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Do you ever feel insecure about your intelligence?

  1. Mar 8, 2015 #1
    I do not know if this is the proper website to post a thread like this, but do you ever feel insecure about your intelligence? I've had self esteem issues since I was a child for various reasons that I shall not discuss here. I,however, feel insecure around my peers. Despite having a 3.94 major GPA, getting into a Harvard REU, and being told by my close friends that I am very smart, I feel less than dirt. I feel as if I am looked down as a freak of nature for not having all the answers. For example, someone asked a question last Friday about quantum physics and I responded but my response was more complicated than need be. It wasn't wrong, I just did not trust my previous answer as it seemed too simple so I found a more mathematically rigorous way of solving the problem. Someone told me I was wrong, and then someone else proceeded to laugh in my face. I felt absolutely insulted. Similarly, there are a few intelligent classmates that I feel that I am looked down by. They have seemingly no willingness to interact or develop a friendship with me and in some sense seem very aloof towards me. It gives me the impression that they think poorly of me. I do not need to be friends, but I wish I felt a sense of intellectual and personal respect. These are the reasons why I feel intellectually inferior by my classmates. I understand most of these thoughts are motivated due to my sense of low self worth, but I feel it is not completely off base.

    While my situation is somewhat unique, do you ever feel the same and how do you react to your feelings of low self worth about your intelligence?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 8, 2015 #2
    if youre a physics major and youve taken enough classes to explain some quantum mechanics to someone and your gpa is damn near a 4.0... there is nothing you need to worry about.
    im so surprised to hear that class mates of your would make fun of you... everyone in all my physics classes are so supportive it unreal. in the end those people wont matter. if you plan on going to graduate school its not likely youll see them in grad school.
    my gpa is around a 3.2 and im barely hitting the hard classes... i respect you haha
  4. Mar 9, 2015 #3


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    Everybody has insecurities and they don't go away with age. Some people just learn to deal with them better than others with practice. Acknowledging your insecurities is a first step towards managing them. Even aloofness can often be a security measure.
  5. Mar 9, 2015 #4


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    Have you heard of Impostor Syndrome?

    http://counseling.caltech.edu/general/InfoandResources/Impostor [Broken]

    Does that description seem to fit?
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  6. Mar 10, 2015 #5


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    I am sorry you feel about yourself in this way - I bet the person who laughed in your face was the one who really felt insecure about their intelligence.

  7. Mar 10, 2015 #6


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    Sounds exactly like imposter syndrome as Lisa suggested. From conversations I've had with colleagues and university councillors it's very common amongst academics. We tend to see just the positive faces of everyone else and assume that's the whole story, i.e. when someone answers a question correctly in our minds we hear "Wow how did they get that so easily" and in their minds they think "man it was lucky I studied this last term, really thought that was going to be wrong though". Or as another example "every experiment John does works brilliantly! He's so on the ball!" and John is thinking "Oh god I hope they don't find out about all those experiments that went wrong, how could I be so stupid? No one else seems to fail at so many".

    Seem familiar?

    This might seem a bit left field but are you sure they were laughing in your face? Could it be that they were laughing at something else entirely (perhaps the situation, the way something was said, the lecturer etc) and because of your low self-esteem you assumed it was because of your answer? It may be obvious that this isn't the case (in which case they're a douche, pay them no attention) but given the rest of your post I wonder if you're not paranoid about what others think about you to the extent any behaviour is viewed as hostile towards you.

    In terms of dealing with it have you looked into the availability of counselling provided by your university?
  8. Mar 10, 2015 #7
    I have a completely different take on this than everyone else. You may therefore consider my take a 'minority report,' but here's how I think this went down:

    It was clear from your demeanor, and the fact you went back and corrected yourself, you were extremely personally invested in getting the answer right. Like, this was a huge issue to you, and everyone present could see that. Unsenced by you, people's attention shifted from listening to the content of your answer to observing what might have been seen as an inordinately high level of concern on your part about being correct. The guy who told you you were wrong was simply needling you for that, for being so all consumingly cautious and rigorous. It's a comedic no-brainer that when someone is obviously overly concerned about the correctitude of their answer, you should listen carefully and then, when they're finished, just baldly assert they are wrong, since that is the thing they least want to hear, and would get the biggest reaction. The clown is not out to confirm your intelligence, he's out to get a laugh from whatever audience is present. Here it worked. The person who laughed was not laughing at you being wrong, because you almost certainly were right, but at the deftness of the other person's having located and punctured your weak spot. I would imagine the look on your face when the guy flatly pronounced you wrong was hilarious, after you had expended such effort in not being wrong.

    Consider that we're talking about Harvard here. In addition to it's reputation for academic excellence Harvard has the reputation of attracting and informally fostering top-notch wits. The bulk of current American comedy, as it is, can be traced back to Harvard:


    In summary, I don't think your intelligence was being called into question here. It was probably your perceived overly-serious attitude that was being lampooned.
  9. Mar 10, 2015 #8
    The ironic thing is that someone with this syndrome would never be able to admit it. As admitting it would require them to admit that they are in fact intelligent (or possessing some similarly positive quality).
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