12 signs you’re a truly intelligent person with low self-esteem

Who doesn’t have their own fair share of insecurities? We’re all human, after all. 

But did you know that, according to some experts, the more intelligent or gifted a person is, the more insecure they probably are?

It might seem strange, but it makes sense if you think about it.

People with skills or talents might have a lot of expectations set upon them. Or, they might feel the need to compete with other people who have similar talents.

So, because of their insecurity, some people might not even realize just how great they actually are!

Here are 12 signs you’re a truly intelligent person with low self-esteem.

1) You fear failure

A fear of failure isn’t uncommon. But a lot of smart people fear failing intensely.


Because as I just said, they feel like people always expect them to do great. They cannot stand the idea of other people being disappointed in them.

After all, they already don’t see themselves in the best light. Having other people look at them in the same way just fuels the flames of insecurity.

Because of this, they might end up:

  • Trying to please other people instead of playing to their strengths;
  • Be fearful of taking risks or trying out new ways to do things;
  • Be unproductive because of the anxiety;
  • Agonize over small, insignificant details;

And all of these make it hard for these people to utilize their talents, much less reach their full potential!

They’re likely aware that people think highly of them. But this just makes it worse because who wants to be called a fraud?

2) You can’t take compliments

However, it’s quite ironic that people like this are self-conscious about the negative things people say or might say about them but never take the compliments they do offer in kind. 

It’s not that they think people are necessarily being insincere or offering backhanded compliments (though they are also often wary of this). They just can’t bring themselves to see themselves in the same positive light. 

They’ll take it and say thank you out of kindness and courtesy, but deep inside, they feel uncomfortable about it. 

It makes them ask: Am I really like that? Am I really that good?

And they are. They just can’t see it.

3) You hide your true self

Highly intelligent people can be a bit weird.

They’re usually nerdy or obsessed with peculiar hobbies. Some studies even show that smarter people talk to themselves, get overly excited about things, or are more prone to mental health issues.

So a lot of the time, they don’t feel like they fit in the most smoothly in many social situations.

Thus, they’ve learned that to socialize well in most contexts, they have to put on a mask of sorts. They’re wary of expressing their real selves because they fear people judging them or placing lofty expectations on them.

4) You doubt or downplay how smart you are

Thus, people like this also respond to such compliments by doubting or downplaying their talents or achievements.

They’ll say things like:

  • “It wasn’t that impressive!”
  • “I’m sure anyone could do it.”
  • “I just got lucky.”

Here’s the thing, though: sometimes, these responses are just their attempts to fish for more compliments. Because they can’t see their self-worth, they rely on other people to validate them.

But, as said above, external feedback (in the form of (more compliments) won’t fix an intrinsically personal and internal issue.

5) You tend to overthink

Intelligent people just have too much brains, man. That’s why they overthink, duh!

Bad jokes aside, people like this are constantly in a state of agitation due to self-doubt and insecurity. It’s virtually impossible for them to achieve mental peace.

They will overanalyze everything about their own actions and what other people say about them.

Of course, while self-awareness and being self-critical (to an extent) is healthy, they definitely go overboard.

They beat themselves up over small mistakes. They’ll strive for nothing less than what they think is perfection.

And even when they do achieve their goal, they’ll still end up criticizing themselves, nitpicking over every detail.

Or, alternatively, some people just don’t even get started on what they need to do. Their insecurity and overthinking simply leave them paralyzed in fear and uncertainty that they don’t put their talents to use at all. 

6) You always second-guess

In more extreme cases, insecure yet intelligent people will constantly second-guess themselves.

Once they’re done with a project, even if it reaches the standards that they’ve initially set out for themselves, they’ll end up doubting if it’s actually good enough.

While it’s again important to take a look at what you’ve finished, sometimes these people’s standards are not only too high—they constantly make them higher.

After all, the issue doesn’t lie in their talents or the quality of their work. It lies in insecurity. 

Due to a low sense of self-worth, they just can’t see themselves being good enough at all.

7) You dislike too much attention

Insecure people don’t like being the center of attention (even if they may crave it deep inside).

The idea of having the spotlight on them is likely a nightmare for them because they don’t want their “flaws” to be highlighted. To them, it simply makes them more prone to receiving judgment and criticism.

If they do get the spotlight—such as, let’s say, being made to give a speech—they’ll likely:

  • Downplay their achievements;
  • Redirect people’s attention and praise to their supporters;
  • Make it “short and sweet” (though mostly short);

Receiving a lot of attention is just a no-no for them, regardless if it’s positive or negative attention.

If it’s positive attention and they’re receiving praise, then as said above, these compliments just make them feel uncomfortable.

If it’s negative… then, well, it just makes their insecurity worse. 

8) You care too much about other people’s opinions

As you probably have realized by now, the most prominent denominator of intelligent yet insecure people is their sensitivity to other people’s opinions.

Just like how they overthink and overcriticize their actions, they also overanalyze every single conversation they have with other people.

They replay the interactions in their head. They try to see if the smallest details in their word choice, tone of voice, or body language can be a sign of what they truly think about them.

This is also why they change who they are depending on who they’re with. They think it’s just them “putting their best foot forward.” 

But what they’re actually doing is trying to get people to like them. After all, they don’t like themselves—they need other people to do it for them.

9) You can’t make up your mind

And because they overthink and overanalyze everything, they tend to be unable to make decisions.

Everything is a “gray area” for them, so to speak. They spend so much time weighing the pros and cons that it weighs down on their productivity and self-esteem.

Yes, it’s important to have a nuanced understanding of things. Some things are complex and there are trade-offs to every decision.

We need to see this in order to make the right decision—even if it’s a hard decision.

The problem with highly intelligent people though is this: their perfectionism renders them unable to commit to a choice if it’s not a “perfect” choice.

But no choice is perfect! In order to gain some things, you’ll need to give up others.

10) You criticize yourself harshly

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your sense of humor always self-deprecating?
  • Do you talk to yourself in a negative way?
  • Do you criticize yourself more harshly than you do others?

If the answer is yes, then you’re likely suffering from insecurity.

One of the main hallmarks of low self-esteem is negative self-talk. After all, combining perfectionism with low self-esteem is the perfect formula for a highly self-critical person.

Remember that you need to be kind to yourself if you want to reach your goals. Neurotic, obsessive self-criticism is counter-productive!

11) You have a strong social anxiety

It’s unsurprising that insecure people tend to have social anxiety

It’s a rough situation, actually.

Because of their anxiety, it’s hard for them to develop deeper friendships with people. It’s, therefore, hard for them to sincerely accept people’s compliments and praises due to this lack of a deeper connection with the people they know.

In the same vein, because the walls aren’t broken down yet (so to speak), between them and their peers, it’s hard for them to see themselves in the same way their peers see them.

12) You hesitate to speak up

People like this will understandably think that they have nothing good to contribute to the conversation.

So in group settings, they’ll let others do most of the talking. Remember, they don’t want to be at the center of attention!

And that’s such a waste! Because in reality, they are very smart and will therefore have interesting and thoughtful things to say about any given topic.

Summing up: is this you?

Does this article describe you?

If so, listen…

You’re smart, okay? That means you know that you need to work on your self-esteem. And you know it’s not easy.

But no one else will do it but you. I don’t mean to put pressure on you. I know you already experienced much of it. Please see this as a warm hug from a beloved older sibling who’s been in your shoes before.

Think of the life you want to live, the person you want to become.

You change and be better. You can achieve those things—I believe in you!

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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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