How Can You Tell If You Or Someone You Know Is A Gifted Adult?

photo courtesy of Ava Sol, Unsplash

Gifted kids can be hard to identify. There is a lot of controversy around what giftedness looks like in children. It is even harder to identify giftedness in adults. I’ve worked with gifted adults in my therapy practice for 20+ years. I’ve noticed some common traits.

So. If you’d like to know if you or someone you know is gifted, listen for these types of statements:

“I started writing a blog post about an herb that has now become 80 pages with no end in sight. The writing is about–everything. It’s all connected!”

“…friends and family don’t know what to do with me because I’m always moving onto the next thing. I’ve been told I’m competitive or make people feel bad by my insatiable drive to learn and grow…”

“It’s hard growing up in a family when you experience the world in a radically different way, are criticized for your ‘failures’ that aren’t actually failures and bullied for being ‘too sensitive’ and ‘too serious’…”

“Oh, and the smells, scents, and sounds that other people are not bothered by–me, all the way. I get migraines from those things. I cannot filter them out the way other people seem to.”

“I cannot tell you how often I was scolded for overthinking, and told to ‘stop worrying’ during my various forays into therapy. Oh the self-flagellation!”

“…I have trouble picking one thing, so I currently have a job that allows me the mental space to pursue what I really want to be doing with my mental energies…I’m on career path #4 in less than 20 years and I do part-time paid projects when I have the energy.”

“I was told that my expectations were too high and that I should lower my standards. I shouldn’t be so idealistic. I should ignore human suffering and stop rescuing animals and plants. I’m told I’m over-reacting to the climate crisis.”

“Maybe what I consider small talk isn’t considered small talk by everyone. I don’t want to bore people with ideas they don’t want to engage in but it’s hard to numb myself so often…There is the occasional magic where you realize someone you’ve known for a long time has a really interesting or weird interest, hitherto unknown, which can make for a fascinating hour or so.” 

“Am I crazy or is this a severe case of empathy? Intuition run wild? How do I know what I know?” 

“I crave intellectual stimulation. When I can’t get it, I enjoy amusing myself with translating conversations into one of the several languages that I know. I also love having a song running in my head (from memory, not with headphones) while visualizing the fingering for violin/cello/piano as if I were playing one of the lines. I love replicating the actual fingering in my pocket, just gently tapping, and walking down the street and feeling like I am playing right then and there with the big wave of music flowing through me, while no one around knows.”

“Beauty. Beauty is just so darned overwhelming. I cry at beauty.”

“I never thought I was gifted because I never tested well. I would overthink the questions or come up with too many possibilities within the questions. I never saw the point of certain subjects in school because they were in isolation of the greater world…I’ve been told that I’m gifted but I’m still not sure.”

“I’ve been searching for years for a spiritual community. I find peace, compassion, and guidance in Nature.”

“My whole life, I literally thought something was wrong with me because I’m not like everyone else around me and it’s been a very lonely road.” 

These are the types of statements I hear over and over from my gifted clients. They may be high achievers in an academic field. They may have a long list of accomplishments. They may be rich and famous. Or they may be none of these things.

But if you are writing an 80 page blog post on an herb, if you are on your 4th career path in 20 years, if beauty makes you cry, if you must fight injustice, if you out-think the test questions, if you are driven to learn and grow, if your intuition runs wild, and if you feel deeply connected to the universe and everything, well, then, odds are, it is highly likely, it is totally possible, that you, yes, you, are a gifted adult. That you have a rainforest mind.

(Note: And now that you are almost kind of absolutely sure that you are gifted, my books will tell you what to do next so that you can do what you are here on the planet to do. No pressure. Just sayin.’)


To my bloggEEs: What have you said that might be a clue that you, too, are gifted? Thank you to the bloggEEs who provided these (edited) examples.

Here is a short recent video of me interviewed by Tina Harlow if you are wondering what I sound like and look like and why you should buy my books! And here is a recent review of my first book from Kirkus Reviews. And, by the way, I’d love a review from YOU, too! (on Amazon) As always, thank you for being here. Big love to you.

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.

26 responses to “How Can You Tell If You Or Someone You Know Is A Gifted Adult?”

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  1. May Avatar

    Obviously your blog is a whole answer for my life puzzle, paula. I had been misperceived as autistic and dumb when I was younger. It was simply I didn’t possess any knowledge about this world thus made me so clueless to why should we go to school, and many other why(s) and how(s). And no one told me anything about people, about social settings so I had a hard time to understand- I was that someone who had always been laughed at for my cluelessness. However, now I’ve changed. to a whole lot different being, as I learned to observe mannerism and gained more experience, I think I understand them more than themselves 🙂 . Although those experiences were not great, but I really do appreciate them to be part of my life. Thanks to them, I am now a proud psychology and philosophy nerd.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, May. I saw another comment that was similar to this one so figured you’d updated your comment so I cut that one. I’m so happy to hear how my blog has helped you. Glad you are proud of who you are!!

  2. cheriewhite Avatar

    I love this post, Paula. I don’t know if I’m what you’d call gifted, but an awful lot of the post does describe me. I was horribly bullying for six long years in school for being different and I blog and publish books with themes of bullying. I also blog about bullying to share life lessons I’ve learned from it. I also advocate for bullied people.

    My husband gets irritated with me because I love to write and to read about human nature, psychology, behavior, body language- I just love to learn.

    And the best part is that I love what I do.

    Thank you so much for posting this article!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Welcome, cherie. Glad to have you here!!

      1. cheriewhite Avatar

        Glad to be here, Paula!

  3.  Avatar

    A comment I made on a FB group pretty much sums up how horrific life as a gifted person can be, when you don’t want to own up to it… “It just feels so regretful how I picture my desire to “fit in”. I was a child dropped from space, but I landed just outside the bubble of everyone else on the playground, assumed it was a mistake and I was supposed to land inside, and spent my life desperately clawing at its walls from every angle trying to get in.” Now I spend what remains of my life trying to accept I do not belong in their bubble, that there is one that I DO belong in… and it is worth seeking out.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sounds like you belong right here! 🙂

  4. treeguy1954 Avatar

    With past experiences, I would say travel with a person in a vehicle for a week and you will get to know them. I know how my brain works, so I am not concentrating on my self and trying to learn about myself(it frees up mental capacity when you are in that place.) I traveled for business and my travel partner was highly intelligent but over looked me as a talking human being. I felt bad but had to say, I have important stuff to say and I want you to listen to me. I could tell by listening and when given the chance to speak, the person didn’t really ever listen to me. The person had such a hyper active brain, they were always thinking of what they wanted to say and really didn’t care what I said. You will learn the most from the people around you and how they treat you. To respect others opinions and to show that same respect, is a very purposeful action and if you show it and others give it back to you, it is not an accident and you can call that a meaningful conversation or relationship.

    Some people are hard to reach. Be calm, respectful and be able to calmly express your needs and wants. My business partner and vehicle partner was 65 years old. Maybe other people didn’t know how to express there opinion or what ever but if that person never met a rainforest mind person before, you can’t blame them or yourself. I expressed my needs – one or two things that needed to change or I was done doing business. The person was open to my opinions and I was open to help. I admit it wasn’t fair, I said I quit and I was not going to work with you unless something changes.

    The person was set in their ways and I was not wanting to force them to change. I just told them, you need to change for the better or I quit and you have to hire another employee/partner that will accept your way of doing business.

    Over all, if you say nothing, nothing will change or get better.

  5. renovatio06 Avatar

    Paula, I can sense the love in everything you do and write, and gee, it’s such a wonderful thing to see and feel and how I wished this was an experience that happened more frequently in real life as well! For what it’s worth, thank you so much for this blog, your writing and your work in general!

  6. Calluna Avatar

    Instead of looking for gifted verbalisations, what about non-verbal clues? What would those look like? Looking uninterested in conversations about TV, but staring intently at ants? Sitting in chairs backwards or sideways? Wandering off to quiet corners?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ha! Great question, Calluna. Maybe others will chime in. 🙂

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Oh, here’s one, Calluna. Always carrying a book (or Kindle) everywhere. Reading while in line at the restaurant.

    2. Someti Avatar

      That’s actually a very tricky question that *I would also like to know myself!!* I have no idea how to answer it, but perhaps there are clues, sometimes. I think it is hard to tell because there is not just white and black in the World… there are always “in-betweens”. So there might me signs or certain traits that relate very well with our personalities. But not always. And some signs may be misleading, or… there may be signs that are not correctly interpreted.

      I’ve been thinking about particular non-verbal clues that I may show signs of, occasionally, myself. And I do not quite know, actually! Maybe (and only maybe) there is some kind of “childish” thing around: that kind of “being interested in a random particular issue” (such as children which are sometimes randomly in particular aspects that they have just discovered)… but in a very deep sense.
      Such as being suddenly interested in learning how to correctly pronounce the Xhosa language, or being deeply interested on how to covariantly-derivate a 4th-rank tensor of a particular mathematical manifold. Or even a more exotic topic and wildly diverse.

      I do not know, actually. Maybe all this I’ve written is wrong 🤔

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Oh, the doubt and vastness of the rainforest mind, Someti! It could be that “being deeply interested on how to covariantly-derivate a 4th-rank tensor of a particular mathematical manifold” is a fairly exotic topic to many of us!! It could be a clue… 🙂

  7. ewabs2 Avatar

    as a little kid I was bullied really badly at school, ( as in kicked and hit and such) the teacher did the in those days very normal sugestion.”you should hit them back” little 6 year old me respons. “Don’t you know how much that hurts? I don’t want to hurt them I just want them to leave me alone.”
    pretty sure that gave the teacher a short cirquet in his brain.
    after that the teachers never helped me again. the other kids kept bullying me. and I was the weird one.
    when I left elementry school( 12 years) the teachers told my mom, she is smart enough but lazy and because of that she will never be anything.

    que me being a pretty succesful dr for over 20 years by now. Oepsie.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ha! You proved them wrong, ewabs2! Yeah! 🙂

  8. Marcia Hines-Colvin Avatar
    Marcia Hines-Colvin

    It is like a checklist! Thank you.

  9. bethplanetbethcom Avatar

    Here’s one possible answer — know an Intense Loner?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Not sure what you mean, Beth. Sorry! Can you explain?

  10. Nicole Avatar

    One of the hardest aspects of being a rainforest mind, at least for me, is that I often perceived that family members and friends thought that I was unintelligent or just “dumb” because I was always in my head, wrapped up in my own thoughts and ideas while I quietly observed the behaviors and mannerisms of those very same people. I was even called “backwards” once by a friend’s father when I was a teen. Backwards?! Meanwhile I excelled at at all subjects (except for math) in school and had all these ideas for writing short stories and an astounding capacity for empathy…sigh.
    To this day, I despise small talk, especially when my aloofness is grossly mistaken for being “backwards”!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Some gifted kids end up in special education classes in school because people misinterpret their gifted behaviors. Thank you for sharing your story, Nicole.

      1. V. Richmond Avatar
        V. Richmond

        I am one of those kids who was put into special education classes. My annual basic test scores came back two to three grade levels higher than the grade I was in…the school faculty was embarrassed.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Thank you for sharing, V. Richmond.

  11. kwalters73 Avatar

    Once again, nearly all these quotes could have been written by me!

  12. dmstauber Avatar

    I always thought of myself as a “smart kid” but didn’t connect that to giftedness, to what I was like as an adult, or to how I always felt different. I got a clue when my niece was obviously highly gifted and I started researching gifted children to help my sister learn about it–and recognized myself. Curiously, it was a list of things that are difficult for gifted children that first caught my eye. Then I started asking my mom and found out some things about my childhood that she had never told me.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      People often discover that they’re gifted after seeing it in a child that they’re close to. Good to hear from you dmstauber!