People who are highly intelligent but downplay it to fit in often display these 7 behaviors

High intelligence isn’t always a desirable trait.

Sometimes, people – especially children – tend to downplay their intelligence lest it makes them stand out among their peers.

They worry that if they’re too much of a smart cookie, their friends may view them as special or strange. 

They’re afraid that their intelligence might set them apart in a world where a sense of belonging is of the utmost importance.

As a result, they often display these 7 behaviors.

1) They try to blend in

Did you know that people with high IQ are very likely to experience social isolation?

If you always know the right answer and are very tough to impress, you can seem quite intimidating, which might lead to feeling like you don’t really get on with others.

But you do. You’ve just got to find your crowd.

Easier said than done, right?

Kids at school, for instance, can’t really choose their classmates, which means that they often try their best to blend in and keep their wittiness to themselves for fear of bringing in too much unwanted attention.

Hold on, though. Isn’t high intelligence a trait praised by our society? Aren’t we all about merit and hard work?

Well, psychologist Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D., says that intelligence isn’t always perceived in a positive light.

He writes:

“How else to explain why intellectually superior students so frequently develop apprehension about exhibiting their intelligence in the classroom? They may avoid volunteering the right answer, hoping that someone else will raise their hand.

“For if they routinely offer an answer no one else can come up with, they’re likely to have the uncomfortable experience of being glared at. Or even being made fun of or bullied on the playground.”

Sometimes, downplaying one’s intelligence is nothing but an attempt to feel “normal”.

2) They get embarrassed when they blurt out the right answer

Not always are smart people able to fake their way into what they consider ordinary.

I once had a classmate who would never raise her hand to offer the right answer even though she obviously knew it.

But sometimes, the knowledge just escaped out of her like a deep exhale, and while our teacher seemed pleased, my classmate looked more embarrassed than ever.

She probably felt like she’d just given herself away. Like she’d shown the world she was one of those nerds she’d been trying her hardest not to be.

Of course, it’s not embarrassing to be smart. It’s admirable. My classmate eventually realized this, too. It took her a few years, but she got there.

3) They ask questions they know the answers to

I’ve recently spoken to my friend who’s a teacher.

He’s told me something quite interesting: “There are a lot of young girls who try to appear less intelligent than they really are. They often ask questions they actually don’t need to ask at all because they already know the answer.”

This made me think of how I acted when I was younger. While I spent my free time reading classic literature and philosophy, I acted quite daft and silly around my friends.

And if there was a boy involved, it got even worse.

I asked my crushes for help with homework I could have easily completed myself. I let them explain stuff to me for hours even though I had a similar amount of knowledge on the topic.

I downplayed my intelligence not just because I wanted to fit in but because it seemed like the easiest mode of social interaction.

I suffered from quite a lot of social anxiety back then, and if I always asked other people questions and let them teach me things I’d already known, I didn’t have to show up as my authentic self and face a possible rejection.

In other words, making myself look less smart had a lot to do with my low self-esteem.

4) They lack confidence

This is the crux of the problem.

If you’re highly intelligent and confident, what are the chances you’re going to try to appear less clever?

Exactly. Not very high.

If you lack confidence, though… Well, then it makes sense that you’re trying your best to blend in.

High intelligence has a cost. It means you might have to be the center of attention from time to time. It means others might envy you, pick at you, or dislike you.

When you struggle with self-esteem, unwanted attention is the last thing you need in your life.

This is also why I only began to display my intelligence once I grew a bit older and became more confident in myself. 

It was hard at first – all my friends were used to making jokes about my daftness, so it came as a bit of a surprise when I turned out to be actually quite smart – but I made it through.

Remember that high intelligence doesn’t make you weird or uncool. It’s a trait you ought to cherish. A trait that, when used well, can do some amazing things out there in the world.

5) They rarely take risks

Low self-esteem is linked to low risk-taking behavior in social situations.

If you have a controversial opinion, you’re more likely to keep it to yourself because you worry about how it might reflect on your social standing.

If you’re stuck in a toxic friendship, you might struggle to take a chance on yourself and end it because you’re afraid of seeking new connections.

If you know more about the topic at hand than the person explaining it to you, you might keep quiet about it because you don’t want to risk appearing rude or arrogant.

Clever people who suffer from poor self-esteem often like to play it safe. They like their comfort bubbles because there’s no need for them to stretch themselves and risk attracting attention.

Just think of everything they could do if they believed they were worthy of stealing the spotlight.

6) Their attitude is inconsistent with their performance

Clever people know it’s not exactly smart to perform poorly just to fit in with others.

That’s not to say some don’t do it, but it’s often the case that intelligent students exhibit the social behavior expected of them – such as complaining about hard exams – only to surpass their peers when it comes to academic performance.

“Ugh, that test sounds so hard, and I didn’t study at all. Oh well.”

Except that they end up getting an A.

The same applies in the workplace. Someone who tries to downplay their intelligence might complain about the boss and the workload, only to work really hard in secret.

The thing is, most people eventually notice this kind of behavior, which means that it’s completely unnecessary to put on the front in the first place.

If you act authentically, you have a much higher chance of fitting in with the right group of people.

Which brings us to the last point…

7) They place immense value on friendships

We all want to belong. Humans are social animals, and it makes complete sense that we value our relationships with others above all.

But remember that your authenticity may be too high a price to pay.

If you try to fit in with the wrong crowd, you won’t feel fulfilled on the deepest and most crucial levels of your being, and your confidence might even plummet.

There’s a difference between fitting in and belonging. As the lecturer and coach Susan Biali Haas, M.D., says: “’Fitting in’ means changing oneself to be part of a group, whereas ‘belonging’ means showing up as oneself and being welcomed.”

If you’re highly intelligent, there are people out there in the world who will love you for not just your intelligence but also your whole self.

Don’t change yourself to fit in. Find people who love you as you are.

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Tina Fey

I'm Tina Fey, the founder of the blog Love Connection. I've extremely passionate about sharing relationship advice. I've studied psychology and have my Masters in marital, family, and relationship counseling. I hope with all my heart to help you improve your relationships, and I hope that even if one thing I write helps you, it means more to me than just about anything else in the world. Check out my blog Love Connection, and if you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter

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