“The Problem, Officer, Is That My Sister Is An Intellectual…”* –A Quick Guide To Your Rainforest Mind

(*quote adapted from the inspiring talk Surviving as an Organizational Heretic ; by Carmen Medina TEDx talk)

(photo courtesy of Fabio Fistarol, Unsplash)

Have you been identified as the problem in your family? Is your finely tuned sensitivity, unending research, probing curiosity, exquisite empathy, passionate creativity, accurate intuition, in-depth analysis, sweet optimism, and driven social conscience, misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and mystifying?

Do your parents, siblings, teachers, therapists, friends, neighbors, and pets, look at you with wonder, or confusion, or anger, or fear, or jealousy, or awe? (OK. Maybe your pets look at you with, well, unconditional love. Unless they are cats. Cats may look at you with disdain. Not because you are gifted, though. But just because.) Do you reject the notion you are gifted because you know how much you don’t know or because you were not a straight-A student or because it feels arrogant, elitist, and unfair?

I thought so.

Then, of course, there is the pressure. Oh, the pressure. If you are so smart, then, well, you better reach your potential. Wasted potential is not an option. You ought to be great at everything you try at all times. Maybe even “insanely great.” Mistakes, then, become failures and failures are unbearable.  

No wonder you would like to hide out rather than shine too brightly. No wonder. But honestly? You can not really hide. Not really. You can try. But at some point, your rainforest mind will sneak out from under your cloak. The truth of who you are will be revealed. How? Well, for starters, it could be that any one or more of the following occur:

The foundation of your house finally cracks under the weight of all of those darn books. You can’t stop crying over nature’s fecundity.  It takes you 11 years to get through college because you keep changing your major, start two businesses, learn the Argentine tango, join the board of an arts organzation, travel to Nepal to lead treks, teach yourself watercolor painting, and write a screenplay. You still reread Jane Austen, Ursula LeGuin, and Toni Morrison, again and again. You raise a gifted child. You start a nonprofit, or three. You become an overworked, underpaid, and adored-by-your-students middle school teacher. You swoon over your fascination with fungi. You dive deeply into psychotherapy to heal from your traumatic childhood. (Yeah, I know. You thought I’d say, you win a Nobel prize. And, perhaps, you do that, too. But prizes are not required for rainforest mind membership.)

In other words, because you have a rainforest mind, you have an extra large, perhaps enormous, capacity to think, feel, know, perceive, analyze, evaluate, discern, observe, empathize, intuit, create, imagine, and love. All humans have these abilities to greater and lesser degrees, of course. Your capacities are just much deeper, wider, and multi-faceted. You experience layers and levels and complexities and controversies and visions and worries and energies and influences that others may not. 

This is not arrogant, elitist, or unfair.

It is just you.


To my bloggEEs: Do you need to find more self-acceptance and understanding? If you experience conflict in your family or in other relationships, it could be, at least in part, because of these differences. Let us hear from you. Thank you for sharing your comments, feelings, thoughts, and questions. They add so much. Love to you! (Note: If you get a chance, watch Carmen Medina‘s TED talk. She explains how to create change in an organization and you can hear the whole story from her about what her brother said!)

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.

33 responses to ““The Problem, Officer, Is That My Sister Is An Intellectual…”* –A Quick Guide To Your Rainforest Mind”

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  1. Awareness, Awe, and Your Wild Rainforest Mind | Your Rainforest Mind

    […] This is the intense experience of the rainforest-minded life. […]

  2. renovatio06 Avatar

    Wow, all of what I’m reading here: So spot on! As of late I find myself self–isolating again for the world so often being too hard to navigate and for reasons of encounters and conversations with the non–RFMs so quickly descending towards the unkind variety or worse. (I recently had to walk out on someone from repeatedly minimizing me or trying to and not meeting me eye-to-eye or simply for failing to reciprocate my being open–minded with them in similar ways; I guess I’m talking about mutual respect or lack thereof…)

    I am truly exhausted more often than not these days. Of course, HERE is just about the only place I can even simply SAY something like this without being seen as condescending or patronizing or self–pitying or any of these things one finds oneself so quickly labeled with).

    Thanks Paula. It is comforting to have you and your understanding of “us” in this world! Thanks for doing this kind of work! I so wish I lived closer and was able to formally work with you.

    Hope, you’re holding up well yourself in these trying and often crazy times! Sending love!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I am happy to be here for you, renovatio06, and for all of our RFMs here. It is an honor.

      1. renovatio06 Avatar

        Thank you!

  3. Marregn Avatar

    Beautifully written Paula! Finally, however, I have realized that I may not be a gifted person. Maybe I used to be, but my mind has slowed down with the rest of people. My education is stuck on a hook and now that I try to learn beyond my classes, I cannot like I used to. I can no longer grasp concepts bigger than me.  It has been an amazing journey nonetheless, and I’ll still be reading your blog to find a glimmer of hope showing me one day that I am a person closer to perfection, a person who is remembered, and a person who is capable of achieving, unlike the painfully normal 15 year old that I am. (Is there a way to be more than I am?)(Is there a way I can regrow my rainforest?)(Can I put myself into a lab so I can be a multi-faceted diamond?)(Is it wrong to want to have a ‘problem’? Something to constantly deal with?)

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You are 15, Marregn??? If you relate to what I write here, you are likely a rainforest-minded person. Sometimes events or other people’s perceptions of us can influence how we see ourselves. None of us are close to perfection but we are people who love to learn, to think, to research, to empathize. We feel deeply and sometimes are hard on ourselves or we don’t fit in at school or in our families. Keep reading, Marregn. I bet you can continue to find yourself here. Thanks for writing.

  4. cmd1122 Avatar

    Thank you once again, dearest Paula! I watched Carmen Medina’s powerful TED Talk twice back-to-back–whoooah! So much inspiration grounded in realism. Intelligence. Humour! Loved the determination and overcoming gender norms and tricky childhood experiences…and working to make systems better! I would enjoy working for Carmen or someone who thinks and acts so boldly.
    I, like so many others, love inbox notifications of your new posts. I have been too busy to keep up with your recent ones, but they are all so helpful no matter when I make time to really dive into them and the rich comments.
    Hugs to you all!! Stay healthy.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, Carmen is a lovely person and, of course, a rainforest mind! Glad you watched the talk. Her ideas could be helpful for you as you navigate different workplaces and personalities. Good to hear from you, cmd1122.

      1. cmd1122 Avatar

        Indeed, that is exactly what came to mind as I watched it. I think I will revisit the TED Talk often and look for Carmen’s book. Thank you for always sharing such useful resources.
        Sending much love your way!

  5. Whitechalk Avatar

    You nailed it again. But you stop one step short of spelling out the real-world consequences of being someone with these “gifts” in this America.

    The crux of the issue, of course, lies in this statement of what I’ll call “forgiveness”:

    “This is not arrogant, elitist, or unfair.”

    When you can persuade the rest of America that people with greater insight, compassion and accomplishments exist to lead valid lives that have much to contribute, the world will be a better place. Until then, with politics telling so many that intellect and higher education are “the elite” and “the elite are the enemy,” it’s increasingly hard to keep friends or family inside any reasonable boundaries.

    Blaming everyone but themselves for their life choices and perspectives seems to be a way of life these days for so many, and it has only gotten worse over the past 4 years. It’s like a plague (another one) and it has brought all the old (and many new) resentments and dysfunction to the foreground. It is very very hard, and yet for people like me, there is ultimately only one choice and one way forward to a healthy mental state.

    The divide in America is real, it affects lives every day, and it has changed American society for the worse. It’s an ugly alienating time.

    With loss I have also gained in many ways, I have benefited from your encouragement to “get out there” and “keep looking,” but grief for the living is real.

    So thank you for the reaffirmation. I only wish it reached the souls who (also) need to hear it.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      I hear you, Whitechalk. The grief is real. I follow the work of Van Jones. He is inspiring. He is an African American who has a beautiful outlook on life and relationships. His writing might be helpful.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        There is a group that sounds like they are working to heal the divide through conversation. You might check them out. https://livingroomconversations.org

  6. itssue42 Avatar

    – Totally agree with clignet’s sentiment — such an enormous cheerful lift and excitement to see a new blog in my email. You understand us so well and you write with such wit and humour and hope.

  7. Deborah Avatar

    Interesting. When I was growing up, my parents had radically different attitudes toward me. My mother blamed me for always rebelling against everyone and everything else. On the other hand, my dad’s take was that I was simply using my brain and thinking for myself. He saw that as a very good thing. Guess which parent was more influential in my life?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sadly, Deborah, probably your mother. Yes? But so important that your father was there countering her influence. Thank you for sharing.

      1. Deborah Avatar

        Paula, thanks for your quick reply. For many reasons, I admired my father and he was much more influential in my life. Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother and her loving ways. She was extroverted and social but I am an introvert and she was not really that understanding or tolerant of me when I ‘used my brain’. She more or less blamed me for being ornery and rebellious because she was one to avoid ‘rocking the boat’. My father encouraged me to not be afraid of rocking the boat as long as it was for a justified reason (and not merely just to be different or cause trouble). He also lauded me for using my brain for good. By the way, he was a military lifer if that had anything to do with why he was that way. He and I are alike in many other ways too. He passed away a little over a year ago and I am the oldest of my siblings. I feel that remaining true to the way he encouraged me to be is the best way for me to honor/remember his legacy. I hope that does not make me sound crazy, arrogant, or abnormal in any way.
        I really enjoy reading your articles. My email was down for a couple of months and I’m glad it’s working again.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          Oh, I’m so glad to hear you identified more with your father because he was the more supportive one, Deborah. So sorry for your loss. Remembering his legacy makes lots of sense!

          1. Deborah Avatar

            Thank you!

  8. clignett Avatar

    Oh, how I love to see your new blogs in my mail! Every time it makes my heart skip with joy! Thank you so much!

    Now on the subject, I’ve also had to kill my curiosity and eagerness for learning, just in order to survive. Thank you for reminding me (us – as it was in a reply to a post on your blog) that the rainforest is resilient. That really helps!
    It’s been a tough period (years) so far, with hope floating in and out of my life. With family, “friends” and even therapists telling me I’m too much, too sensitive, too anything (take your pick, it’s been said). A hard and bumpy road, or, to stay in the rainforest, a really thick forest with many snakes and prickly insects. I know I will get there (where? If only I knew.. controlfreakily.. yes, that’s also still me..) eventually, and your blogs just keep reminding me that I’m good enough just the way I am. So, thank you!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes, clignett, you are even more than good enough, I’m sure of it! And it really is important that we all understand how resilient, powerful, and FULL of life the rainforest is. And how resilient you are. I see it in my clients all of the time. Even with horrible abuse in childhood, RFMs do not lose their powerful light.

  9. Sharleen Nelson Avatar
    Sharleen Nelson

    Having recently been reminded (again) by my mother that I’m “too much” your post reminded me that that being too much isn’t necessarily a bad thing and I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. Thanks (again) Paula!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes! Being “too much” is just right, Sharleen!

  10. Elisabeth L. Thomas Avatar
    Elisabeth L. Thomas

    I think the word I would use to describe how I am looked at it by my family is: condescending. A bit crazy. I know too much, worry too much. Too sensitive. I’ve had a lifetime of condescending. It’s been exhausting. And depressing.
    I’ve had to kill so much of my interest and curiosity just to do all the life things I have to do, I don’t even know curiosity anymore. I’ve given up. Life has become grey.
    What happens when you cut down all the trees in your rainforest mind just to survive?

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Sending you love, Elisabeth. Surviving, of course, is important. That said, the rainforest is resilient and the trees will come back when they can. Look for the color. It is still there, hiding until it is safe to come out again.

  11. Cube Avatar

    It is always nice to read your posts and feel that it is OK to be me. However, what I struggle with is that since I seem to have this very high capacity of thinking and feeling, and sometimes feel that might have orders of magnitude more thoughts than someone I am talking to, how do I know which of the 100 thoughts is the right way to continue the discussion without confusing the person I am talking to? Or maybe it is something else completely that they are thinking?

    At school we were always encouraged to think outside of the box, and I struggled, because, what else should I still think, I have already my 100 ideas that are different from the classmates ideas, where further should I go. At some point I realised that I naturally always think outside of the box, and I would really benefit from learning to think inside the box, in order to understand the people around me better. But how does one do that? Could you write a post about that? I would love to know!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Wow, Cube. That is a great question. How to get RFMs to think more inside the box! I don’t know if that’s possible. But I will think about how to help you better communicate with nonRFMs. I may have some posts on that already but can’t think of any right at the moment…Actually, Carmen Medina, writes and talks about how to communicate with others in a workplace when you want to make changes. So some of her ideas might apply. You could watch her TED talk and check out her website. But I’ll think about it, too, and may write a future post on it.

    2. itssue42 Avatar

      Hi Cube –
      That is such an apt phrase — learning to think inside the box DOES make it easier to work with others. I’ve been practicing it for decades by trying to understand how other people perceive the world around them, but it is always a challenge to carefully observe and couch one’s conversations in frankly “dumbed-down” terms so that others can grasp some of what you’re thinking. I started doing it in self-defense so that I didn’t stand out too much, which invariably makes people uneasy, jealous, etc etc.
      I think it helps develop a genuine empathy for the average human spirit and a true understanding that everyone has their talents and some of those talents occur BECAUSE they cannot think on the level RFMs do.

      I do think it requires one to have a genuine curiosity about why an average human does what they do. It helps me understand why average people do many of the things they do that I find phony, clueless, rude, short-sighted etc; but also why they succeed in areas that I would never have the patience to tackle etc.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Interesting ideas, itssue42. Thank you. I think the more the RFM has self-acceptance and self-understanding of their own capabilities, it may be easier to grok less multi-dimensional thinkers/feelers. And also finding other RFMs helps, so you feel less lonely. This also applies to the importance of listening to people who come from different political viewpoints, of course, particularly during such divisive times. There surely is a lot so say about this. Good to hear from you.

      2. Cube Avatar

        Yes, this is very much what I do, I listen to people carefully and work them out little by little, but one meets many people in life and this slow building of trust and listening is not possible with everyone. And after that I cannot see an average human anymore as average, but as an interesting and unique stone from the desert ecotype, or a curious plant in the meadow. Are you saying it is OK to generalise from these individuals to have an average human in mind?

        As an aside, I just had my first meeting with my new boss (who used to be just one of the colleagues), and he told me that I am too extreme… in a job that this trait should be appreciated.

        To complement that, it was extremely nice that both of you immediately understood what I meant by learning to think inside the box! That means a lot to me. I will check Carmen Medina’s works. Thanks for the suggestion.

        1. Paula Prober Avatar
          Paula Prober

          If I get what you’re saying, Cube, it sounds like seeing all humans as having something to offer is important and compassionate and necessary. At the same time, there will be times when you can allow yourself to be frustrated and annoyed by the experience of so many “muggles” out there!

        2.  Avatar

          I may not be understanding your question exactly right, but, “yes”, it’s ok to start your interaction with a new person as if they’re a generic average human. They’re doing that to you, too. Conversations and new relationships usually start out with neutral topics and ideas common to many people, then as the people get to know each other they can explore odder or more complex ideas little by little, just like you said. This could take minutes, hours, weeks… depends on how well you connect. I’m more of a follower in conversation, letting others lead. One one hand it makes conversation easier, but on the other hand I sometimes later regret not speaking up more.

          I’m sorry your boss thinks you’re too extreme. I once had a boss that put out emails and notices with grammar errors all the time. It infuriated me that she made 2-3x as much money as I did and couldn’t use the correct “their/there”. She was also cold & shallow, and I was resentful that a person like that was moving up the ladder and I wasn’t. I was told I cared too much. I learned I am NOT a corporate person! This world is filled with all kinds!
          You sound like you could use a {{{hug!}}}

          1. Paula Prober Avatar
            Paula Prober

            The workplace can be one of those tough places to navigate, especially if the people in charge are less competent. Thank you for sharing, Anonymous.

  12. Cheri Miranne Avatar
    Cheri Miranne

    Appreciate yourself. 🥰 it’s so much more fun!

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