What Are The Challenges Gifted Adults Have In Common? — A Therapist’s Perspective

photo courtesy of christina wocintechchat, Unsplash

I am a psychotherapist who counsels and consults with highly intelligent, sensitive, empathetic, creative humans. (Yes, I love my job.) Even though they are all complicated in their multiple uniquenesses and differing backgrounds, I often hear recurring themes. 

Here are some of those themes. In their own words (with a few edits): 

On Waiting and More Waiting

“…when I get into difficulties because my mental functioning runs at 95 mph and the people around me are functioning at 35 mph, I get told that I should be content to wait around for them because I shouldn’t vibe in a rush and I should be patient. I get told that if we all operated more slowly the world would be a better place. It seems to me that being ‘too much’ in terms of mental functioning gets lumped together with always being busy and in a hurry…the onus on me is to slow down to their level and to ‘grin and bear it’ or be dismissed as emotional and thus irrational…”

On Creativity, Communication, and Electrical Storms

“My imagination is already so active, my brain is so full of ideas, it feels like an electrical storm sometimes, so many thoughts happening at once. It’s hard to imagine narrowing something down. It takes a lot of energy just to have one thought at a time. There’s so much happening at once; I can think fast, in pictures, and I can get solutions in feelings, it’s stimulating, it’s exciting, it’s frustrating, it’s difficult to explain…” 

“…to function in society and communicate with other people I have to downshift. I have to find some way to slow things down enough and put them in a linear narrative order so that other people can actually understand what the heck is going on with me…I can see the way the dots connect but most people can’t. I sound like a crazy person. I’m always the weird one. It’s exhausting and lonely…”

On Multipotentiality and Impossible Choices

“I don’t know what it’s like for other people, when they’re asked the question ‘if you could do anything what would you do?’ This kind of question feels impossible for me, like the universe is so big and the possibilities so endless, how can I possibly choose one or even four or twelve..?”

On Schooling and Untied Shoes

“I often was just not interested in the things at school. I can still recount how over the top invested I got into the subjects of dinosaurs, animals’ evolutionary traits, the theory of evolution, what it means to be funny, philosophy, religious origins, and theology, to name a few weird topics. The problem was that I would primarily be thinking about those topics while I was supposed to be listening in school…I excelled at all subjects academically. I would get straight A’s on tough assignments then lose interest…I would always do jusssttt enough to accomplish what I wanted. I was oblivious to the point of ridiculous, always had my shoes untied, extremely disorganized…always had a messy room/workstation/life, would constantly lose things…I got a perfect score on the logic section of the LSAT. I ended up getting into William and Mary Law School and passing the bar at age 26.”

On Overthinking, Anxiety, and Over-talking

“All my life I’ve been told I was a worrier, I was smart, I was artistic, and an over-talker according to my first teachers and my mother and sister, the latter of which still claim that today…All my life I’ve never felt that I fit in with anyone anywhere…I’ve been an overthinker to the point of chronic anxiety and at times panic attacks…I’ve eschewed what was popular in favor of alternatives…I’ve never felt adequate because I’ve underachieved financially…yet I’ve overachieved with regard to reading and retaining, observing, loving, meeting new people, taking small risks (or sometimes larger ones), and seeking to please others. Today, I seek balance and to love myself rather than expect others to love me. This is a scary new journey…”

On Social Responsibility, Empathy, and Superheroes

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

On Relationships, Sensitivity, and the Abyss

“…It feels desperately sad sometimes when I show up to deeply connect and I am not even met halfway – even when others have the intention of doing so. I feel as though I’m reaching and full of hope, but my arms aren’t long enough. Frustration sets in, then the feeling of isolation, and I sink into an abyss all the while still reaching. I have this voice saying – you are full of yourself, you are so wrong to assume things, you are crazy. Then I tell that voice – I know YOU are, but what am I?  I am gifted, flawed, beautiful, often suffering (in one way or many) and expanding always. But I feel one thing that is beyond my imagination is how to make sense of these gifts in a fleeting life – from within, another voice tells me I already make sense.”


To my bloggEEs: Tell us what you have experienced within these themes. What else might you include as an issue that challenges you? What solutions have you found? Your comments add so much. If you click on the links above, you will find other posts that provide some helpful suggestions! Thank you to the readers who shared these experiences either in comments or in emails to me. I am so fortunate to have you all 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.

39 responses to “What Are The Challenges Gifted Adults Have In Common? — A Therapist’s Perspective”

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  1. Dr. Dad Avatar
    Dr. Dad

    Finding intellectual peers is almost impossible. I wear people out. Through college I would cultivate multiple groups of friends, so that I could part-time it with each group, hiding my light under a bushel, and not wear them out as fast. Sometimes I’d slip, like the time I lectured the French grad students about the meaning of rhizomatic theory in the coffeeshop, and they said they were afraid of me and started avoiding me.

    If one is looking for a friend who is also one in a thousand intellectually, and then on top of that one seeks someone whose interests and perspectives complement his, the odds are not in one’s favor. I think a lot of high-iq types bury themselves in work, and many of those who don’t become misanthropes. So said Grady Towers, anyway.


    A subset of that problem is finding a therapist who I can stand to talk to for more than a couple of sessions. I’ve had a few therapists, but it’s never lasted long. Eventually their eyes glass over. I think maybe one can’t be an adequate therapist for someone smarter than they are.

    Luckily, I find physical labor therapeutic.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I will check the link, Dr. Dad. Thanks. I know that the higher you are on the gifted spectrum, good relationships are even harder to find. And I understand what you’re saying about therapists. I think therapists need to be close in intelligence to their clients but I do have many who are much smarter than I am. One key might be that I do know more about the therapeutic path that I’m helping them negotiate, so in that world I am “smarter”. Does that make sense? And I’m not threatened by their intelligence. I love them and understand the gifted issues! But I do have some clients who are so high on the spectrum that I have to refer them to a therapist or consultant who might be a closer match. So I certainly understand your frustration. Always good to hear from you.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Another thought, Dr. Dad. You probably have run into this, too. There are cases where therapists don’t see beneath the surface to where the RFM is in pain. And RFMs can be good at masking their depression, anxiety, or trauma. All the therapist sees is how smart they are. So the therapist either doesn’t know what to do or tells the client that they are fine. Like you say, it’s another place where the RFM is not seen or understood.

    2. dw Avatar

      Hi Dr. Dad, here’s my 2 cents. Finding your people is a long term project, and with the odds against you, it’s easy to despair. But (pardon the analogy) it’s not so different from catching rare pokemon: you hang around the right places, wait long enough, and with some luck, that elusive mew – someone who can meet you intellectually, is happy to chat about Deleuze in coffeeshops all day, and maybe has lectures of their own they have long suppressed – will pop into view. Only briefly, perhaps, but long enough for you to identify and befriend them. They’ll be looking for mews too.

      Finding other mews is important for those deep, existentially rewarding broadband friendships that exist between peers. But not every rewarding relationship looks like that. There will be people out there who will love you and celebrate you without knowing the first thing about rhizomatic theory, and whose eyes need never glass over; based on personal experience, that goes for therapists as well. The key requirements, as Paula so beautifully puts it: “I’m not threatened by their intelligence. I love them and understand the gifted issues!” This is a different sort of rare pokemon (with some overlap, no doubt). But having these two types to search for (both in life and therapy) makes the odds better, the long term shorter, and hopefully, the despair and loneliness a little less overwhelming.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Good to hear from you, dw. It sounds like you’re saying that you have had some success in finding a good therapist and some people who love you and celebrate you. Yeah! Thank you.

        1. dw Avatar

          Yes! Though not without trial and error 🙂 Thanks Paula!

  2. j'adore champagne Avatar
    j’adore champagne

    I’m wondering if anyone out there ever reaches the point of « shutting down ». Just stopping talking, and not even certain whether it’s much worth it to share feelings, experiences, excitement, ideas….and the realisation that you don’t seem to fit anywhere. I understand all that Paula posted above. I’m not certain that having to be « essential » during this pandemic has simply been too much and made feelings worse, and dashed hopes.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      <3 <3 <3

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, j’adore champagne. I think this pandemic is really stretching people to the max so it would be very tempting to shut down, especially if you are an essential worker.

  3. Mellysa Avatar

    Currently I’m having a problem on how to act.. I need your advice. Is it better to stay in shadow or shine? I am afraid of getting hated by my new classmates and teachers, it seems like my questions and my urge to understand everything scare them away a little bit, maybe they think I am an arrogant, confident (ironically that I’ve had issues with
    self-confidence) &etc when I just purely want to learn, eagerly (maybe too much of eagerness). And sure, this way, I can’t make any friends, but that’s fine with me. though it can be lonely sometimes.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      This is an important question, Mellysa. The answer depends on where you are, how old you are, how much support you have, what your classmates and teachers are like, etc. Knowing that you have a rainforest mind and you appreciating your love of learning and your eagerness, your bright light, is so important. That’s the bottom line. Then, how you show it depends on the situation. There are times when it might be safer to go undercover if you’re going to be bullied, for example. It’s ok to measure how much of yourself you show to people. That said, it’ll be important for you to find other RFMs so that you don’t feel so alone, and so that you can be totally yourself with them. Thanks for sharing this question. I’m sure others are asking the same things.

  4. Pegi Ficken Avatar
    Pegi Ficken

    I have always tried to fix everything. Not always by doing something, but by suggesting solutions or resources or something. My youngest child is 33. It was only recently that he told me he was having a farm equipment problem, and I started to make suggestions. He said in exasperation, “Mom, you don’t have to fix everything!” He was right. Now I commiserate, but don’t make suggestions unless asked.
    I used to worry a lot. It’s difficult when you have a RFM, and so do your four children, and you see them getting hurt. I have learned to turn to Matthew 6:25-34. I don’t know about anyone else, but it helps be to accept that God has a plan.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Pegi, in my experience, just listening without problem solving is powerful, and what most people want! Having God on your side is probably good, too. 🙂

  5. Arcadia Avatar

    Speaking of overthinking, it took me three days to decide if I wanted to leave a comment or not. I just kept the tab to this post open in my browser for awhile…

    I find it to be a constant battle between my impatience and overthinking. I want to take action because my internal drive pushes me. However, I have to think about things from every angle. It’s so frustrating, like I keep getting in my own way! I totally identify with the electrical storm analogy. Actually I keep a short emergency list of what to do when experiencing mental overload:

    Drink Tea (caffeine free)/Journal (either free writing or doodling)/Read fiction/Nap/Exercise

    The hard part is accepting that my brain needs rest. I often have to force myself to take these steps, but I usually feel much better.

    School was complicated. Although there was a gifted program in my middle school, I wasn’t identified as gifted. The only sign that I was possibly falling through the cracks was that I once saw my mom reading a book about under-achieving gifted children. I realize now that being a minority could have contributed to this (I’m African American & female). Many of my closest friends in middle school were in gifted.

    All of this information meant nothing to me until I had a personal crisis a few years ago, and I realized that most of my problems were related to having a Rainforest Mind and not fully knowing it.

    How I survived school:
    1. Study for all of the upcoming courses over summer. Then I wouldn’t have to think while in class.
    2. While in class, write novels, poetry, songs and create artwork while pretending to take notes.
    3. Accept compliments from the classmates who sat behind me on how much they enjoyed watching me draw during class.
    4. Do homework during lunch and on the ride home from school.
    5. After school, spend my time working on personal projects I found meaningful.
    6. In high school, take the required courses early so I could take only art classes my senior year. (This was inspired a guy I knew who did the same and took all science classes his senior year.)

    Fortunately, I had many teachers who noticed my unusual approach to school and supported that. I had teachers who would give me books, encourage me to write more stories, and were lenient when I handed in high level work that didn’t perfectly match the project syllabus. I received A’s on many projects that didn’t match the syllabus at all due to my lack of attention to detail…sigh…By some miracle I managed to be in the top three of all of my classes, even in college. And I didn’t even go to college for art–I went for computer engineering of all things (ugh, multipotential!)

    So yeah, having a Rainforest mind is hard, especially if you’re not fully aware of it. But I love how this blog brings that awareness, and that makes it more possible to handle all of the strange twists and turns that come with it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thank you for deciding to leave a comment, Arcadia! We are all benefiting from you sharing your experiences. 🙂

  6. koolaidmoms Avatar

    I just stumbled across your blog today and it is amazing! It gave me some idea of what was going on with my son with the waiting section and the creativity. I see these things in him but to read it gave me a whole new way of looking at his frustrations.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      So glad you found me! Keep reading, koolaidmoms!

  7. asafeplacewithtochie Avatar

    This is amazingly relatable. God bless ♥️♥️

  8. veroniqz Avatar

    These things are so important for me to read, every time. Since I’ve found out this RFM thing is probably the reason for my struggling, I’m having ups and downs. At the moment, it’s down. An explanation does not give a solution, but that’s what I’m looking for. All these doubts about myself… But just reading and recognizing means a lot to me, giving a moment of relief, to breathe, calm down, and try to think of a new plan…
    And for me, drawing, gardening and blogging are the best ‘escape’! 😊

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’m glad that reading my blog can provide some relief, veroniqz. Sending you a hug!

      1. veroniqz Avatar

        I can add to that, that your personal response brightens my day too…😊 Hug back ! 😁🌹

  9. hksounds Avatar

    This may be one of the worst examples of being too smart. I had a friend that I would hang out with occasionally and we had fun together. He had returned to school and had entered a PhD program in Psychology. One evening, we were having drinks and maybe playing some game or just talking when he said he needed to find people to administer an IQ test to and would I be interested? Sure. why not?

    So, it was very casual and at first, I just thought is was word association, but after a couple of answers he explained I was supposed to give definitions. The test went on from there and then we continued our evening. A few days later he told me that he had scored the test and my IQ was whatever and that it was so high, he was afraid to talk to me any more and I never heard from him again. Hmmm.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Oh, hksounds, so sorry that happened. How strange!

      1. hksounds Avatar

        Thanks, Paula. it’s nothing new and after so many years, I am pretty used to not finding peers. It is just how it is. I have lots of interests. I consider myself lucky. Some of us are destined to being solitary types. I have added to what I enjoy, in the past year or so, taking photos of mainly butterflies which I can do in relative safety, Covid-wise.

        1. j'adore champagne Avatar
          j’adore champagne

          I love photographing butterflies as well!!!!

    2. Nina Avatar

      I had issues with even a psychologist who tested me officially with those cue cards, or something was frustrated and almost angry because I needed 3x times more than a “normal” person to finish that part. She, of course, wrote it down in a report. I just wanted to do it well, so that meant I was cautious, but I also struggled to concentrate and rely on intuition due to brain fog and other issues, especially when she was there and expecting me to solve some things I didn’t have any idea what they are for. So, that also means I’m weird and probably have some psych disorder? I mean, when it comes to therapy overall, I was always afraid to share my true self due to their tendency to put everything they personally believe is peculiar as a potentially a symptom of some personality or mood disorder.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        I wish more therapists were trained to understand what giftedness can look like, Nina, so that you might feel safer to share.

  10. Someti Avatar

    Beautiful words Paula and ellabirt in her comment!
    Feeling alone and relationships are my weak points, I think. (As long as I have truly managed to control anxiety), so this post reflects my feelings too, pretty well.
    Cheers everyone! 😄

  11. ellabirt Avatar

    These are all beautiful. At first glance, I think there are problems to be solved. I begin trying to “fix” things in my mind. Then the voice kicks in, and a feeling of calm washes over me. Love is what is needed, all is well. We are who we are, and we’re each a miracle. There will always be pain with great gifts as all things have their counterparts. The magic is in loving all of it, all of us. With each act of love, we relax into the chaos of creation. We see these challenges as potentialities within themselves.

    I’ve realized more deeply, on a cellular level, lately that every act of self-care I perform, through routines and rituals, I see all with more gentleness. This post reminded me this perspective can be drawn on at any time (more easily when my nervous system is regulated, which is one reason why the self-care is so important). The first read of this post, I was in a mode of analyzing. The second read, was after writing the first paragraph here – so I read it with appreciation of all that is. This is when each voice became a pillar of love and light, each struggle a glimpse into their unique personal power, not a problem to be solved. How a simple shift in perspective through reflection can move one from struggling to acceptance!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      So beautiful, ellabirt. And that self-care, nervous system regulation, is so important so that we can more deeply move into the magic, the miracle, to the acts of love.

    2. asafeplacewithtochie Avatar

      This is so beautiful, Ellabirt. You amazingly described this. As I took more of what you wrote in, it completely began to resonate with me and I discovered how this is so true in my everyday life. Thank you so much 💕💕

  12. ewabs2 Avatar

    something that is hard to deal with for me.
    something very complicated, 400 things to take in to account, everyone else still trying to even grasp the problem or that there is a problem or solution. I know what the solution is. but cant explain how I got there.

    something easy like do I want noodles or rice. can take me for ever to decide.
    some simple problem, I get stumped, because there is no way it is so simple. everyone else is already done. I am still standing there thinking and trying to figure out what the catch is.
    exhausting sometimes.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I’ve heard this expressed as, for the gifted, the simple is complex and the complex is simple. Sounds like you, ewabs2!

  13.  Avatar

    pretty sure i’ll never meet any of you, but i’m glad you’re out there, too.

  14. C Avatar

    Trying to articulate WHY I have just made an intuitive leap. It takes me time to sit down and pick apart all the details and nuances of it, and even longer to explain it all to myself, and much longer to explain it to someone else. I’ve learned to trust that leap, but also to trust that other people don’t trust it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, the nature of intuition really means that you just know and it really often can’t be explained. Right? Glad you’re trusting yourself!

    2. Pegi Ficken Avatar
      Pegi Ficken

      That has got to be one of the most difficult problems. Most of the time my children can figure out where the statement that seems as if it comes out of thin air is coming from, but not always. At least they know enough to ASK! Most people just assume that there’s something wrong with me. I have a very few friends who will ask how I got there or where did THAT come from, but most don’t. Frustrating–when what seems perfectly obvious to me is a black box to others.

  15. Gail Post Avatar
    Gail Post

    Paula, Great descriptions of what so many feel. Thanks!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Thanks, Gail. I’m heading over to your blog soon. Looks like you just put out an important post!