If you’re underperforming and overthinking, you may be smarter than you think
Many of life’s seemingly wonderful genetic gifts may be more of a burden than a blessing. And more and more research points to the fact that a high IQ is a prime example of this fact. For example, research studies published in Neuroscience News conclude those with extreme intelligence are at “significantly increased risk of suffering from a variety of psychological and physiological disorders.”
Despite studies such as these, most of us still stand in awe of those unique people who can do calculus in their head, read Shakespeare as easily as if it were Dr. Seuss, and rattle off the laws of physics as if they were Albert Einstein’s secret love child. However, the truth is brilliance has its own set of baggage. And it’s extremely heavy.
So before you envy that friend or coworker who is often labeled a “walking encyclopedia,” it might be wise to understand the struggles that go along with high intelligence. Below are just a few of the numerous troubles that seem to go hand with genius.
Highly intelligent people often struggle with making decisions
Extremely brilliant people view the world in a three-dimensional way. They see all the different causes and effects, all the “what if’s” and “could be’s” of choices that have to be made, while those of lesser intelligence see more limited possibilities. An article in Thought Catalog explains that this is due to the fact that extremely smart people are “constantly examining things, seeking theories and explanations, trying to rationalize and evaluate information from multiple angles, all at the same time.”
For example, Apple founder Steve Jobs displays his own true genius when he states that “simple can be harder than complex” and that “you have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple.” And this quote reveals the daily dilemma of many who possess incredibly high intelligence. These people see the complexity in everyone and everything, so the decisions that most of us see as simple are not quite so easy for them.
An article in Life Hack entitled “5 Struggles Only Highly Intelligent People Suffer From” refers to this problem as “[suffering] paralysis from analysis.” They go on to say that “intelligent people like to be aware of all the pros and cons before making a decision” and that “knowing these can often stop them from making a decision altogether.”
Highly intelligent people often suffer from mental illness
Sherry Wallace details one of many studies that show a connection between genius and mental illness. She cites facts uncovered by Pitzer College researcher Ruth Karpinski and her coworkers. Karpinski’s group questioned 3,715 Mensa members (a group of people who score at least 98th percentile on IQ and other standardized intelligence tests) about issues concerning their mental well-being. They found the majority of these members had anxiety and other psychological disorders with “respondents averaging rates of double or more the national averages.”
An article in Independent also describes a research study done on 126 undergrads. The students completed surveys on things such as how frequently they dealt with uncontrolled worry or negative rumination. The findings of the study revealed that “people who tended to worry and ruminate a lot scored higher on measures of verbal intelligence.”
But the tortured lives of remarkably gifted artists throughout history seem to confirm the correlation between madness and genius far before any research was done. For example, famous poet and novelist Sylvia Plath fought a lifelong battle with severe depression and mental illness, one that ultimately ended in suicide. The revered artist died tragically by purposefully sticking her head in an oven and inhaling toxic gas.
In 1960, acclaimed writer Ernest Hemingway admitted himself into the Mayo Clinic where he received electroconvulsive therapy for his depression. Shortly after, he shot himself in the head in his own home.
Scientific American reports a few more of the numerous prodigies who suffered from mental illness such as Lord Tennyson, Virginia Woolf, and Vincent Van Gogh.
Highly intelligent people frequently wrestle with low self-esteem
The famous philosopher Socrates is attributed with saying “I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.”
And research has often used the “Dunning-Kruger Effect” to explain the ironic fact that highly intelligent people often see themselves as less capable or less skilled than those who possess lower intelligence.
Very Well Mind explains this term as a “cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are.” Findings have shown that those who are extremely intelligent do not possess this bias, causing them to constantly question their abilities and deal with perpetual feelings of inadequacy.
For example, Quartz cites legendary writer John Steinbeck, whose diary revealed the artist’s ironic statement that “I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.” The publication also discusses the fact that because highly intelligent people often possess the trait of perfectionism, they frequently experience “imposter syndrome,” a condition where people feel they are fraudulent in areas at which they really excel.
PMC, a publication of the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, explains that this common symptom of extremely intelligent people is “associated with impaired job performance, job satisfaction, and burnout.”
In short, intelligent people are intensely more aware of their shortcomings, and as a result, are often crippled by a lack of confidence which hinders their ability to be truly successful.
The bottom line:
French philosopher and novelist Albert Camus said, “I don’t want to be a genius-I have enough problems just trying to be a man.” So remember when you see the “walking encyclopedias” or “Einsteins” in your own backyard that their intelligence comes with a price. And if you’re one of these “brains on two feet,” you probably understand this price all too well. If you’re not, maybe you should be grateful you have to spend all night hitting the books instead of having that special something that makes the complexity of the world a much harder hurdle to overcome.