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Intellectual bullies are much worse than physical bullies for this one simple reason

When we think of childhood bullying, we’re likely to imagine a vulnerable child being mocked to tears, or having to endure some kind of physical abuse.

However, there’s a more mental way of embarrassing or humiliating an innocent child: by “lording” one’s intellectual superiority over them.

Intellectual bullying is a more insidious form of bullying that has received far less recognition than physical bullying, but which may actually be much worse.

The problem stems from the way we place people into an “intellectual hierarchy” within society, determining people’s worth using numbers and letters that form people’s grades in schools or positions within companies. We allow people placed at the top of this hierarchy to belittle people at the bottom. This creates the conditions for intellectual bullying, which is the emotional and psychological harassment one imposes on another based on his/her intellectual understanding.

Intellectual bullying can have devastating and long term consequences on someone’s sense of self-worth.

Here is a definition of intellectual bullying from Quora:

By intellectual bullies I mean people who are indeed smarter (have a higher IQ), who have more knowledge in a certain field, and generally carry the sense of entitlement to be dismissive, disrespectful, mean and emotionally abusive, and play tricks/pranks on others. [And, curiously] we glorify people like this in TV shows, and we don’t consider [it] a form of bullying. (Quora, “Do We Show More Leniency Towards Intellectual Bullies Than Physical Ones?”)

Adding another dimension to this phenomenon is Joe Bouchard, who remarks:


The intellectual bully specializes in condescension. Their insecurities are masked in large words and aloof, arrogant sentences. Their offense consists of a belief that they are smarter than the competition. They enjoy making others feel inferior. (“Ranking Bully Types,”)

It’s important to note that this condescension isn’t intentional. What happens is that highly intelligent people end up using their intellect in nasty manners often without realizing it.

One psychologist notes that their more cerebrally gifted clients over compensated in childhood for feelings of athletic, social or economic inferiority by making fun of those who displayed scholastic inferiority. This kind of intellectual intimidation probably didn’t make them popular but it compensated for their insecurities in other areas where they felt “lesser than”.

Employing a superior intellect to reduce their self-doubt and protect their fragile egos was an excellent way to mitigate their vulnerability and defend their tenuous self-esteem.

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The problem with intellectual bullies is that their natural inclination to act in an intellectually superior way has become habitual. They continue to demean others in routine ways.

But here’s the key point:

Physical bullies have a greater chance of learning their lesson as society rewards other qualities in people over time. However, intellectual bullies are better positioned to win status in society as a result of their intelligence. This results in them continuing to demonstrate their intelligence in superior ways without ever being caused to question themselves.

Consider this quote by Paul M. Jones in an article entitled “Patterns of Intellectual Bullies”:

The athlete bully . . . begins with the idea that “If I can beat you in a physical contest, then I am your master and I am better than you,” but eventually is conditioned to accept that physical domination is not socially acceptable. He grows up when he realizes he can’t get along with other adults by bullying them.


[In contrast] the intellectual bully . . . begins with the idea that “If I can beat you in a mental contest, then I am your master and I am better than you.” However, the intellectual bully rarely learns that mental domination is similarly unacceptable in civil, adult discourse. [And then, quoting directly from Alan Cooper’s The Inmates are Running the Asylum, he concludes:] “There is no maturation process to temper their exercise of that power.”

What is the key most important quality in personal development that intellectual bullies need to learn?

Quite simply, their greatest challenge is to “evolve” some humility. They need to stop linking a person’s core value to their intellect and accept as equals those whose genetically determined I.Q. aren’t at the same level as them.

They also need to understand that their never really earned their mental superiority. They had their intelligence “bestowed” upon them.


Unfortunately, intellectual bullies are usually sufficiently narcissistic that they’ll have great difficulty in undergoing a revision of their attitude. It’s going to be very challenging for them to embrace the empathy, understanding and compassion towards those who lack their cerebral advantages they had the good fortune of receiving.

Being born intellectually gifted is a gift. The proper response should be to cultivate a grateful and appreciative perspective, and intellectual bullies will be much better off if they are able to embrace this change. Society will be too, as it will evolve and emphasize the values of humility and hard work.

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Written by Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibility.

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