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“I feel as if I’m smart, but people think I’m stupid. Several people have even told me that they thought I was unintelligent until they got to know me better. Why do people think I’m stupid, and how can I get them to stop?”
We all want people to like, accept, and respect us. It hurts when it feels like people think we are less than them. Here are some tips on how not to be “stupid,” reasons why someone may believe that you’re stupid, and how to deal when you feel that people are judging you for being stupid.
We measure intelligence on a bell curve. If you draw a line through the middle of the graph, half of the population will fall to one side (over 100 IQ) and the other on the other side (under 100 IQ). Most people fall between 85 to 115 points.
But if you listen to people who’ve taken an IQ test, it seems like everyone has an IQ of 130. That’s understandable if you remember one thing: people tend to prefer to highlight the best parts of themselves. If someone takes an IQ test and gets a score of 80, they’re not going to be as likely to share it as the person who got a score of 120 (even though the validity of IQ tests is questionable, particularly online IQ tests).
So if you seem to be surrounded by geniuses, remember that things aren’t always what they seem.
Although intelligent people can be interesting to be around, it’s more important to have people in our lives that have qualities like compassion, generosity, humility, and an open mind.
We want our friends, family, and mentors to accept and support us more than we need them to solve puzzles or analyze complex problems.
So if you feel like you’re unintelligent or that people think that you are, remember that has no bearing on your ability to be a good friend.
Make a list of the things you like about yourself. Are you curious? A good cook? Do you have a way with animals? Are you generally laid-back? Or perhaps really good at getting things organized? There’s more to life than being intelligent or not.
Many people deal with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when people doubt themselves even in the face of accomplishments. Imposter syndrome can make us feel like frauds, as though at any moment people will “find out” and “discover who we really are.”
Imposter syndrome can sound like this:
- “Yeah, I finished a degree, but it was an easy one.”
- “My boss said I did a good job at work, but they’re just trying to motivate me by being nice.”
- “This is probably a pity invite. They wouldn’t want to be around me if they really knew me.”
Imposter Syndrome can make you feel like you’re stupid even if you’re quite intelligent and even if you get external feedback that you’re smart.
The good news is that Imposter Syndrome is quite common, so you’re not alone. It’s also something you can work on by going to therapy and improving your self-esteem.
“I’m an idiot. No one will want to be around me. Why should they, when there are so many other smart and interesting people around?”
Does this sound like you?
Many of us have a harsh inner critic commenting on everything we do. We can become so accustomed to the inner critic that we don’t even notice it anymore.
You can find tips and worksheets on challenging the inner critic online.
Anxiety can affect the learning process in several ways. It can have a negative effect on our working memory, the memory we “work with” (for example, how long you’re able to keep a phone number in your head after someone has told it to you). It also affects our attention and processing.
Of course, growing up with slow processing speed or attention problems can also lead to anxiety, particularly if your caretakers and teachers weren’t supportive. Having a slow processing speed doesn’t mean that you are stupid or unintelligent. In fact, some gifted students have slow processing speed. Slow processing speed can be due to ADHD/ADD, a learning disability, or some other reason that has nothing to do with intelligence.
You can treat your anxiety by working with a an online therapist at BetterHelp or other mental health professionals. Medication may also be of benefit to you, ask your doctor or psychiatrist about it.
It’s impossible to go through life without making mistakes. Whether you forgot someone’s name or failed a test, your mistakes don’t define you. Making mistakes doesn’t make you stupid. It makes you human.
Remember: everyone makes mistakes, so why can’t you? When you find yourself beating yourself up for making a mistake, try to be gentle with yourself. Imagine seeing a scared child drop an object. Yelling at him will only make him even more scared. Try to talk to yourself like you would to that child.
Do you feel stupid if you don’t get good grades in all your classes? Make sure your expectations are realistic. You can’t do everything.
For example, if you’re currently getting grades around 60%, it will be hard to go to 90% in several subjects at a time. Pick a subject and focus on it. Give yourself credit for making progress. Going from 60% to 70% is a big deal.
Try not to compare yourself to other people. It’s easy to look at someone else who seems to succeed in everything effortlessly. Remember to compare yourself only to yourself. As long as you’re trying your best and seeing some progress, you’re doing a good job.
Intelligence isn’t a fixed trait that we’re born with. Our intelligence can be influenced by many things, including our surroundings, diet, and certain tasks that engage our brain. In fact, people who believe that they can grow their intellectual ability are more likely to do so.
Keep your brain stimulated by reading different kinds of books, listening to podcasts, practicing a new language, learning to code, or reading articles that analyze things that are going on in the world. Try to watch TED talks or attend lectures and discussion circles instead of watching action movies occasionally.
Remember to set realistic goals. You probably won’t be able to keep up with all these things, so pick the ones that seem most appealing to you. If you’re already stressed out, adding more challenges may be too difficult. There’s nothing wrong with taking time off to “turn your brain off” once in a while.
If someone you know is telling you that you’re stupid, it says more about them than about you.
Telling someone that they’re dumb is not helpful. It isn’t constructive criticism that can help someone improve their behavior. It just makes them feel bad about themselves.
Constructive criticism can sound like this:
- “I noticed some factual errors in your report. Perhaps you can double-check your sources next time.”
- “Your lecture was very well put together but a bit dry. I think you could keep the audience engaged more if you mixed it up with a joke or personal anecdote.”
- “It looks like the method you’re using is ineffective. Do you want to hear about what I do to make the process quicker?”
If someone says something like this to you, it doesn’t mean they think you’re dumb or unintelligent.
Constructive criticism is not:
- “You always mess things up.”
- “You’re an idiot.”
- “I knew I shouldn’t have expected you to get this right.”
If someone is going around trying to make others feel bad, they’re being a jerk. It may be due to their own insecurity or pain. Or maybe they’re not trying to be mean on purpose but don’t know how to communicate effectively. In any case, try not to take their words to heart.
“I feel stupid with how I act around others. How can I stop being stupid?”
Certain behaviors can make us feel stupid or seem stupid to others, even if we’re pretty smart.
Some signs that someone thinks your behavior is stupid or strange are:
- Responding in a long, drawn-out, sarcastic voice after you say something (“Suuuuuure,” “OK then…”)
- Rolling their eyes.
- Sharing a look with someone else before responding to you.
- Laughing when you’ve said something that wasn’t meant to be funny.
- Frowning, creasing their brow, and shaking their head while you talk.
People may judge the following behaviors as silly, strange, or unintelligent:
Many people believe in strange things. Some people have a lucky shirt, a lucky number, or have superstitious cultural beliefs (for example, in Thailand, Wednesday is considered an unlucky day to get a haircut).
The issue is that we tend to think other people’s conflicting beliefs are wrong. Don’t insist that your beliefs are correct, especially if it’s paired with an assumption that others are wrong.
Being wrong is one thing. It happens to everyone. But if it turns out that you’re wrong after you’ve insisted that you’re right and that everyone else is wrong, people will look at you differently.
Be willing to admit that you could be mistaken. After all, no one is right 100% of the time. Listen to what others have to say and consider their point of view. Double-check claims you’re making. Don’t assume you’re right just because you read it somewhere. Maybe your source was wrong, or you’re not remembering things correctly. Don’t get defensive when it turns out that you were wrong or made a mistake.
When you label people or use sweeping generalizations, people may assume you don’t understand nuance. Saying “women are so shallow,” for example, ignores the fact that many women aren’t shallow, and there are many shallow men. Saying “some people are shallow” would be a more nuanced and correct way of phrasing it.
Try not to generalize, especially when you’re discussing sensitive topics.
If you’re talking to people and misuse phrases – like saying “extract revenge” instead of “exact revenge” – they may think you are unintelligent.
You can check to see if you’re using saying and idioms correctly. Reading books will also increase the odds that you use these sayings in the proper context.
When we have certain interests, we can get caught up in talking about them. We may think about our new obsession constantly and want to share our excitement with others. However, if we don’t pick up when others aren’t interested, we may come across as childish or dumb.
When someone is constantly talking up their accomplishments, it gives a sense that they’re trying to cover for something else – particularly true if these accomplishments aren’t real. Don’t lie about your accomplishments, and don’t try to “one-up” other people.
If you’re having trouble cutting down your bragging, read our article: how to stop bragging.
If someone doesn’t pick up on social cues, others may assume that they do not understand social situations. Someone who shows up to a wedding in shorts and flip-flops, for example, may be perceived as slow because they didn’t understand the social convention of dressing up.
We have a guide that can help you pick up on social cues.
People may think you’re stupid if your behavior is unusual, if you have difficulty picking up on social cues, or if your mind goes blank in social situations. Remember that people thinking you’re stupid doesn’t mean that you actually are.
Remember that people’s opinions of us usually mean more about them than about us. Keep doing your job and being kind. Communicate the best you can by informing people of your actions when necessary. You can ask a kind coworker if they have ideas on how you can improve your work.