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How Being Smart is Your Biggest Insecurity

Psychology Oct 11, 2020

If you were ever told as a kid that "you're pretty smart", this caused a negative effect on how you see yourself. An insecurity was born.

Being smart seems like a good thing. It's not a bad thing, but being told you are smart, especially as a kid, might have actually messed you up.

You might ask, "How would I develop an insecurity for something that made me feel better about myself?"

The answer is it might have made you feel better about the way you did things, and the way you did things was not helpful.


The insecurity of being smart

If you thought of yourself as a smart person, or if others told you that you were smart, this shaped how you did things. It developed an identity for you.

Being smart means whatever you were doing was correct. You were on a bright path.

The unfortunate thing is you never left that path. And that path led you down a road of expectations.

When you are "smart", you get to solutions easier, you understand things quickly, and whatever ways you acted was how a smart person acted.

Then when an obstacle came, your ability as a "smart person" was tested. This test made you uncomfortable. It gave you an insecurity.

Whether it was a new subject in school or a new thing for you to learn, you expected it would come easy to you. After all, you are smart, why wouldn't it come easy to you?

But what happens with this scenario is when you encountered something that you didn't understand or something that made you feel not smart, you didn't like that feeling.

That feeling is the feeling of inexperience. And for someone who is smart, that feeling made you shy away from that new thing.

Being smart leads to avoiding the things that make you feel like you are not.

It's a check on your identity. As a kid, this check leads you away from the things that made you feel stupid. Things that weren't a part of who you are, part of your identity, things that didn't make you feel smart.

When you are young and told you are smart, you put yourself on a different playing field.

Now, a math test that everyone else did well in and you didn't isn't just one bad grade. It's a check on you being smart and this check is enough for you to avoid things.


The feeling of stupidity

Unfortunately, for those that were called smart as a kid, a challenge was absent.

Smart kids don't do things that make them feel stupid. Feeling stupid isn't who you are.

So for a kid, this results in doing things that are easier. Things that make that kid feel smart.

After all, they are smart so the things that make them self-identify with what they are told they are is what makes them feel that this is what they should be doing.

When you do something that makes you feel smart, you must be good in it. Right?

But those things that are challenging, the things that make you feel stupid, you stay away from.

You had an insecurity born within you and you learned to stay away from that feeling.

Taking a test and getting a bad grade for an example could lead to two thoughts.

One thought is that something went wrong, you messed up somewhere and that shouldn't happen again. That bad grade was an outlier.

The other thought is you think you aren't capable in a certain subject and need more practice in it.

However, that second thought only exists in those who weren't told they were smart.

Those who weren't smart and understood they had to study more because they aren't "one of the smart kids" is doing things that are challenging them.

One kid is excelling doing nothing and the other is attempting to better themselves at something they are not good at.

However, this backfires when the smart kid gets older and faces things that are challenging and they haven't had to learn things that needed application.

They enter a scenario where that feeling of incompetence appears and they haven't had to face that beast before. They feel insecure and judged because they were smart and didn't want to be seen as not.

An avoidance has become a part of the smart kids identity.


Experience vs Inexperience

When you are experienced in something, you can excel in it.

When you are not experienced, you accept failure.

A smart kid has unfortunately only done the things that they identified with and the things that made them feel incompetent were not things that they did.

Doing something you are inexperienced in is fine, you expect to not do well and you don't mind failure.

However, a smart kid in that scenario is not recognizing "I am inexperienced in this", they are saying to themselves, "I am dumb when it comes to this."

So when the time comes for you to do something that makes you feel stupid and you question your own ability, you aren't used to that feeling.

That feeling is paralyzing. That is the insecurity.

What this means is the solution is to reframe how things are seen.

Challenges are a good thing, and someone who has not undergone many challenges has to face what makes them shy away from challenges in the first place.

The kids who were not smart didn't care if they failed a test. They don't always expect to fail, but they are inexperienced with a subject and want to gain more experience.

What needs to happen is a shift in seeing things that make the smart kid feel uncomfortable and let them know, that feeling of incompetence is what everyone else learned to manage.

The shift comes when a success or failure does not bring the feeling of "smart or stupid" but the feeling of "experienced or inexperienced".

With the shift comes the idea that you aren't bad at something like driving. You are inexperienced. You've never driven before. So you accept failure, you do it with the idea that you are inexperienced, and you learn to drive.

One last look shows if you thought you were smart, and instead of driving you think of a subject in school, being bad at that subject isn't being stupid, it's being inexperienced.

This shift is one that a "smart kid" has to make later in life and realize because of them being told something that shaped their identity, they kept to that identity and didn't do things that challenged it.

With school being one of the only things that kids have to either excel or fail in, the smart kids did not face challenges for years.

If you want to shape yourself to accept challenges, you have to learn how to be fine with the feeling of incompetence. And to accept that feeling, you have to shift your thinking to understand what it feels like to be inexperienced with something.

You aren't smart or stupid, you are experienced or inexperienced.

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