7 signs people find your high intelligence quite intimidating

Having a high level of intelligence is a blessing because it can give a person an infinite amount of possibilities in life. 

But sometimes it can leave them feeling isolated and unintentionally rub some people—including family members—the wrong way. 

That’s because other people tend to feel inferior in their company and an intelligent person—being the intuitive intellectual that they are—can pick up on this. 

So how can you sense that other people feel intimidated by your intelligence?

Here are seven distinctive signs. 

1) They always get argumentative with you 

People who are jealous or threatened by your intelligence may become argumentative so as to “prove you wrong”.

One way they do this is by playing devil’s advocate.

Any theory or idea you bring up might be met with a counter-theory. 

They might also get defensive because deep down they know you’re on to them, says Robert Jameson from Medium

“For some people, the really threatening thing about an intelligent person is that an intelligent person might be able to see through their facade,” he says. “This is a real concern behind their hostility—being shown up for what they really are.”

2) They can get quite condescending 

Now I’m not saying I’m the most intelligent person in the room, but I remember having a co-worker who just had to play devil’s advocate anytime I talked about my perspective on something that was happening in the news. 

This was fine, I actually don’t mind being proven wrong or shown a different perspective. It compels me to think of something in perhaps a new way. 

What annoyed me to no end though, was the way she did it. The tone was pretty condescending which made me instinctively want to reject anything she said, even when she made some good points. 

People who are condescending have an arrogance about them that doesn’t allow them to appreciate another person’s perspective—especially when it’s something they didn’t think of themselves. 

When feeling over-intellectualized, someone may feel intimidated and resort to dismissive or belittling comments, says the team at Abundance No Limits

“These remarks can take on many forms, such as sarcasm, irony, patronizing language, and jokes at the expense of another person’s ideas to demonstrate their superiority.”

3) They never ask you engaging questions or ask you to elaborate on anything  

Let’s say you won a prestigious literary award for a short story you penned, or you were given a promotion at work for coming up with an innovative  idea that did really well for the company. You weren’t expecting the recognition so it was a wonderful surprise. 

Then you’re at a party the following weekend and excitedly mention the momentous moment to a couple of acquaintances—not to brag by any means—but just because you’re proud of yourself. 

You’re excited to talk about your career coup, but when you bring it up they nod and say a half-hearted “That’s great,” before quickly changing the topic and moving on. 

You can’t help but feel a little deflated. 

“Accomplishments and success can be intimidating to others,” says the team at Times of India.

“Whether it’s professional achievements, personal goals, or financial stability, individuals who have achieved significant success may cause others to feel inadequate or overwhelmed by their accomplishments.”

4) You can tell that they’re tuning you out have the time 

If someone is threatened by your intelligence they might turn to tuning you out—and not even bother hiding it. 

They might start checking their phone while you’re still talking for example. Or they look out the window or start running a hand through their hair. Or make a coughing noise.

Basically any kind of gesture that signals that they could basically care less about the conversation. 

5) They also don’t like to look you in the eye 

If someone is threatened by your intelligence they may not be able to look you directly in the eye when conversing with you. 

Or, if they do look you in the eye, they may only be able to maintain eye contact for a split second here and there. 

This is usually a sign that they feel less-than and don’t have the confidence to sustain the conversation. 

It could also mean that they’re embarrassed or feeling uneasy around you, says clinical psychologist Sharon Saline, PsyD. “Maybe they’re saying something that makes them feel vulnerable, maybe there’s a reason as to why it makes them feel uncomfortable,” she says. 

“It could be a physical manifestation of fear.”

6) Or they might just avoid you altogether 

If you’ve noticed that some friends don’t return texts, or if they do, they’re short, to the point, and few and far in between—that might mean that they’re intimidated by your intelligence and are avoiding you. 

Some people also have elitist views on people with higher intelligence. They see them as out of their league and arrogant—even if they’ve given no indication of this. 

People tend to make assumptions and even if you’ve given them no intentional reason to feel inferior, they may feel that way anyway. 

They don’t realize that it’s actually their envy that is getting in the way. 

7) Their body language says it all

When a person is feeling intimidated by your intelligence they may express it in the subtlest of ways. 

For example, they might turn their body ever so slightly away from you. 

It’s a sign they’re intimidated, says Saline. “[This] clearly demonstrates that interpersonal contact feels unsafe and may well be unwanted,” she explains. “Without saying as much, someone is showing you that they feel intimidated and uncomfortable.”

Saline says that if someone’s body language is turned away from as if they want to run, then that’s definitely a sign that they want to get out of the conversation and it’s a huge indicator that they’re uneasy around you. 

If they’re intimidated, consider it their problem, not yours 

You shouldn’t have to censor yourself just because someone feels intimidated by your intelligence. 

If that’s how they feel, that’s something that perhaps they need to address within themselves. 

As long as you aren’t being arrogant about your intelligence, and aren’t bragging about it, you should absolutely feel free to be you. 

Since highly intelligent people tend to also be emotionally intense, the other person might even be responding to your intensity rather than your level or intelligence per se. 

Either way though, see your high intelligence for the gift that it is. You’ll attract the people who will appreciate—even marvel—at how intelligent you are. 

Seek those people. 




Picture of Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur

Wendy Kaur is a Toronto-based journalist whose work has been published by The Globe & Mail, ELLE USA, ELLE Canada, British Vogue, Town & Country, and others.

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