vida, esos aportes que de no hacerlos yo nadie hace, esos puntos de vista que casi nadie ve, y digo casi nadie, porque afortunadamente ya me he encontrado personas como yo de valientes para hacer lo que se tiene que hacer por el bien común, que tienen ideales como los míos. La terapia y el Desarrollo Humano como disciplina me han ayudado a ir sabiendo tener a raya la culpa y mantenerme abrazada del autocuidado, cuando decido no hacer algo que sé haría muy bien por autocuidado personal, cuando ese es el motivo entonces me siento en paz.
    Espero aprender de mi agotamiento actual para ya no hacer tanto y tanto por los demás. Gracias por su artículo.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I had to put this comment into Google translate but I’m sure we have many Spanish speakers following my blog. Gracias, Noemi.

  9. Sarah Avatar

    What a wonderful post, Paula!

    I think this goes back to a theme you have touched on before: too much/not enough.

    Too much ability leads to self-inflicted responsibility. In work, and in life, I do not step back enough.

    I’m a teacher and my husband thinks that I act as though the world will fall apart if I take a day off. Who will read the test aloud to my kids with special needs who can’t read fast enough to retain comprehension of the text? I need to be there so I can sit in a faculty meeting, run an ARD meeting, co-teach in the classroom, help my mentee write an IEP…I know the world won’t fall apart, but it feels like I am the only one who can do my job.

    Part of having “too much” is assuming (because of past experiences) that others will not have enough. A sort of “savant oblige” takes over. If you see/know something, say/do something. But to suppress that urge to help sometimes (particularly when not specifically asked to help) and to balance time helping others with self-care (i.e., helping myself) seems like a wise approach.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for your example, Sarah. I do think that it’s often the case that others don’t “have enough.” So, maybe the world won’t fall apart but you might be accurate in thinking that no one can do your job as well. That said, balance and self-care are still important. Love the expression “savant oblige.”

    2. FredB Avatar

      “savant oblige” is sharply perceptive and will be stolen.

  10. tingleys Avatar

    Thank you Paula. You coveted so many of the challenges that impact my life in this piece. Have to run and help a friend, in just the way you describe (because I can & have the skills & was asked) so I don’t have time to answer fully, but wanted to let you know that I think this was brilliantly written and so insightful.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I appreciate the feedback, tingleys.

  11. Kierstin Avatar

    There are limits to the expectation to “live up to your potential”. Just because you can, does not mean that you should. I wish these were things I heard growing up, along with all of the messages in this post.

  12. hksounds Avatar

    Such an interesting topic. It doesn’t reflect my situation at all, maybe from when I was a child and I felt my mother was using me to think instead of thinking and taking charge herself. I think that early resentment has led me to help people in a way that isn’t exactly what they had in mind. By that I mean, many problems people have, they also hold the key to resolve them already. I have always used the Socratic method, even before I ever heard of it, when asked for answers. So, I ask questions that I think would lead them to finding possible answers.

    What you are describing are people who want you to do their job. That is manipulative and irresponsible. I don’t do that. Why would anyone? If somebody needs a package carried, being taken to the doctors, taught how to do whatever it is, someone to sit with them, or good advice, I’m good with that.

    Which means my feeling of responsibility for others is not what you have described. I care about the environment, about life on this planet, which is much more than humanity. We humans could play a positive role in making this a better world for humans and all those who share this planet with us, but we have become narcissistic and like Shiva,are destroyers of worlds. Now, that’s the kind of responsibility I can’t shirk, ever, or say no to, under any circumstances, if there’s any chance to resolve the problems we have been creating. Turning my back on this would make me feel very guilty. This is the kind of responsibility I understand and believe in practicing.

    Instead of being asked to do something because I am much better at whatever than they are, as I usually am, I have found that most people really don’t like someone who knows more than they do and isn’t easily manipulated. Instead of asking me to do their job, insecure, manipulative people would just as soon end the relationship. I am at a loss to know why people are finding, and empowering, these shirkers.

    OTOH, I will willingly take on more and more of my own jobs to the point where it can get stressful and sometimes overwhelming. I would feel guilty for not following through on my commitments and having let myself, and others down. Where does that fit in your picture?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m not sure exactly where it fits, hksounds. But I’m pretty sure there are many RFMs who also care deeply about the planet. And, I’m not saying we should stop caring for these things. The compassion of the RFM is essential. I’m just saying that healthy boundaries and self-care are important so that we can do whatever we can to create a better world without burning ourselves out. Your Socratic method sounds like a good idea!

  13. helenjnoble Avatar

    Reblogged this on helenjnoble.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Helen!

  14.  Avatar

    Sometimes, I like something too much that I end up correcting other people, thinking that (since I’m not as smart as my brother) what I know shold be easy for my relatives too. But when they prove me wrong I then have to make a lot of corrrections, feel like I am actually teaching, but no one would listen even when they are the ones who requested my help. And I try not to sound bossy or demanding when I try to help them. I want to help people, but how can I do it when they feel annoyed by the instructions and advices? How do I know when is the right moment to do it?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It’s very hard to know when it’s the right moment especially if people actually ask you but then they don’t listen. In general, people probably don’t want to be corrected. Sometimes it works best to listen carefully and then ask questions like: “I wonder if you feel….” Or “Are you saying that….” And maybe, “I have some ideas about that. Would you like to hear them?” Maybe those are some places to start.

  15. cathytea Avatar

    I had a funny lesson in this today: I was waiting for a follow-up appointment with an oral surgeon, and everyone else waiting was in so much pain and nervousness. One teen, in particular, was in a lot of discomfort. I directed my attention towards her, sending her feelings of love and compassion. She was half a room away, so I thought she wouldn’t notice me or see me, and that the good feelings would work invisibly. But she looked at me and shouted across the room, “Stop looking at me!” That was my wake-up call: It was my message that I wasn’t responsible for making everyone in the room feel more relaxed or better, and that, in fact, my misguided efforts to do so were sometimes unintentionally crossing their boundaries! I pulled my attention back to myself, and then while I waited another half-hour, I wondered, “What do I do with myself now?” Yeah, I realized that it was my habit, whenever I was in a crowded room with others, to pick up on who was hurting most and to send them compassion. I thought that’s what the sensitivity was for–that’s why we pick up on others’ pain, so we can direct compassion to them… But maybe, it’s more important, at least at some times, to also be aware of boundaries. I’m exploring now letting energies of compassion fill me and radiate out in a more general, less directed way, so that no one feels singled out or intruded on.

    And, oh! I just now read the comment above me! Hi, friend! It’s so exciting to see we’re both learning similar things at the same time! Your comment is really instructive to me, kontekst! Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Important points, cathytea. Thank you.

    2. Reina Avatar

      Oh how I can relate to this. It literally feels like a void inside when I force myself not to help, send compassion, step in, or save someone. Even withholding information, I have to consciously suppress that urge to let people know lest they make a decision or do something without a possibly crucial piece of data that only I know.

  16. Kontekst Avatar

    Thank you Paula. 🙂 It’s so good to know I’m not alone in this feeling responsible for everyone around me! I think this is part of why I hide in my room so much. When around people, it’s exactly like you said, I do feel responsible for sharing the secrets I see about their inner workings. But I don’t because that’s usually intrusive or inappropriate. Most people don’t even want to know that kind of thing. Ok, well, looking back I know I have shared those things tons of times, which is why I know people don’t like it. They don’t like other people knowing what they’re thinking, or what they’re about to say, or what they’re feeling even when they think they’re hiding it from everyone. So, eventually I learned to just keep my mouth shut most of the time and bear that weight of helpless compassion.

    There is a guilt that returns again and again, the guilt that I can’t help the people I know are suffering. Or there’s the guilt that comes from believing I should have solved all the problems of suffering in the world by now. 🙂 Totally completely reasonable. I mean, if I could just evolve faster maybe, write the ultimate book, turn into an enlightened superhero, something like that, then all the suffering would vanish. Yep Haha, that’s so ridiculous, but I know in my heart I still actually feel that way a little…

    That blind, selfish savior mentality has actually kept me in a lot of harmful relationships. I would stay close to people who had no interest in working to dig themselves out of suffering. I’d focus on my own understanding, love and caring for them, but then ignore the reality of how they acted. You phrased it perfectly, “…but in everyday life they’re toxic, manipulating creeps.” It’s always so obvious looking back… The fact that I could see and feel their suffering tied me to them with compassion, but that was unskillful compassion.

    There is definitely a better way to be, and I think saying no or not getting involved is definitely a big part of it. Or knowing the right times to get involved, that’s where the skillful compassion would be useful. One teacher told me something that I try to remember often. She said that “you have to trust other people with their own feelings and experiences. You have to trust them to take care of themselves.” I love remembering that. I love how it feels choosing to have faith in people doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. Suffering is an unavoidable part of growth I think… well, pain is at least… It’s nice not having to fight against everyone’s suffering, and instead just accepting and sharing in the overall experience of being here with everyone through it.

    Hope I didn’t get too carried away. This post really got to me. Great title, that hooked me. I could keep thinking and writing about it for days and days… Thanks again!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Well said, kontekst. Well said! Thank you.

  17. dmstauber Avatar

    Ahhh. I needed this one right now. Repeat after myself: “You are not responsible for everything. You are not responsible for everything.”

  18. EwaB Avatar

    the great “I dont know how to do it and you are so good at it” remark. that is always followed by the “I dont want/need to learn because you do it so much better”.
    I am slowly learning to say no. or “sure I will show you, but you do the work.” and after doing it, I destroy my version and let them strugle themselfs. only way to learn.
    Is one of the hardest things for me to learn ever. even maths or anatomy in latin was easier

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh yeah, “…you’re so good at it…” So hard not to jump in and just do it! Thanks, EwaB.

    2. Pecheoiseau Avatar

      This is my work life every day! But! If you take the initiative and “just do it” because it is simply easier if you do it (depriving them of the opportunity to learn) or you like to do it, or whatever, then you are stepping on people’s toes and “not staying in your lane”. Can’t win. Shrug.

      Over the years I have learned to not be the one with all the answers, not because people get tired of it (though that is part of it too), but to save myself from the expectation that I am the one with all the answers. A version of “playing dumb”, I guess, but for me it is part of exercising my NO muscle. I don’t have to be helpful all the time without being asked!

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        So tricky to know what to do with this, Pecheoiseau. At least you know now that you’re not alone!!

  19. Jessie Avatar

    The headline of this post may be my favorite ever. The rest of the post didn’t disappoint. Thanks for these words of sanity, Paula!

  20. FredB Avatar

    From the days of tall sailing ships the rule was, “One hand for yourself, one hand for the ship.”

  21. Marianne Kuzujanakis Avatar
    Marianne Kuzujanakis

    This post deeply resonated with me. My own intuition is definitely a two-edged sword. It’s been a priceless gift in my career in medicine, yet often I have routinely felt fully responsible to help if I detected a need in others. Only as I’ve become older can I now begin to say “no”. Having a strong support system (family/friends) is a lifesaver in establishing healthy boundaries. I’m ever grateful for those with whom I share my life. Beautiful post, Paula!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, intuition can be a strength and a burden. Setting those limits can be quite a challenge. I’m glad my post was meaningful for you!