9 signs your intelligence is more intimidating than you think, according to psychology

Smart people can be intimidating. They know so much it can make folks around them feel insecure and irrelevant in comparison. 

Are you one of these unintentionally intimidating smart individuals?

Even if you don’t intend to come across that way, there are certain signs to watch out for that show your level of intelligence actually intimidates many people around you. 

Let’s take a look at the signs and what to do about it. 

1) People avoid debating you

When you bring up a contentious point or subject, you notice that some people seem to disagree or not be fully onboard. 

But rather than debate you on it or raise their own view, they more often just kind of shirk away. 

This is because they may be misinterpreting your intelligence and the intensity with which you talk as intimidating. 

As psychotherapist Paula Prober writes:

“You’re not out to humiliate anyone or prove that you’re a superior being. It’s just your nature to think a lot, to feel a lot, and to know a lot.”

2) Friends and colleagues ask your advice, but they don’t give advice

You frequently get asked for advice, but you are rarely given advice. 

This is a classic sign that people find you highly intelligent and insightful and want to know what you think about many things:

However they are intimidated and cowed in terms of trying to tell you advice or give you their perspective. 

Even if unintentional, your smartness leaves them feeling that their own thoughts and contributions aren’t really needed or valuable in comparison to your brilliance.

3) You’re often termed a ‘know-it-all’

Even though you don’t hog attention or try to force your view on people, you’ve heard yourself referred to as a know-it-all

If that exact term hasn’t been used, it’s still clear that some folks around you feel you are overly smart. 

It’s almost as if they expect you to stop using big words or talking about concepts they find confusing. 

To be clear, psychologists emphasize that this is usually a them problem, not a you problem. 

In other words, many of us react poorly to meeting somebody far more intelligent only if we already have shaky self-esteem.

“Plenty of times, the intimidation caused by meeting people who are ‘noticeably’ more intelligent than us is a direct outcome of the gap between our current self image and the aspirational self image,” points out psychology writer Siddharth Agarwal.

This ties into the next point:

4) People often get defensive and flustered around you

You notice that people often get defensive and a bit on guard around you. 

This is especially true when you talk about the subjects you’re most knowledgeable about and become technical. 

It can also occur when you correct common or easy errors that people make around you. 

Examples include fact-checking something that is incorrect or correcting grammar. 

Even if it’s meant well, it can leave people feeling defensive around you and intimidated by how strict you are about facts and truth.

“Let people have their bad grammar and their mixed metaphors; the world will probably not end,” advises Prober.

5) Friends and colleagues downplay their achievements around you

Another sign that your intelligence is intimidating to some folks around you is that they downplay their own accomplishments around you.

Sure, your coworker spent a summer in Prague studying Czech and taking a special course in electrodynamics…But it’s no big deal.

At least according to him.

Sure, your friend speaks seven languages, but she never happened to really mention it around you before. 

In many cases these people are afraid of getting into a situation where they feel like they have to prove themselves to you. 

Even if you’re a very kind and non-judgmental person, your intelligence makes them worry that you’ll judge them or feel they’re trying to gain undue attention for their own accomplishments.

6) Partners find it harder to feel ‘at your level’

On the romantic side of things, your intelligence can also be intimidating to partners. 

When you’re highly intelligent and another person isn’t (or doesn’t think they are), they may have the perception that you’re superior to them. 

This can create a lot of struggle around their feeling that they aren’t at “your level,” which can come with its whole own set of emotional frustrations. 

As this recent study from Western Sydney University found:

“A partner who was relatively more intelligent comes with [their] own set of costs like a greater probability of defection and even a sense of superiority, both which may also be seen as deal-breakers.”

7) People don’t offer you help unless you specifically ask

When it comes to getting help and advice, people rarely freely offer it to you. 

You have to ask, and you have to be quite specific. 

Whereas you notice they are more comfortable talking it out with others and giving them advice and help, you’re a different story. 

Why is that?

In many cases it’s that they feel you already know so much (or come across that way) that their advice wouldn’t be helpful or needed. 

8) You’re often left out of casual conversations and chit chat

Another sign that your intelligence intimidates people more than you realize is that you’re often left out of casual conversations and chat. 

People look kind of embarrassed when you come back from the bathroom at a restaurant and your friends were talking about Beyonce. 

“Oh it’s nothing,” they chuckle, moving on to more “serious” subjects. 

Meanwhile you wonder why you’re not more included in casual and fun chats. 

It can be mystifying, especially since you’re not intending to be intense or overly smart.

“You don’t do it on purpose. Intimidate people,” explains Prober. 

“You’re just being you. In fact, you’re holding back. Slowing down. Smiling. Being gracious. Stifling your curiosity and your perceptions. 

“Carefully selecting from the scores of effervescent thoughts that continuously swirl around in your brain.”

9) Even people in positions of authority often defer to you

When your intelligence is intimidating, even people in positions of authority often give you the benefit of the doubt. 

As psychology writer Wanda Thibodeaux notes:

“Others don’t feel like they’re in a position to question you.”

While this can get you ahead at work and be quite calming at certain times, it can also feel like you’re not really getting full engagement from people. 

This is when it’s important to let others know that you appreciate their input and are open to other perspectives as well. 

After all, we all have strengths in different areas!

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