Gifted In Spain — How Are Rainforest Minds Similar And Different Across Cultures? #2

photo courtesy of mubariz mehdizadeh, Unsplash

Meet Manuel. He is 29. Living in Spain.

“… I have always struggled with authority, peers, and almost everything because I think out of the box. I am told constantly that I am too intense and too focused in my interests, which I have a wide range of them, which is quite frustrating for me and others because I don’t know how to handle it. I’m told that I’m too idealistic (as if it was something bad), which I take always as a compliment…I am a constant seeker of beauty, harmony, justice, equality and knowledge, which leads me to be very spiritual because I know that my standards are not possible in this broken world. I have to cope with anxiety everyday because of noises, smells, colors, a sudden scent that brings deep feelings to my mind, a poor person in the street, the environment, politics, lies, books I’d like to read, things I’d love to do…I want to be a saint, a philosopher, an artist, an advocate for the most unfortunate people, a scientist, a writer, and more things.”

Manuel told me he did not think he was gifted. And yet, here he is describing his multipotentiality, idealism, creativity, intensity, intrinsic perfectionism, spirituality, highest standards, and sensitivities. His desire to help others. His struggles with peers. 

“Since I was a kid I had a strong sensibility for beauty, staring at the sunset and crying out loud how beautiful the snow was…People often tell me I’m overwhelming, that I talk too much and that I don’t stick to the conversation. I hate small-talk, makes me feel depressed…” 

Sensitive to beauty at a young age. Overwhelming to others. Aversion to small-talk. What do you think? Does Manuel have a rainforest mind? Not sure? What about this:

“..I need nature… I need and crave for alone time…I made it to college, but I drop out almost when I was about to finish my degree in Chinese and Japanese Philology, doing very good in Chinese even though I barely attended classes ( I was the third top student and I was told by teachers that I was very good but I was lazy)…”

And finally:

“…I have felt sometimes connected to the world, like I was one with everything, it was amazing and painful at the same time…”

Welcome to the rainforest mind clan, Manuel. 


To my bloggEEs: Can you relate to what Manuel (not his real name) is saying? Let him know in the comments. I’m thinking of writing more specifically about those of you around the world to see what we all have in common and what might be different. If you’d like to be profiled on my blog, and if you live outside N. America, send me an email via my About page and tell me about yourself and your location. And thank you all, as always, for your love of beauty, your care for the less fortunate, and your connection to everything. And thank you, Manuel, for sharing your story.

(Note: Of course, if you live in N. America, you can also write to me (!), I am just looking to learn more about other cultures for future blog posts!)

(Another note: Find the first article specifically on cross-cultural adults, Gifted In Portugal, here.

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.

41 responses to “Gifted In Spain — How Are Rainforest Minds Similar And Different Across Cultures? #2”

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  4. Mar Avatar

    Good afternoon, I am another Spanish rain forest mind. Personally, what has cost me the most has been accepting my intensity together with my great sensitivity. Although I have used it as a super power to study, draw opposition, be in shape … I find it a great handicap every time something hurts me. Sometimes the feeling of injustice, pain or helplessness is so intense that I find it hard to breathe and I even get dizzy. Now, at 37, my trick has been learning that the sensation lasts for a while and then it can even suddenly disappear, and what seemed to me the end of the world may seem like a trifle. I have also forgiven myself for the many times I think I have acted in an exaggerated or ridiculous way because of the sense of urgency that invades me when the intensity comes into play. Now I remind myself that it is due to giftedness, and that it is nothing to be ashamed of, since I also did not know how to control it.
    As for the giftedness in Spain, it is a real disaster. At the academic level I have tried to accelerate the course or take measures with my daughter and at school everything has been a hit, of more than 1,000 students only one of them is considered gifted (they rely on the creativity test to rule them out , even though they have 99 percentile in other fields). However, it has been even worse to deal with her sensitivity, intensity and introversion, which have made her not integrate fully well in class, even suffering bulling at 7 years (or attitudes that she perceives as such) with all the suffering that this has hauled you.
    I am always looking for gifted or gifted parents with whom to share experiences, by email, whatsapp … if anyone is interested I would love if we could communicate.
    And for Paula, just to tell you that thanks to your post I feel a little less lonely in the bad moments of intensity and I have learned a lot from our strange head. A million thanks for understanding us so well and being there.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      A couple of thoughts, Mar. Do you know about the Facebook groups for parents? Parenting Gifted Children is one. And Hoagies Gifted Discussion group is another. Also is developing a site for all things gifted that you might explore.

      It sounds like you are very tuned into your body/sensations. You might want to explore Dabrowski’s “overexcitabilities.” You may be particularly strong in the psychomotor or sensual area. I’m glad that you are no longer seeing it as something wrong with you but just understanding that RFMs can be highly sensitive in many ways.

      Your schooling situation sounds very familiar, sadly. Thank you for sharing!

    2. Someti Avatar

      Thanks for sharing. I know what you’re talking about. We are not alone, Mar. 🙂 ¡Mucho ánimo!

  5. Sarah Avatar

    Ay, Manuel! I lived two years in Madrid. Spain is an amazing country with so much beauty and culture, but it was difficult for me to find like minds. Probably the person I connected with most, apart from my boyfriend, was his brother. We’d take the train out to the Sierra and hike and just “be”. I had another friend who was working on translating a dictionary. She was amazing. I’m now married to a Mexican and there are some important cultural parallels. The group culture, family-centric focus, the idea that you are not so much an individual but part of a group. Most people find this lovely and comforting. But if you don’t fit? If you’re different? More creative, want to look deeper? It’s so hard. There are others who feel the sane way. Seek them out.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for your input, Sarah. I see what you’re saying about cultures that are more group/family focused. That said, the American society in general is so individual focused and yet there is still the stigma and the loneliness. But, perhaps, it’s not as intense here as there may be less pressure to conform and maybe more support for creative thinking.

      1. Sarah Avatar

        Yes, and this will, of course, vary from person to person, but being expected to spend a large proportion of your time with people who are unsupportive if your ideas, goals and dreams while at the same time calling you weird is souls shattering. I, of course speak from personal experience and that of my husband. His family may be extreme but we are expected to toe the line at all times. And show up for any and all family functions. Covid-19 has actually been a nice break

        1. Dr. Dad Avatar
          Dr. Dad

          My spouse is also of Hispanic descent. The difference between the way our families relate is marked. I was really into all the togetherness for a while; to the amusement of my co-workers, I went on all my vacations with my in-laws. Things changed for reasons not appropriate to this blog. It became uncomfortable for all involved. They moved to a different part of the country, but she’s on the phone with them every day at least once.

          I grew up in a rather more Germanic family. My mother didn’t like to hug people, or even to see people every day. For her, honesty was a higher value than harmony. It would take her a month to recover from seeing my wife’s parents.

          They find me odd. I am used to that, having spent half my adult life living in Latin America, where intentionally being alone is seen as bizarre and concerning behavior. And also, you know, because I am odd.

          Anyway, I find it poignant that the difference between “alone” and “lonely” in Spanish is all in the verb; the adjective is the same. I think maybe it’s easier to be unusual by yourself in our culture, but in a Latin culture it would be important to find an odd tribe to be odd together.

          1. Sarah Avatar

            Dr. Dad,
            Your post made me cry. You understand. Thank you for replying. After last Christmas I have told my husband I will no longer be available for family trips. The environment is too toxic. Thanks to COVID-19 (?) we have a reprieve from invitations for now. My husband is starting to feel it too. As he becomes more successful in his own right, there is more pressure to conform. It’s like they’re trying to pull the outlier back into the fold, by force.

            1. Paula Prober Avatar
              Paula Prober

              Thank you Sarah and Dr. Dad for sharing your personal experiences with a “family-centric” culture. I appreciate how you are talking about it and that you can support each other.

              Maybe you (and others) can help me figure this out: I’m trying to navigate how to share different folk’s stories without running into generalizations about groups of people. You know what I mean? That said, there are clearly ways of being that different cultures have! Maybe I’m trying to be too politically correct? Does it make sense to write about how RFMs deal, cope, thrive within their particular countries/cultures? Or am I stepping into an area that is more appropriate in a research-based article? What do you think? Is this a topic of interest? How might I speak about it in my anecdotal way so that it’s helpful? I welcome your ideas!! Thank you.

              1. Sarah Avatar

                Paula, yes, I do know what you mean. I’m not sure how you separate discussions of culture from over generalizations in our current atmosphere. I know that my family is absolutely suffocatingly authoritarian and image conscious, to the point of giving detailed instructions on what to wear and what topics are acceptable for discussion, but there are cousins and friends whose families are much more supportive of differences. I think this varies by socioeconomic level as well. While my family is extreme, I think the general idea of collectivism is stifling to rainforesty people, and it’s worth digging deeper, but it is something of a minefield. Hofstede’s work has been helpful to me.

                1. Paula Prober Avatar
                  Paula Prober

                  Thank you, Sarah. I will check out Hofstede.

  6. Malandra Avatar

    Could you please write something about misdiagnosis of gifted children and adults?
    I know some people struggle because of their “giftedness” label that was placed on them in childhood and how it lead to internalized high expectations, bad work habits etc.
    But what if you grew up under the opposite circumstances, where anything that was “off” or unusual was considered an illness or disability? Where you only learned about “giftedness” in your late teens, or even adulthood, and recognized many things from your childhood(and your family sees this as well… and finally, a therapist open to the idea…)?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I will put this idea on my list, Malandra. Thank you for the suggestion. I suspect that many of my readers were not told they were gifted when they were younger and saw their traits as deficits. That’s why I write so much about what giftedness actually looks like. There is an excellent book on this topic which might be a place for you to start.

      1. Malandra Avatar

        Thanks! I’ve read about this book before, and I’m considering purchasing it.

        Also, another suggestion (which you may have written about before, in different words). Gifted children and the lack of peers. How growing up without the possibility of relationships where you are a fairly even match and mirror each other affects a child, and later an adult.

  7. Dr. Dad Avatar
    Dr. Dad

    Yo estaba pensando que “demasidad” sería una palabra muy buena en Español, equivalente a “too-muchness” en Inglés. Así que el susodicho “Manuel” sufre de demasidad. Así como yo.

    I’ve been told I’m too “intense” many times in my life, and I have found that very frustrating. Too tall wouldn’t be as difficult: it’s arbitrary but measurable. If I were told I were too noisy, I could try to be quieter. But how does one measure, let alone modulate, one’s intensity? In the absence of reliable metrics, how does one avoid feeling like one is perpetually failing at that task?

    Manuel seems a lot like my son. Por lo menos, el pelo y las gafas son idénticos. Me pregunto si sería posible que “Manuel” sea autista, como mi hijo, que recién se diagnosticó. La sobre-estimulación, junto con dificuldades sociales tal como no poder tomar su turno en la conversación e no poder aceptar la autoridad, me suenan de autista da alto funcionamiento. Los autistas todos sufren de demasidad?

    Where does “Rainforest Mind” end, and where does “Asperger’s Syndrome” begin? Is there an overlap? One of the more interesting things I’ve read about the autistic spectrum lately has to do with the “broad autism phenotype.” That’s the way in which pretty much everybody related to someone who is diagnosable as on the spectrum shares and presents some of the traits of autism.

    Solo que yo tengo bastante e mi hijo demasiado. Sus pares en el colegio no lo entendían. Bueno que haya conseguido entrar en la universidad a los 16.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      There are some overlapping traits with giftedness and Aspergers so it can be confusing. I’ll check your article, Dr. Dad. We need a lot more information before suggesting someone is on the spectrum, though. Right? One of the big differences I notice when someone is Aspie is the inability to pick up social cues and what seems like lack of empathy. Also the tendency to take everything literally and to be very blunt when communicating. I don’t pick those up in Manuel’s writing. Are these traits your son has? But I don’t have a lot of experience with Aspergers myself so I don’t speak as an expert! Oh, and, I think you know that the photo isn’t actually Manuel… 🙂

      1. Dr. Dad Avatar
        Dr. Dad

        Hi Paula. I’m probably suffering from a common perceptual bias: when someone newly learns more about a phenomenon, one tends to see it everywhere, even where it isn’t. Talking to my son’s therapist has helped me to understand some of the struggles he’s had in childhood (anxiety, fears, social rejection, confusion) through the lens of autism, and this will probably help us support him better.

        I’m surprised that you don’t know much about Asperger’s, because you work with gifted people and a fair proportion of highly gifted individuals have Asperger’s (AS). As you say, there’s substantial overlap.

        It appears that the similarities observed between certain children with HIP and those with ASD without language delays could be explained by the fact that a large proportion of children identified as HIP present a general profile of heterogeneous development, characterized by a heterochronous evolution of the different areas of development, placing them under the heading “developmental disorders” when the deficits are marked. Indeed, some of these children with HIP could present a pattern of strengths and weaknesses similar to children with ASD without language delay. The key features of this developmental pattern remain undetermined, but children with ASD and some with HIP could for example present a developmental delay in specific components of the socio-emotional field. Thus, these children with HIP meet the DSM-5 criteria for ASD in a very moderate or atypical manner, and could be considered as belonging to the “Broad Autism Phenotype.”

        This study suggests a potential clue: look for the heterogenous HIP. And yeah, that characterizes my son, to a much greater degree than it characterizes me. I am homogeneously, globally HIP. (I am all too amused by this acronym HIP).

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          I know, Dr. Dad. I ought to be much more up on the specifics about Aspergers (AS) and other conditions that can come with giftedness, what we call twice-exceptionality (2e). It really is a whole field in itself. I would say, though, 99% of the people I work with are NOT 2e. And I didn’t say there is “substantial overlap.” 🙂 I see SOME overlapping with the traits. Particularly sensitivities to textures, sounds. Emotional reactions. High levels of cognitive ability. Passion to delve into a topic of interest. What I see more often is people who don’t understand what giftedness looks like who will misdiagnose the gifted as AS.

          I’ve had a few clients with spouses who were AS or kids who were so I hear about it that way. I’ve had one female client who was AS. (maybe Aspie adults don’t seek out therapy??) I see what are clear differences. (I mentioned those above.) So, through my possibly biased lens :), there is an over-misdiagnosing of gifted folks!

          There are 3 experts in the 2e field who I refer to. Julie Skolnick Debbie Steinberg Kuntz with and the book Bright Not Broken. They all focus on kids for the most part, so that can be frustrating. But they cover ADHD, dyslexia, and other exceptionalities as well.

          Always good to hear from you!

  8. Lori Avatar

    He sounds so much like my 12 year old daughter.

  9. Mercedes Campos Avatar
    Mercedes Campos

    We are here, at you be trial house, where we feel welcome and accepted. I felt, and sometimes still feel, everything Manuel us living through. Those comments come even from my family members. It’s very comforting to know you are “normal”. Thus is home for me. Another Spaniard here! (@mercedesescribe, a keen reader of your blog and posts on Facebook and Instagram)

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks for being a follower, Mercedes. I recognize your name! 🙂

  10. Someti Avatar

    Oh! Nice! More rainforest-minds in Spain! I’m feeling less and less lonely 😄.

    Manuel, saludos de un compañero del Norte del país. 😉 Y saludos también a los/las que leen este comentario desde “cerca” 😄.
    (For those who do not speak Spanish: just saying “hello” to Manuel and eventual Spaniards reading this).

    I really love the idea of a series of posts about giftedness (rainforestmind-ness) across different cultures around the world. I am eager to read a few more of these posts, I’m sure it will be enriching and stimulating. And I am aware that Paula may know a lot of rainforest minds from different background cultures (appart from Spain, she mentioned, at least, Nepal and Japan in her last video! Wow! 😲).

    Rainforest minds are somehow scarce. And, for me, finding one is like finding a gemstone among thousands of rocks. Then, getting to know him/her is enthralling.

    Thank you Paula for writing this magnificent blog! 🤩

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I thought you might be excited to hear about another Spaniard, Someti! Now, if I could just find a way to get you all to meet….

      1. Someti Avatar

        Sure! it is exciting! 😊 We will eventually meet, I guess. Somehow.

  11. Anna Avatar

    Dear Manuel – if it is at all possible, try to worry less about other people’s judgemental comments about you. They often arise, I find, due to their own discomfort with the way that an intelligent, flexible mind with many concerns, ideas and feeling s does not fit into the idea of a specialised, narrowed, extroverted societal norms that perhaps don’t address the bigger concepts or depths, that are fixed rather than mutable in their thinking processes. None is right or wrong, we just all need to learn to give everyone else whom is different from us much more allowance and space to be themselves. Getting that message across to others sometimes though can be a challenge in itself!
    Be you, and remember to listen too.
    Kindest regards and happy life,

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m guessing, Anna, that you are speaking from your own experiences with other people’s misunderstanding you. And your challenges with “getting that message across…” Thank you for sharing.

      1. annakirksmith Avatar

        Hello Paula, With regards to the comment, it comes from both personal experiences, but much more importantly from listening to others. I am constantly amazed by how little time is given to people to delve down and personally share thoughts and ideas that may seem unorthodox in favour of the social verbal maintenance that ‘eases’ the population through every day without ripples or discomfort. We all need to be brave enough to not only listen to, but embrace that which we may not understand or perhaps may fear. Thank you for your books – they are insightful and helpful. Kind regards A x

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Oh, thank you for reading my books, Anna!

  12. ewabs2 Avatar

    I recognize a lot, if not all. and however strange it sounds, I am so glad he is allowed to be like that, sure it is frustrating, but he is still overwhelming and all that. I learned at about age 7 to keep my mouth shut and not stick out. And now at 50 still learning to be me again.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Keep learning to be you, ewabs2!

  13. Amy Avatar

    I would surely agree that he has a beautiful Rainforest Mind!

  14. emon1077 Avatar

    It’s so beautiful to see oneself in his words…
    Thank you Paula to help us to know and understand ourselves Much better and make life a bit easier.

    Bienvenido Manuel!
    (another Spanish rainforest mind here 🙂

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You are so welcome, emon1077.

  15. viviendoconintensidad7 Avatar

    It is funny how clear is for the outside observer when other people is RFM😀

    Sí, Manuel eres un RFM. Bienvenido al club!

    Fd: otra RFM española

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, and hopefully you can see it more and more clearly in yourself.

  16. Marcia Avatar

    Definitely! <3

    When I was researching "gifted" definitions across cultures, one thing that was most consistent was the rainforest mind — including the divergent thinking intensity and a strong sense of wanting to improve life for others and the community. What saddens me is the consistent anti-intellectualism (for lack of a better word) folx face because the median masses cannot recognize, well, the forest for the trees.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Ha! Yes, the anti-intellectualism is so unfortunate. How different our world might be if we appreciated and supported our rainforest minds.

  17. Carol Avatar

    Yes! He is definitely in the Rainforest with us <3 He is a brother.

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