When Perfectionism, Anxiety, Empathy, and Expectations Collide — Gifted in Portugal

photo courtesy of Ronny Sison, Unsplash (not Ricardo)

Some thoughts from Ricardo of Portugal:

“All my life I was driven, motivated, sensitive, intense, and hyperactive. I always cried easily with  music, a memory, a movie or a person or animal suffering. I have always searched for beauty in my life and I always felt different, emotionally and cognitively. I always liked the positive things about myself – the energy and intensity of feeling, the intelligence of my out of the box arguments – but I always wanted to eradicate my anxiety and my worries. In a way, I guess that I have been afraid of my brain – its intensity and its hyperactivity in making so many driven thoughts…”

“I’m afraid to lose all the intense feelings I have about all the things that make me happy: the love I feel with my beloved wife, my sense of wonder about the world, my joy about beauty, my deep feelings about others, etc. My perfectionism makes me put my standards high enough to protect all the things I love. I need to feel always very good, I need to feel always connected to the world and with the people I love, I need to feel always alive at full throttle, I need to be the best in everything I do, I need to feel always deep, I need to feel always with energy. If I don’t feel good, I wonder if something is wrong with me. I have to be always high, never low. If any problem emerges in my life I can fix it with confidence and trust but if some fear (about disease or an idea about losing my joy and my positive intense feelings) get in my head, I worry and worry and start to get anxious…”

“Are you saying that rainforestminds can develop a perfectionism linked to the way that they need to feel, enjoy life and protect the emotions that they value? Why do I have such intolerance to anxiety, pain, diseases, sadness, and everything that can make me suffer?…”

My Response to Ricardo:

Dearest Ricardo. Because we haven’t met, I shall respond to your questions in general terms. Take what resonates and leave the rest.

Afraid of Your Own Brain

As odd as it may sound, being afraid of your own brain makes sense when you are such an intense thinker and feeler. So driven. So full throttle. Imagine that your capacity for intelligence, for thinking, feeling, and knowing, means that you might experience worry and fear at a similar scale. Full throttle worry and fear. Understanding what it means to be gifted will be important so you don’t mislabel yourself. Also, you will likely need to practice self-soothing and relaxation techniques. This won’t eradicate your anxiety but it can contain it and reduce it. Some sort of regular spiritual/meditation practice would be important if you also have trauma in your background. (or even if you don’t) Trauma stays in your body over time so a daily practice would be beneficial, along with some type of therapy, to reduce and reconfigure unhealthy patterns, beliefs, and habits.

Intrinsic (Healthy) Perfectionism

There can be two types of perfectionism in the gifted. The type that is innate can be described as the deep need for beauty, balance, harmony, precision, and justice. This is not something dysfunctional that needs to be healed. It needs to be understood and appreciated. There will be times when prioritizing and compromises will be needed, though, because on many occasions, something just needs to get done, and it can actually still be excellent, if not perfect. Emails to plumbers, for example, don’t need to take three hours to write.

Pressure to be Perfect

If you have a rainforest mind, you’ll often find a self-imposed or societal expectation to be gifted at all times at everything. This is impossible. There is nothing wrong with you if you make a mistake, can’t solve all problems, or if you are not the best at everything. You will have many moments of doubt, fear, failure, and confusion. There will be talents that you do not have and people who know more than you do about certain things. For example, narwhals.

Loss, Empathy

It may be a universal human experience to be afraid to lose what we have, in particular, for many people, losing love or material wealth. For the gifted, that might include fears of losing wonder, intensity, joy, and passions. Losses of freedom to question, to find beauty, and to be intellectually fed. We can’t avoid pain and grief in life but I suspect that, even so, you will maintain your intensity and your sense of wonder and your love of beauty, and more, regardless. When you are gifted, you can not become ungifted.

Chances are, though, you are also dealing with an abundance of empathy. That might be a reason you can be overwhelmed by sadness and pain. Perhaps you are feeling more than just your own grief. Maybe you are tapping into the suffering of others. It will be important to find ways to nourish yourself, develop healthy boundaries, and appreciate the loving presence that is you.

Thank you, Ricardo, for showing us your big-hearted, beautiful, complicated rainforest mind.


To my bloggEEs: Do you relate to what Ricardo is saying? Let us know your similar or different experiences and also can you tell us where you are from? I suspect that these experiences are international in scope. I’m thinking that I might include more examples like this from emails that I receive. Do you like that idea? If you want to send me your questions and thoughts for possible blog posts, you can contact me through the form on the About page. No guarantees that I’ll post your questions but let me know if I have your permission. Thank you, as always, for being here. And, thank you for reviewing my books on Amazon!

This post is part of a blog hop. Click on the link to see more posts on this topic!


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.

38 responses to “When Perfectionism, Anxiety, Empathy, and Expectations Collide — Gifted in Portugal”

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  5. auroraremember Avatar

    Funny, I recommended your blog to Ricardo recently with our realizing he had already discovered it! With my work starting this week, I just got around to reading the blog hop posts. This is such a lovely piece from both of you! Paula, I really appreciate your differentiation of intrinsic vs. extrinsic perfectionism, and Ricardo I can definitely relate to the desire to avoid the “negative” and anxious feelings. I have found, as Paula recommends that when I give myself space to feel and process them I do much better, but it’s often easier said than done. 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Good to know that Ricardo found you, too, Aurora!

  6. Gail Post Avatar
    Gail Post

    Paula, I really like how you have tapped into fear and how so many gifted and RFM individuals are afraid of the depth of their feelings. As always, you offer clear explanations and wonderful support.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Gail. I hope my readers click on the link to gain access to your post on the hop. You write clearly and carefully about anxiety in gifted children.

  7. Paula Prober Avatar
    Paula Prober

    Have you heard of The School of Life? They are in London and provide counseling services. I think they work online, too. As I read their articles, they sound like they might have an understanding of RFMs. And they might be open to reading my blog/books to help them understand you even better. Don’t know anyone in Scotland. Thanks, K.

  8. Katandromos Avatar

    Hey Paula. I have been reading your blog for some time, and some of what you have to say about the kind of personalities that you work with strikes interesting chords with me. I was wondering if you are aware of any counsellors in the UK, specifically Scotland, who deal with gifted issues of this kind.

    Love your Work,


  9. Lawliet Avatar

    Hello Ricardo, let me answer your questions. First of all, I do experience of what you have stated there. Except for the urge to be happy and high all the time and fear of losing them. Personally for me, happiness is like a mania phase and sadness is like a depressed state – there’s nothing in between. And I always doubt my passions and my feelings, it’s like what if I actually don’t love physics but just carried away because I can understand it? Or something like what if my perceived reality is not a reality at all? I guess there’s no room for me to fear of losing the intensities, instead I doubt them i-if they are authentic feelings. However I do feel anxious, like very anxious even if it’s not something people will be anxious about ; and it has been part of my life. Like you said, you can feel extremely happy/energetic as well as the negative emotions with the same degree. And imagine,if those two extreme modes keep switching a lot of times in a day/week, yeah that’s my routine. If this blog weren’t exist, I would self misdiagnosed myself to have bipolar, depression, anxiety. (Thanks Paula!) Out of topic, but, may I ask you, your age?

    1. Ricardo Avatar

      Hello Lawliet.

      Thanks for sharing. I’m 39. In my case, I don’t have much fluctuations in my mood during the day. I can be pretty well for several time until I ear or read about something that frightens me. It’s always something that can shake my way of feeling passionate… When this happens my brain needs to grab that idea of fear and I become hiper focus in that idea for some time. However, I think that my problem is my lack of understanding of the role of anxiety and because of that I tried to fight it. To be fear is normal, we won’t control it. We can, however, cope with it in better ways if we understand it’s origin and what it’s trying to protect. My anxiety always work just fine, my problem is that I wanted to eliminate it, I wanted not to feel it, I cope with it as something that is wrong, and because of that I become more anxious. If I create a good relationship with my anxiety, understanding it’s functions and understanding that in persons like me (or we) it can work in an intense manner, I ll cope better with it. I come to that conclusion recently, in a question of days… It’s so clear but sometimes I’m always searching for the hardest response, when sometimes the answer is right there…

  10. artyplantsman Avatar

    Wow. I relate to Ricardo’s feelings so much! Great post!

  11. Ricardo Avatar

    Dears RFMs,
    Because I’m only recently found I’m a rfm, I’d like to put some questions to anyone who may want to reply and may want to help me understand better what it is to be a RFM.

    1.first of all, I never thought about giftdness as something that could bring struggles. So, my fist question is to know if you guys feel some struggles like I do, such as anxiety and worry? In my case I can feel extremely happy and passionate but also extremely worried and anxious. This happens to you? My brain can engage in a passion to write a book or an scientific article, or to create something, but can also engage in a worry or in an idea of fear. My brain can be hyper focus with a project, with an idea to create something, but also with an idea of fear, in the some exactly way. This happens to you?

    2. There’s anyone that has perfectionism about his or her well being, ie, does anyone feel an urge to feel always passionate, always joy and always high? Does anyone experience some transcendence feelings (about a person, animal, place, music, movie) that wich they will never go away? Does anyone wanted to experience those transcendess feelings more often and in a way that could last in time. Does anyone has fear of losing the ability of feel those transcendente feelings, ie, the fear of become unable to experience those feelings anymore? If one could feel such a joy isn’t legitim one always wanted to feel this way?

    3.does anyone have a low tolerance of feelings of anxiety or sadness? This question is kind of a development of the question n. 2 because if someone wants to experience deep positive fellings he or her will want to eradicate negative feelings, right? Ie, anyone have trouble to tolerate “negative” feelings. In my case this happen because I have emotional overexcitability and intelectual overexcitability, which allow me to feel in a deepest level such positive feelings like joy or passion but also “negative” feelings like anxiety or fear. Does this happen to anyone of you?

    Thak you all

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It can be helpful to work with “negative” feelings rather than avoid them. Anxiety or sadness for example may be there for a reason. Having a journal dialogue with those emotions can provide some important information. If those feelings are deeply disturbing and long lasting, it could indicate a need for help from a professional. You might also do some research about the meditation practice of tonglen. With tonglen you are welcoming the “negative” on purpose as a way to recognize that you are not the only one with that feeling. Then you send love to yourself and all the beings on the planet with that same pain. Pema Chodron teaches the technique.

    2. Someti Avatar

      Hello Ricardo, Saudações da Espanha! Muito prazer em te escrever um poquinho 😀

      I am not a therapist, so I may address your questions superficially, (i.e. fear of giving wrong advice or being misinterpreted) but here it goes:

      Q1: Yes indeed. It happens all the time. But for me it seems reasonable to deal with that and think that there are things which I can exert influence upon (hence change them: I have control over them) and there are other things that I barely can change (or that I cannot modify at all). Maybe the key point is to focus in things that you can do rather tan focus on things that paralize you and that you certainly cannot control. (Then, a key issue is to distinghish between things that you can control and thigs that you cannot). Hope this helps.

      Q2: perfectionism… yes. All the time. That bothers some people, but I certainly learnt to not care about what other people think. I take their advice in mind, always, but I do what I think is right and try to find an equilibrium between perfectionism and “straight standard solutions” (I hope I explained it properly… I am not sure if you get what I’m trying to communicate).

      As for “Does anyone fear losing the ability of feel those transcendente feelings […]?” Probably yes. But I insist to myself that it will happen when I’ll be over 95 years old… age at which a few relatives of mine have (as we say in spain) “lost their heads”.

      As for question 3… I do not dare to say something of interest. Maybe part of the answer is already written above. Let see what other people think.

      Bom dia!

      1. Ricardo Serrado Avatar
        Ricardo Serrado

        Hello Someti, I loved your Portuguese 🙂

        Thank you so much for your answers. Although you re not a therapist the fact that you have a Rfm can help me a lot to understand some issues about my way of feel and think. All my live a have never met someone with a Rfm, someone who could real understand how I see the world. All the friends I had were always very superficial and with so few interests, feeling very different from me. So, for me it’s a new experience to find some people with so many things like my self.

        Your first answer is in fact something a started do do recently and that I ve neve done it. I never accept my anxiety and, wors, I ve always tried to eradicated it like it was a problem, a kind of desease. Every time a started to get anxious e become more anxious only because I don’t wanted to feel anxious. And is that intolerance that always increased my anxiety. I’ve a kind of perfectionism of the way I should feel – always high and energetic – and never allowed me to be a little low of that ideal state of being. Like Dra. Paula said, we can have a innate perfectionism to searsh beauty, to feel enthusiastic, to search for transcendence, which is great. However, this kind of perfectionism needs also to be managed. If we take this perfeccionism into an extreme, ie, if we hang loose “wildly” this need of wanted to feel always good, to always feel transcendence, we can put to much pressure in us.
        So, what you sayed is very right. We need to accept all our emotions and thoughts, we need to accept our anxiety, we need to accept our feeling bad.
        So, I guess I have two types of anxiety. The first is normal, is an intensity of feeling that is due to my emotional and intelectual intensity. Is due to my good perfectionism. The second anxiety is due to my intolerance of the firts anxiety, which give me more anxiety and worry about “what the hell, why I’m feeling anxious, I need to feel good, always good…”. The second anxiety is me wanted to the that perfeccionism to a extreme level.
        The first anxiety it’s what I can’t control, because is a reaction of a stimuli, the second I can control because I can learn to tolerate my first anxiety, let it be, and become a friend of it. Accepting it as part of myself, as a tool that exist to protect me, is the work I need to do.

        What do you think?

        All the best

      2. Someti Avatar

        Well, Ricardo, I do not know what to say. Except that not finding RDMs around is quite usual (I would say).

        I guess that finding what works for oneself in terms of finding wellbeing and relief is quite personal. You may find clues in this blog, probably. There are a lot of useful articles. 🙂

  12. Ricardo Avatar

    Hello Maria, we are like “neighbors” right? 🙂
    I never talked with anyone that share my feelings and the way I think and feel… Maybe the rfms are rare in Portugal (just joking). Besides, I just discover I’m a rfm in about some weeks, after a long research about the topic. I needed to be sure, so I read everything I could from every author that wrote something about the theme – every book and every article, and every site… So, it would be useful to know some people that share some features with me. Can you go little more deeply when you say you identify with what was written? In my case, I feel a inner pressure to feel always high and to not let go the passion that guides me through the things I love. So my fears are related to the need to feel always good. Then, when I experience some fear, my brain stars to engage in a way to solve it like it was a problem to be solved. My brain get attached to the fear and only let it go when it started to understand the fear. Do you have similar experiences?

  13. Ricardo Avatar

    Dear Antarmukhy, thank you so much for your deep reply. I wonder, how much time did tou take to accept the way your brain work? For me, I enjoy it most of time when it’s about passion, enthusiasm and beauty, but then it works in the similar way when it’s about fear and worry and in here I become very uncomfortable. The way my brain can attached to a passion is the same way he gets attached to an idea of fear. Can you understand what I’m seeing? My brain is very analitical and scientific but it’s also fueled by emotions, so he only is satisfied when he gets to the bottom of the question, which can be annoying because he gets so focused in an idea of fear… Then, the emotion and imagination also can fueled the fear because the idea is so vivid and is so intense… Does this happen no you?

  14. catbadel Avatar

    I feel for you Ricardo. For your story is something that truly resonates with me. A question for Paula… is it possible to relate completely to Ricardo’s story and it be something other than gifted. I “feel” gifted, but I had an IQ test last year (I am 45, almost 46) and it was slightly below the minimum of the gifted cut-off… I know the IQ test isn’t everything, but for me it is. Especially since my son tested in the gifted range. With all due respect to his father, I don’t feel like it comes from his side.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I can imagine that people might relate to some of Ricardo’s story without being gifted but like you said, an IQ test is only one measure. There can be many reasons people don’t score well on a test. So it would be important to look at the list of traits to get a more wholistic assessment! Also, having a gifted child can be a clue, too. Thanks, catbadel.

      1. catbadel Avatar

        Thank you Paula. I relate to a lot of the “gifted lists”. I also read Gifted Adult and it is me all over. Yes, having a gifted child is a pretty strong clue 😉

        1. treeguy1954 Avatar

          My own experience, I am 42 and took just a few online IQ tests. Adult stress and life experiences can make a person’s mind a little foggy and I know if I practiced some parts of the tests I would do much better. Younger test takers have the advantage of having all the information fresh in their minds and having less of the adult distractions from life. (just from my perspective)

          1. catbadel Avatar

            I also think that the fact that the test administer was a student psychologist, probably had something to do with it. My processing speed was average but 30-40 points lower than my other scores. Some of my scores were as high as 98th percentile… whilst I don’t think I am 2e, it is certainly possible. I know I suffer a lot from perfectionism and anxiety and although this was mentioned in the report, it was not considered a factor in causing the lower score – well to some degree. The psychologist didn’t even consider 2e as a possibility.

            I agree though, that adult distractions can make a huge difference in how clearly we think these days in comparison to when we were kids. I wish I was tested at 8/9!

  15. Maria Gomez Grau Avatar
    Maria Gomez Grau

    I think the same.. identic feelings tharlt Ricardo. It seem that he speak for me.. I am Maria from Spain..

    1. Someti Avatar

      Nice to know other people from Spain are hanging around 🙂

      Thanks Ricardo and Paula for the words shared through this post. I am glad to have found this blog

  16. carolzy Avatar

    Abundance of empathy
    I love how you presented this, Paula! It can take me over and roll me down the hill!

  17. Chocolate Avatar

    “Afraid of your own brain” – so true.
    However I’m confused by my own deep feelings – I can’t connect with people’s emotion and my own. I just don’t know how to manage them, it’s too stimulating perhaps. So I often block out my feeling box and people think I am heartless. While I can deeply feel the intense emotions on my passions, beauty, justice, animals, earth and people in general, it seems like I cannot do so with people whom I close with. I can be full of emotion at a time and can be zero emotion in the next second. I don’t even know what am I anymore.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It can be confusing. The RFM is extremely complex. And the way we were raised in our families of origin is always a factor. Sometimes we shut down our emotions because otherwise we’d be overwhelmed with them. Not sure that that’s what you’re doing, Chocolate, but maybe?

  18. Antarmukhi Avatar

    Thank you Ricardo for sharing your world with us and Paula for lovely words after.
    I deeply resonate with Ricardo’s fear of his brain. It seems like it has a life of its own. Sometimes it responds and puts together information in ways that stun parts of me. I am not even sure I was consciously thinking about it when it appears as a whole in from the of me!
    It’s only in the recent times that I have put together my sense of my disembodied brain with my emotions and body. Now I feel I can listen to what it has to say. The innate joy I feel as I see a sunrise or a sunset, a beautiful sky, or a young child delighted in her play or a smile shared with a stranger. Or the deep pain in someone’s eyes, a heavy heart in a loved one, I am learning it’s not mine, not mine to fix or own. I am learning to bear witness and offer my presence. It’s tough at times and i still struggle in knowing what’s mine and what is being sensed. And I learning to build a relationship with my brain. Most importantly I am learning to see it as a part of me, the whole me.
    Thank you once again Ricardo for your heartfelt words, it’s heartening to know there are others who see the world similarly. There’s a ‘we’ for all of us too.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Beautiful, Antarmukhi. Thank you.

  19. Ricardo Avatar

    Thank you Paula. It was my pleasure to share my thoughts and my feelings with someone that can understand so profoundly the ways that some minds work. Your generosity and kindness are wonderful and rare. Your work has being tremendous useful to the understanding of my self and I’m grateful to have find you.
    And thank you to all the comments.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I think you’ll see, Ricardo, that my blog readers appreciate and relate to what you’ve said here. Thanks for letting me use your words!

  20. cathytea Avatar

    I think it would be wonderful to share consentual emails. A sort of Dear Abby for the mind! I got so much out of the specificity of this post and felt as if it had been addressed to me! Thank you, Ricardo and Paula!

    1. ellabirt Avatar

      I, too, enjoyed this format!

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, cathytea. Dear Abby…hm…

    3. Ricardo serrado Avatar
      Ricardo serrado

      Thank you Cathy tea!!!

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