Gifted and Resilient — When You Grow Up With Abuse or Neglect

photo courtesy of Ian Stauffer, Unsplash

As a psychotherapist, I know trauma.

Every day I counsel dear rainforest-minded (RFM) souls who were seriously traumatized by their parents.  What is remarkable is that I have found, consistently, that they have not become abusive as a result. They have clearly been impacted deeply. And yet, they have somehow managed, even with unspeakable pain, to become compassionate, loving, sensitive humans. Working hard to prevent the legacy of abuse from being passed on to the next generation.

How is that possible?

Here is my theory.

I think it is the nature of the RFM to be deeply resilient. Perhaps RFMs are old souls. Empaths. Shamans. Priestesses. Healers. I believe there is a powerful central core of Light and Love that remains untouched. That can not be broken. No matter what. A connection to something greater. To the Mystery. To Spirit. Many of my clients say that they were aware at very young ages that their parents were disturbed. They often became the protectors of their siblings and handled household responsibilities early. Taking care of others, being extremely perceptive and highly sensitive, intuitive, and spiritual. Out-thinking  and overthinking to save themselves and their families.

Sound familiar?

But still, my clients are struggling. You, too?

Excessive anxiety/fears, depression, self-hatred, self-doubts, unhealthy/abusive relationships with partners and friends, unstable career paths, physical illnesses, self-criticism, substance abuse, poverty. These are just some of the results of emotional, verbal, physical, sexual abuse and neglect. The effects of childhood trauma.

Not only that. Because you have a rainforest mind, you may be grappling with this : “If you’re so smart, why can’t you get over it, why aren’t you better by now???  You seem to be doing fine so it must not have been that bad.” You may believe that you should have figured this out already. After all, you are a super fast learner when it comes to many things.

But healing from trauma/abuse is a long, winding road. It takes courage and persistence. When you grow up unsafe in your own home, just living can be a scary, even terrifying, proposition. To survive, you developed beliefs, behaviors, and coping strategies. These beliefs, behaviors, and strategies are etched deep within your brain/ body/ psyche. They served you well by protecting you then. But many of them are no longer helpful.

So what do you do now?

Read this collection of posts. They are an overview of how and why therapy works. You will feel less alone and find some good resources, including The School of Life. In other words, find a good therapist!*

If you can’t afford therapy at this time or if you need to take some steps on your own, here are some ideas. You can also do these things even if you do find a therapist!:

~ Read Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving: A Guide and Map for Recovering from Childhood Trauma by Pete Walker for a good description of the effects of abuse and for some self-help tools. As in most books, not everything will apply or will be right for you. Just accept the parts that resonate. 

~ Don’t skimp on self-care. Chances are, you are better at taking care of everyone else. Make a list of nourishing,  self-soothing, and relaxing activities and give yourself permission to do them. Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments. Look into Kristin Neff’s self-compassion.

~ Practice setting boundaries. Start with easy people and situations, if this is particularly hard, which it may be if it was dangerous in your family to express your needs. Learn to say no. And in some cases, hell no.

~ Look online for self-help resources. Try your.holistic.psychologist on Instagram.

~ Experiment with yoga, meditation, acupuncture, energy medicine, time in nature, journaling, or bodywork. Hug your puppy, your parakeet, or your kitty.

~ Nurture your sense of humor.

~ Listen to inspiring music. Try Defying Gravity.

~ Go to an uplifting film. Here’s one: Blinded by the Light 

~ And, most importantly, visualize, feel, and breathe into your connection to the Mystery. To the Spiritual. To your Intuition. To the Love that is all around you.

To your radiant, powerful, central core of Light and Love.


To my old souls, empaths, shamans, priestesses, and healers, I mean, my bloggEEs: Sending you much love. Let us know how you are coping with and healing from the challenges in your families of origin. What resources have you found that have been helpful?

Thank you to the clients who shared some of these resources with me. And, of course, to all of you for your courage.

(Note: I’m not saying that there are no gifted folks who become abusers. Surely, we know there are. It’s just that in my experience, the humans who are the RFM variety of gifted, don’t.)

(*Another note: It’s best to find a therapist you can work with in person. This post might help you find someone. That said, there are therapists who work online. I can only see therapy clients in Oregon because of the restrictions on my license. The therapists at The School of Life in the UK work internationally as does Maggie Brown in New Zealand. I do see clients worldwide but just for short term consultations more focused on giftedness topics such as those described on the blog and in my books.)

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.

45 responses to “Gifted and Resilient — When You Grow Up With Abuse or Neglect”

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  1. It’s Time We Talked About Trauma, Resilience, Intuition, And Spirituality | Your Rainforest Mind

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  3. Anna Avatar

    Dear Paula, thank you for this post. I was wondering – if a rain-forestminded person develop cPTSD due to childhood trauma, do you think this person will be better at coping with the cPTSD symtoms (and hopefully recover) than a non-gifted person? I have read something about “post-traumatic growth – PTG” and I wonder if a rainforestmind/gifted person would be more likely to experience PTG than a non-gifted person? Do you have any clue about this?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I don’t have any research on this, Anna. I suspect that many people will experience PTG if they have a good therapist and are willing to do the deep work and take the time. That said, I’ve worked with RFMs with severe childhood abuse and they did develop good coping strategies and resilience and over time healing/recovery for sure. I just don’t know about comparing them to nonRFMs. Maybe RFMs are more able and willing to do the deep grief/recovery work that is required to heal from family abuse/trauma.

  4. madameposta Avatar

    Hello, i am glad to read this article. I want to add some things and ask one question. (My mother tongue is not English, i come from Belgium, Europe.) As far as i know: rainforest-minded persons have at least one parent that is also wired that way (or is gifted too, if you want to use that term.) And than i don’t understand what you notice in your work, though i don’t doubt at all the truth of your observations, and luckily they are that way: that RFM’s who were “abused” (neglected, traumatised, …) as a child, don’t pass that abuse. So this is my question: how is this possible, that the also RFM parents in the generation(s) before, DID pass on the abuse? I believe you don’t see them in your practice, where the abuse is passed on. Maybe i am even one of them, though aware of it. I hope i make myself clear. I am one of those persons that didn’t experience home as a child as a good place to be. I became a parent myself, seven years ago, and i had so much stress as a new mother, that i wasn’t able to give my child what she needed, mostly emotional but also the normally daycare. If you actually don’t experienced what real love is, it is hard to give that to another person. That even led to physical “abuse”, i hurt my daughter sometimes, and it still occurs once in a while, though i became healthier and stronger the last years ans learned so much. It is a bit more complicated of course and i want to keep it short, but i believe i did pass some unhealthy patterns. The only difference i see (with my parents), is that i am totally aware of it and don’t ignore it, have many regrets, and that my daughter and i can talk about it afterwards and reconnect in a respectful way, after i became mad again and did something stupid. Though i keep having thoughts on letting a foster family take care for her. This must be so exhausting for her, to have a mother like this, and what she experienced in her baby years, i cannot change anymore, it was almost complete panic of me and we had not that much support from around us. For me, this stays so exhausting too sometimes, it demands most of my focus and energy, just to have a loving relationship with my child and in the meantime reinventing my own life after giving birth, divorce (4 years ago) and stopping my job (3 years ago). Oh, and moving houses more than once, too. I actually don’t “want” to post this on a saturday evening as the umpteenth time i have to process / recover from daily life in my own way, i only want to go out there and live that magical life again, feel love and friendship naturally, go on a big adventure before i die.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for these thoughts, madameposta. I’m not sure I can answer your question well. Yes, there is often a parent or another family member who has giftedness. Perhaps I need to modify my theory to say that RFMs who choose therapy, or who choose introspection and self-examination, are the ones who do not become abusers. Certainly, this is the population I see so this is the group I know better. Better than the more general population of gifted folks. It’s actually a pretty small sample, though. For you, I’m not saying that these folks are perfect parents. Everyone makes mistakes. Perhaps the key for you and your daughter is that you’re willing to examine your behaviors and to make amends for them. A parent who apologizes for mistakes provides a healing experience for their child and themselves. Like you’ve said, in these short comments, we can’t cover the topic as deeply as needed. But perhaps, this has given us all something to contemplate. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Andy Avatar

    Hi Paula,

    Its very true, I had very bad abused childhood, I used to be a rebellious child even after I grew I was abused and tortured, etc. But now the situation is totally changed I don’t see those situations and if so I try to avoid. I want to know myself to be free of thoughts, worries and free bird to be natural. I cant stand any wrong things. I get angry very fast, but immediately carry on. Please need to know about myself , why I think I am a healer, why I do what my family never did? Why cant I help people , cant see their pain, it hurts me. Please Paula help me out I am from India. I really appreciate your posts and its very informative.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It sounds like you’re discovering that you have a rainforest mind, Andy. You may be highly sensitive and empathetic. Keep reading! You’ll find more details in my books. You might be able to get them in India through Amazon. Or maybe your library might order them for you.

  6. Anna Avatar

    Oh, I want to recommend another free therapy resource! I love Youper the CBT chatbot (, because it can’t freak out when you tell it your freakiest thoughts! Very sci-fi, very good at putting out small fires.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Anna!

  7. Lindsey Barr Avatar
    Lindsey Barr

    Hi Paula, I was wondering if you’ve ever done a post about Rainforest Minds and escapism. Recently I’ve discovered that because of the trauma I’ve experienced in my life I have coped for years by disappearing into books or fantasies of becoming a published author. If something is hard or stressful for me, I tend to avoid it or distract myself from it using these methods. If you had some tips on how to be more present or to weather the mundaneness of life and still find joy I’d love to learn more. Thanks!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Here’s one post that might address some of what you’re asking:

  8. Nimue Brown Avatar
    Nimue Brown

    Really glad to see a challenge to that unhelpful story that victims become abusers… It’s not inevitable. Thank you for saying it.

  9. skinnyhobbit Avatar

    People with personality disorders are perfectly capable of being compassionate and good people DESPITE the horrific abuse which resulted in our personality disorder.

    You might want to read

  10. skinnyhobbit Avatar

    I take issue with the framing of “personality disordered” as inherently abusive. I’ve avoidant personality disorder and am not a bully but strive to empathise and to be compassionate. The stigma against personality disorders by mental health clinicians is harmful.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      My intention was not to imply that someone with a personality disorder was abusive but I can see how you might see it that way. I’ve been thinking about that part of the post ever since I wrote it and am now thinking I’ll reword that sentence to say more of what I mean. Thanks for mentioning this, skinnyhobbit.

  11. Sarah Avatar

    Paula, thank you for this post. Can’t tell you how much I appreciate knowing that I wasn’t the only one trying to use “outthinking” to survive and to protect our animals and my older siblings. Healing from C-PTSD has been possible for me with the help of a wonderful SE/IFS therapist. Energetically releasing trauma has allowed me to make space to reclaim who I have always been. I am experiencing real joy and even the mystical as a result of what has been cleared. It has been an arduous journey but so, so worth it. Thank you for the kindness, gentility, validation and encouragement you display when you meet each of us exactly where we are. Your blog is a balm and a catalyst. I am so grateful.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Those forms of therapy are powerful. Just so readers can look for therapists who provide them: SE is somatic experiencing and IFS is internal family systems therapy. Thank you for commenting, Sarah, and for giving others hope!

  12. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

    I love that you have described that part of my self that I’ve always taken for granted, and haven’t really acknowledged or been aware of until this past year (I’m 58!!). The ‘CONNECTION TO SOMETHING GREATER’. My absolute earliest memories are of feelings of fear and dread of my mother. And yet one of my first sentences I ever uttered was, ‘I want to help’! (This according to what my mom wrote in my baby album.) Throughout my childhood, I always felt this urge to be helpful. As a big sister, I guess this role comes naturally – I have a younger sister. But it always extended outward, no matter where I was, whether in school, on the playground, or at home. I have such a sensitivity, an empathy for others’ suffering. I always wanted to rescue the kid who was being made fun of. I took care of injured animals. But at the same time, being myself an injured soul. We know about suffering.

    I truly believe this connection to something greater has continually saved me throughout my life. I was able to withstand losing my father through parental divorce at age 11, and withstand the extremely lonely road through my teen years, and make it to adulthood. It was like an inner knowing that all I was struggling with was on a human level, that there was/is another reality behind it all. It gave me the ability to take on a spiritual, but also detached, perspective on my troubled human life. In fact that is one way I coped with the family decimation, by joining an east Indian cult (Divine Light Mission) when I was in junior high school.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Beth. Sensitivity, empathy, intuition, spirituality. Sounds like they’ve all contributed to your well-being in this life!

    2. River Aaland Avatar
      River Aaland

      This is beautiful and I resonate with a lot of what you say here. <3

  13. catbadel Avatar

    Ah! You can’t edit! Raising* my intense child 😉

  14. catbadel Avatar

    Oh and I’m also seeking therapy – mostly about being a parent and raising my intense child 😊

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      The Drama of the Gifted Child and other books by Alice Miller are excellent descriptions of childhood trauma. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with renovatio06 about when to read them. But, they are definitely intense and it’s good to know that they may be overwhelming. It’s good to be sensitive to how much you can handle with any of this material. And, yes, having a guide, a support person, a therapist, is ideal. Thanks catbadel and renovatio06.

  15. catbadel Avatar

    You speak to me, Paula. This blog is definitely me ❤️

    I want to read the book Dramas of the Gifted Child (I think that’s what it is called).

    1. renovatio06 Avatar

      A small warning if I may, catbadel: I read about some 10 years ago as a first choice when entering this more intensified “soul search” and meaning to track the exact origins of my own traumas. It had an intially devastating effect that subsided over time. I’d humbly like to suggest to make sure you found a therapist BEFORE reading that book (from my experience, not meaning to appropriate Paula’s blog)

  16. renovatio06 Avatar

    Naturally… this one had me misty to say the least, Paula. Thank you for summing up the particulars for RFMs who had to survive trauma and abuse (complex as well as repeated shock trauma in my case and both happening at infant stages and throughout early and later childhood right into adolescence; I hauled a** out of that environment the first chance I got…)

    At times, when things got particularly dark or at the least bleak, I’ve often wondered about that “light at the core” and how it is that I haven’t completely shut off from feeling ANY emotion (like e.g. perpetuating and ramping up the dissociation that had to serve us at times when the overwhelm of abuse would have emotionally or literally killed us…). So, as someone said you’re right on the money with that, although I’d rather call that light at the core our natural sentience, which I believe every or most every human being to be “equipped” with. And I guess with said sentience conscience follows right in its foot steps and I’d gather that there might be a potential answer as to why abused RFMs rarely become abusers themselves (although we could reason that abuse is a part of the learning process and where said abuse is ever so often directed at OURSELVES for lack of having experienced a nourishing, nurturing, supporting environment – these remarks should all carry “trigger warning” labels, I have to fill in).

    Anyways – thank you for this blog entry and blog at large, which helps me greatly to feel SEEN and VALIDATED (which I believe to be key experiences to set one on a path to healing). Thanks to you and everyone above for the list of reads and other resources to turn to and employ. And thanks for helping me understand that I indeed had best found me a compassionate and ideally personally available therapist whom I can work with and who displays the degree of compassion and understanding you kindly provide for us readers and blogees and visitors here! Yes, like s.o. above said: You’re a lifeline! Thank from the bottom of my heart!

    (P.S. Some of my life savers include[d] quiet and personal time at serene places outdoors, one or the other compassionate fellow soujourner I could confide in, then later giving myself permission to listen to my intuition and overall perception of somatic as well as emotional responses and giving them their due credit for guiding me away from perpetuating learned abuse towards self-care and self-compassion. I should include stories and particularly movies about other survivors, either explicit or insinuated, which resonated deeply with me and initially helped me become aware of that “light at the core”, which had apparently remained unbroken and thus helped me see it as a resource to work with. Thanks to all again!)

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for sharing your perspective, renovatio06. Early trauma would be a contributing factor, maybe the main factor, in your struggles today.

  17. nzgingin Avatar

    Hi Paula at 70 I am suddenly a full time caregiver to my partner who had a major stroke and is immobile and heavy. Can’t wait for the book “how to say f****no” as boundary setting both with him and care givers is very difficult for me and I would like to have a long and happy life!!! Thanks for your wonderful insights – you are a true lifeline and constantly bring me new perspectives. Virginia

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Glad to have you here, Virginia! Setting healthy boundaries benefits everyone, whether they know it or not!

  18. M. J. Cuthbertson Avatar
    M. J. Cuthbertson

    What’s the best process to use to quickly assess the professional I’m talking to and I will make a good working fit? What are specific qualities to look for and questions to ask? I’ve observed people saying they know about giftedness and learning disorders is quite a bit different from people whom truly know about the topics. What can I do to determine this efficiently without wasting time for myself or the other person?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      First, I’d say trust your intuition. Then, see how they respond when you talk about being gifted. See if they’ve been in therapy themselves. Ask them how they would define giftedness. What have they read about it? Show them this post and discuss it: Find some other ideas here:

      1. Cecile Avatar

        From my experience, what has not worked with my RFM:

        therapists who just listen and don’t engage at all,
        therapists who won’t let me send emails to them between session (not expecting responses, just a channel of communication)

        therapists who won’t explain – just want me to take at face value
        therapists who don’t welcome and respect my own researching and what i bring to the session
        therapists who won’t accept to being challenged, and discussing the differing views

        Curious and engaged
        therapists who aren’t curious about the world and different things
        therapists who won’t comment on the world or stand up to anything

        All in all, i wanted to be a respected partner in my healing and not to be taken as a fool or weekly payer without agency.

        You can reverse a list of things to check for. Hopefully that helps. (it’s not like i have seen dozens of therapists, these traits were collected from interacting with 2 individuals)

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Great list, Cecile. thank you.

        2. renovatio06 Avatar

          Story of my (therapeutic) life, Cecile! Thx for sharing these experiences and as far as I’m concerned for pointing out that, which should be obvious: To be respected by the therapist as an individual who had their own experiences – which might differ from the mainstream and again for reasons that should be obvious.

          I’ve come to DEMAND respect now with just about everyone. If they can’t give me that we don’t have any further common ground to work from. Sounds harsh and probably is… but – simply a result from too much FURTHER abuse in later years (and from having listened to all kinds of things earlier, which may have come from a good place, but were … simply inconclusive, sloppy, anything BUT mindful etc., the list goes on). And the latter… I think those of us who were unfortunate enough to have to stomach and endure it can agree on that… the latter, i.e. further abuse, is a complete no-no! Thank you for collecting these IMHO very important points.

        3. renovatio06 Avatar

          P.P.S. Apps with looped nature sounds and meditation music to help induce sleep. The former – the looped sounds – don’t require an internet connection and thus you don’t have to have bluetooth and/or router activated should you be sensitive to the frequencies from those signals.

  19. Fred B Avatar
    Fred B

    Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.

  20. ewabs2 Avatar

    once again right on the money. I have read so many recommendations on the pete walker book it is scary but cant get it in my country for a reasonable price.

    But Jonice Webb running on empty overcome your childhood emotional neglect, dr Karyl McBride will I ever be good enough healing the daughters of narcistic mothers. Bessel van der Kolk the body keeps the score.
    Have helped me see and somewhat fix the problem.
    Being a rainforest I know real therapy is better, but reading feels saver and knowing what I need help with makes it easier to discus and get help.

    1. Cecile Avatar

      where are you based? can send to you. I have the EXACT same list of best offs that helped me on my way: Pete Walker, Jonice Webb, Bessel van der Kolk. Lundy Bancroft also, very important “Why does he do that”, especially while still in it or soon after.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Thank you, Cecile.

      2. ewabs2 Avatar

        thanks for the offer Cecile. yesterday I decided to splurge on amazon and get it anyway. part of my trauma, I am not worth the 30 dollar for a good book. so buying is a step forward.

        1. Cecile Avatar

          Glad to hear! Take good care of yourself. Your healing and finding more fulfilling ways is certainly worth $30. Enjoy Pete Walker’s book once you receive it.

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for the additional book recommendations, ewabs2.

  21. Nicole Avatar

    Paula, thank you so very much for this important post. I experienced every kind of abuse you listed in childhood, and that leaked over into abusive relationships In my teens that left me feeling ashamed, stupid, and so bereft of self esteem that I even skipped going to college after high school, which is my biggest life regret (although I’m working on my degree now!)
    However, like you stated, I am totally different toward my children than my mother was toward me—it’s as if going through the awful stuff made me realize at a very young age that, when my time came to be a parent, I would be the opposite of abusive. My children can come talk to me anytime about anything and they are all thriving in gifted programs in school. They have confidence and know they are loved.
    Thank you for acknowledging this paradox with RFM souls who experienced, yet survived, abuse.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Nicole. And it’s never too late to get that degree!

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