A Totally Anecdotal Unscientific Explanation of a Particular Variety of High Intelligence from an Absolutely Nonacademic Tango Dancing Psychotherapist

Did you know that if you search for scholarly articles that define intelligence you will find 46,200,000 of them? If you look for articles defining giftedness, you will find 7,550,000. So, it is probably appropriate that I do not write one of those. Instead, I will tell you what I have seen after working with a particular variety of highly intelligent (gifted) humans for, oh, more years than you want to know. (Let’s just say, I was in my 20’s when I started in gifted education and now I am, gulp, in my 60’s.)

(photo courtesy of Boudhayan Bardhan)

The particular variety of high intelligence I know and love is, what I have called, the rainforest-minded. Not all gifted folks have the traits I will be describing and truly all rainforest-y souls are unique, complex, creative, highly sensitive, mosquito-ish, and extraordinary. (Think jungle.) That said, there are some characteristics and issues I have seen through the years that many of these complex creatures have. And it is important to examine, understand, and explain these particularities so that the rainforest-minded can thrive. After all, they provide us with oxygen when we don’t chop them down or burn them up. Right? And, in today’s world, we need our oxygen more than ever.

People argue over the definitions (thus 7,550,000 articles) but I often find it easy to identify these folks. I mean, really. When your eight-year-old says he wants to be Richard Feynman for Halloween, do you really need more evidence than that? When your four-year old is crying over the beauty of a Mozart concerto? When your ten-year-old screams when you take away her BBC documentaries? When your six-year-old is reading Harry Potter?

And what do those behaviors reveal? Passion for learning. High levels of sensitivity and empathy. Depth and breadth in understanding advanced concepts. Early acquisition of certain skills.

And there is more. Much more: Divergent thinking, perfectionism, intuition, seeking deep meaning and spirituality, difficulty with decision-making, multiple interests and abilities, many career paths, social responsibility, making connections between seemingly unrelated objects, unending curiosity, nonstop thinking, intense emotions, driven curiosity, existential depression, anxiety, difficulty finding suitable friends and partners.

Take Ebony. Sixteen. Intense. Talks fast, thinks fast, moves fast. Asks questions no one can answer. Struggles in school: Doesn’t turn in papers that aren’t up to her standards. Procrastinates to avoid feeling like a failure if she gets less than an A. Tries to engage her classmates in some intellectual repartee when all they want is to watch Survivor. Feels a spiritual and intuitive connection to the ocean and ravens. Lonely for a friend who gets her and who has read Lord of the Rings 11 times.

Or Carlos. Forty-two. Self-taught, successful IT expert. Highly sensitive, empathetic, and emotional. Bullied in school because he preferred grasshoppers and string theory to football. Spends hours writing a three sentence e-mail. Repeats himself often in an effort to be deeply understood and to calm his anxiety. Researches for days in order to make a decision. A slower, deliberate, deep thinker and processor. Wants to learn to dance the Argentine tango so that he can finally experience being followed.

Meet Frances. Fifty-nine. After running her own children’s bookstore, raising two kids and their friends, volunteering on the board for the ballet, and remodeling her home, she is in her latest job working as a city planner. She is considering going back to school for another degree because she has always wanted to be an art therapist or a landscape architect or a stand-up comedian. She thinks she is flakey or shallow because she has walked so many different career paths. Her sense of social responsibility keeps her awake most nights. Her intuitive abilities frighten her.

Ebony, Carlos, and Frances. They are the rainforest mind variety of gifted. If you find some gifted folks who are linear-sequential thinkers, who are super competitive, who thrive in school, in the corporate world, and in more traditional environments, we love them but they are not Ebony, Carlos, or Frances. They don’t live the jungle life.

But you do. Anecdotally. Unscientifically. Absolutely.


To my bloggEEs: Do you know people who might be gifted but not rainforest-y? Do you live the jungle life? Tell us all about it. Your comments are so lush, fertile, wet, tangled, valuable. Thank you, as always, for being 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.

22 responses to “A Totally Anecdotal Unscientific Explanation of a Particular Variety of High Intelligence from an Absolutely Nonacademic Tango Dancing Psychotherapist”

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  1. Ann Avatar

    I’ve always been plagued by existential questions; saw inconsistencies and lack of cohesion between why adults said they did things and why they actually did what they did, and I remember coming to an odd realisation in my teens: that we cannot create anything truly original; we can only imagine in terms of what already exists in the world, a variation of it or the absence of it. This came after contemplating why aliens never really looked like something truly different: they were just variations of our own world and structures of biology. That being said, I guffaw at the thought of coining myself as ‘gifted’ and yet seeing some of your articles I feel a spring of hope: I had been wondering if I was ADD . I know I’m HSP. Wondered if I had autism. I used the word ‘confiscated’ in context when I was under 3 and read my mother’s sentences at 4, instructing me to draw something, which I would then draw. Felt more at home talking with the ‘adults’ and have suffered chronic indecision because of the spiral of possible ‘butterfly’ effects that the decision could enact. My brain gets in a tangle and as an adult I’ve wondered if I’ve spent the last 40 years trying to figure out basic concepts that everybody else seems to be born with. Concepts like, ‘how much of a person’s temperament is affected by the inaccurate understanding of something in a particular area that I can clearly see stems from a wound: a poorly processed pain or a reality the individual is unable to face. How they build the world around the sore spot, unable to confront it lest their whole card house collapse. Yet the joy that comes from realising that if your universe is becoming vastly unlivable and intolerable, then you are actually on the cusp of the greatest possibility: that your viewpoint is at fault and not the entire universe’ and then people post things on fb like, ‘when the student is ready the teacher appears’ or ‘when the bud couldn’t be a bud anymore or whatever, it sprouts into a flower’ (I don’t have a great memory) and then suddenly I feel incredibly unintelligent because I’ve spent a few years dissecting someone’s issues unintentionally and other people seem to get it straight away; ‘yeah that’s just Ben, he’s probably still bent or off shape about that job loss.’ Am I gifted? Am I painfully analytic about concepts that others intuitively know? If I’m gifted, shouldn’t I have written that novel? (I couldn’t, because I was too aware of the fractures in my own worldview and didn’t want readers to see my biases and infantile desires in the page) Finished that writing degree? (I couldn’t, because of the paralysing procrastination that eventuated because I couldn’t possibly cram all of the notions and ideosynchrocies of any given issue into 3 paragraphs with quotes and supporting evidence… couldn’t complete a class discussion on ‘AI has become self aware and you and your board members are tasked to rewrite a constitution that gives them equal rights’… if we are writing the constitution for AI, then we have failed before we begin; distributing the power ‘equally’ is impossible: if we designate the power, then we are acting as the beneficiaries of it: should we give it away where we ‘see fit’ we have still enacted complete power by choosing where to release it and where to retain in. I mentioned it to my group: the penny dropped for them and they encouraged me to bring it up to the tutor. I told her, she laughed wryly and said, ‘I geuss there’s no point to the exercise then?’. But, after I saw it this way, I physically couldn’t do the exercise: anything was just a formality: a pretence when it was clear we humans were still retaining the power. It was like my brain physically could not go down the path of the task and I became very alarmed. ) AS a mum and a ‘starter’ of many courses, but not ‘completer’ I don’t feel particularly smart or capable. I remember wondering how people could even write a syllabus on any given topic: how could I invest 3 plus years of my life on information that could be obsolete as more information about the topic is revealed, as it always is! People have often thought I was a nurse or psychologist or scholar because of comments I’ve made and I have to tell them, ‘oh no, I’m nothing. I’m just interested in the topic’ Often feel bad about the fact that my throw-out efforts at something are often better than those around me trying their best, that I’m ‘good’ at so many things, (although my standard is sky high, so I’m not even close to what I want to be) Have seen people with less skill achieve more in their lives because they believe in what they have, while I lull around not creating because I don’t feel like it contributes significantly enough against the Canon of Valuable things that are already in the world. Am I gifted? Over analytical? A little crazy: I’ve wondered it before when I notice things about people that they have not told me: a flicker in the eye that tells me they are operating from pain, despite the stony veneer; that they are arguing their point because they have to believe it, but because they actually do. I thought I was gifted when I was young, but I was crap at maths and science and wasn’t really interested in annoying irrelevant things, like, how do our bodies stay on the earth? Or what is in outer space? I was more fascinated by what people did; what was their motive? What did they believe? Why did they think they were doing it and why were they actually doing it? How do you actuality know? Am I a tired gifted person, a burned out one, or am i just a scattered mum-brained wannabe scholar who could spend her whole life contemplating things everyone else has already figured out?

    1. pprober Avatar

      Ann. Based on this, well, a quite gifted person would be my guess. A lively rainforest mind. Yes! I have definitely written about some of these challenges you describe. If you are new here, please keep reading. Gifted? Indeed! Also, if you don’t mind, I might quote you in a future post as a “blog commenter.” So many people here will relate to what you are saying. Welcome!

  2. Lisa Swaboda Avatar
    Lisa Swaboda

    When you LIVE in the jungle you don’t need science to confirm that you live in the jungle. Keep dancing, nonacademic tango dancer!

  3. renovatio06 Avatar

    My first impulse after reading this is that I’d simply live to give you a hug, that’s how completely seen and acknowledged I feel from your words and the great examples you gave and made! All of that and more!

    Thank you endlessly!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You are endlessly welcome! 🙂

  4. Micaela Avatar

    I love Nonacademic Tango Dancing Psychotherapist. ❤️ Thank you for the wonderful article.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober


  5. clignett Avatar

    Oh, Paula, you did it again! You had me smiling in the beginning (Totally anecdotal unscientific absolutely non-academic), then crying with recognition in the middle (lonely for a friend who gets her, finally experiencing being followed and intuitive abilities frightening), to come to a complete circle at the end – they don’t live the jungle life..

    I absolutely love it!! You make it sound so simple, but the reality of living the jungle life is so harsh sometimes. Reading this makes me see a different point of view, and I realize that I might make my jungle life harder than it has to be. Just by accepting that it is MY jungle life..
    So, thank you, as always, for opening the circle!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You are so welcome, clignett. I have to admit I love getting folks laughing and crying. 🙂

  6.  Avatar

    Ahhhhhhh! those sound like my kind of people!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Yes! Mine, too!

  7. Georgia Patrick Avatar
    Georgia Patrick

    Thank you, Paula. You keep on point with my intensely curious question: Where are the data on the adult, who is gifted, and followed the path of professionalism? Gifted–born with it. (The Hardware from God/closed system/no changes possible) .Profession–totally chosen and totally within realm of skill up, mentors, etc. Think software. Something you choose or can even create. And that drives me to my other obsessive question: Why do we focus attention on gifted children, mostly? That’s what–16 years? Then there is adulthood, which can go another 6X or 7X children years. What about development of the gifted professional? I’ll keep looking. Literature searches yield very little on that combo: Gifted + adult + professional + communicator. For communicator you can substitute creator, writer, artist, thought leader, author, performer, speaker, listener.

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      You may have to be the one who studies and writes about this, Georgia! There is a person who does executive coaching in quite high end corporations. Some, maybe many, of her clients are gifted. You might look at her work for ideas. (not sure if that’s what you’re asking but…) https://www.charbonneauleadership.com

    2. renovatio06 Avatar

      Georgia, you are so absolutely right as far as I’m concerned in wondering about why the data and studies on gifted adults seems to be missing on the literature by and large. When I was made aware of the concept of giftedness by a therapist, whose own children are gifted and who ran an elaborate test with me (which confirmed that I seen to fall into that category hook, line and sinker), I found maybe a handful of books dealing with gifted adults and the many challenges associated with these traits in terms of finding our way in the world, and in addition ideally get to not only get by, but THRIVE, right?

      If you were comfortable, please feel free sharing some sources or starting points for further research with me. Now, that I’m eventually beginning to accept the fact I might be an RFM, naturally I’m dying to find a better way of sharing my qualities with the world and liberate myself from a totally impossible situation I landed in.
      Thanks for raising the issue, I think it’s an important aspect, that disparity between looking at gifted children, but hardly attending to gifted adults (except for Paula, of course, and maybe one or the other coach specializing in that area)

  8. hksounds Avatar

    HI Paula, I recently came up with another way of looking at the idea of gifted, or at least as it applies to me, and this revelation has come after a longer lifetime that even yours. It seems so obvious but I have not read about giftedness in these terms. What I discovered is that part of what my giftedness is, is excess capacity. I only learned that now, because for the first time, I have found myself feeling that I have come close to filling that intellectual capacity by becoming immersed in the natural world, seeing the behaviors, interactions, and learning to recognize and id various species of insects, spiders, mammals and bird, and even a very large reptile this week. I even started dreaming about the wildlife large and small. It is very satisfying to feel fully engaged. And I realized that it is a destination I didn’t even know I was aiming at. I am afraid I have taken this in a different direction than you were intending, but what do you think? Does it find a fit with your ideas about gifted?

    1. Monifa Avatar

      I like this idea of excess capacity being part of the picture!

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Monifa, how might you define “excess capacity?”

    2. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      It does fit!– “excess capacity” or the need to be “fully engaged” These are important ways to look at giftedness for sure. Is the capacity “excess” based on a normal person’s capacity but could also be described as enormous capacity? And, hksounds, there are no directions off limits! Thank you for being here and sharing.

  9. laneyp Avatar

    My not-yet-two-year-old daughter gets tragically upset every time a cat chases a mouse or a dog chases a squirrel in an animated movie. She starts crying that Cinderella is “sad” because her stepmother is “mean.” She refuses to draw on her MagnaDoodle because all she can do is scribble, and she knows that more is possible because Mom can draw dogs and cats and trees and things that actually look like pictures. My little “new growth rainforest” is sprouting up not too far from my canopy. Everything is just a little bit harder when your mind is a rainforest!

    1. Paula Prober Avatar
      Paula Prober

      Great examples, laneyp. Thank you!

    2. Pecheoiseau Avatar

      I have a very clear memory of lying on the couch when I was about 6, listening to an LP of “Bambi” and sobbing when Bambi’s mother died, even though I had seen the movie and already knew the plot. And I wasn’t thrilled about my Etch-A-Sketch because I couldn’t draw on it like the ads on TV. Hugs from my inner sprout to yours.

      1. Paula Prober Avatar
        Paula Prober

        Such a sweet inner sprout.