Inferiority & Superiority:
Because we struggle to fit in during our early years, we start to feel lesser than our peers, then when we also have a hard time with personal or professional success in adulthood it becomes even stronger.
At the same time, we are repeatedly told that we are special and smarter than the other kids around us, so we start judging others against our own intelligence, which reinforces our idea that the judgments we make against ourselves are valid as well.
What can we do about it:
- Intelligence is not a moral virtue
- Challenge the idea that we need to judge ourselves against others, either positive or negative
- Accept that all humans have value simply by virtue of being human. You are no better, but also no worse than anyone else in your self worth
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Kawai Kitsune by Kevin MacLeod
About the Ex-Gifted Podcast:
If you are a former gifted kid who grew up to struggle with basic adulting, then you need the Ex-Gifted podcast.
Host Ren Eliza talks about gifted kid burnout, and the damage that lasts long into adulthood. Damage like battered self esteem, decimated internal motivation, and a continued failure to live up to expectations even while we were placed on pedestals and alienated from our peers.
Ex-Gifted will cover failure, procrastination, imposter syndrome, and chronic anxiety and depression, and a whole lot more.
Each episode also offers suggestions to deal with your executive dysfunction in adulthood so you can rebuild the systems that allowed you to shine so brightly in childhood.
We’re making exceptional children into functional adults.
Hi friends and welcome….sigh…for better or for worse… to today’s episode of ex-gifted.
This one might be a little bit heavy because I’m putting a bit of a different spin on things than I have over the last few weeks. I’m going to be talking about the duality of Inferiority and superiority that so many of us experience. We deal with Dead end jobs or being unable to hold a job at all due to pressure while we watch old classmates who weren’t even in gifted but now have graduate degrees and good jobs thinking it was SUPPOSED to be US
Or perhaps you have a degree and a great job but are struggling because you never feel good enough and feel the constant threat of being crushed under the pressure
It’s like wherever we’re at in life we tend to feel like we’re either far too good or not nearly good enough and we often manage to hold onto both of these feelings simultaneously.
It all started when we were kids, right? And as a kid, before school even, before they start testing you on every single thing, all that really matters is that you are good at playing. Talking and walking. Good at getting along well with others, good at moving your body and being active.
And I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but stereotypically those aren’t the areas in which gifted kids usually excel. Which means that before we were ever gifted, many of us started behind. So when we go into school many of us are already starting from a place of inferiority, and most of the rest learn fast enough from the other kids that we’re different in some way. In kindergarten academics weren’t really the focus yet. It’s all about the social aspect, and of course recess. So we see how we’re not the strongest in those areas, we may even be some of the weakest. And the other kids make sure we know it.
So before we ever learn that we’re gifted, we already know that we’re different and we’re already internalizing that difference and shaping it into feelings of inferiority. We are starting off with this repeated message that we are the worst at the only thing that really matters.
But then, 2nd, 3rd, 4th grade – or whenever – comes around and you get evaluated and put into the gifted program where they let you in on a little secret. The game is changing, and YOU are actually the BEST at the only thing that matters. Academics start to be the main focus of school, and that’s YOUR JAM. So in theory that should be a great boost to your self-esteem, right?
But the problem is that they never addressed label of inferiority that was already there, caused – or at least worsened – by that separation between you and your peers. They just slap a new label on you saying “no superior actually” but the old feelings are still there too. So we keep them both and they both grow with us, which is why an Ex-Gifted person somehow is able to believe both that they’re an absolutely garbage person and yet is still able to hold a general air of superiority over everyone and can go around online complaining about people’s grammar and spelling and kids these days using all kinds of ridiculous slang. I can’t be the only recovering prescriptivist, right?
So if there is any part of you actively holding onto this idea that you’re inferior because you have a harder time making friends, or because you have less endurance or muscle mass or otherwise don’t like the way your body looks or functions, or even if you have added to the list in your teen or adult years, maybe executive dysfunction. Things like these – all of these – are not moral failings. I keep coming back to that and this is why. We have these weird ideas of what is supposed to be a virtue and many of them are actively harming our self-image and making us feel inferior which actually makes all of these things even harder for us to improve upon in the future.
Now, of course, your beliefs may be different that mine, and that’s fine. My view of morality says that it’s basically just how you treat people and other living beings, including yourself. If your morality says that, no – productivity actually is a moral virtue, that’s your business, I just recommend that you ask yourself….Why? What does it mean for productivity to be a matter of morality… and really dig deep with it and roll it around your brain…
I think a lot of us are quick to confess to feelings of inferiority, but I think that some still struggle to understand the superiority. Because like I said, a lot of us feel like we’re garbage people, and after years of bullying for being different, internalizing that inferiority is no real surprise. But honestly I think these two feelings generally go hand in hand, and I’m not alone. Dr. Alfred Adler, who coined the term “superiority complex” actually used it to describe a condition where a person covered their perceived shortcomings with an air of superiority. The definition for superiority complex may be up for debate, but to be clear that’s not really what we’re talking about. I’m referring to feelings of superiority and inferiority that may not be extensive enough to comprise a “complex” but that are enough to affect our self-image on a daily basis.
So how does superiority come into play for gifted kids? Well first off, superiority is entirely distinct from confidence and self-esteem, which means you don’t have to actually feel good about yourself to have it. But let’s think back to those days when you were a kid or a teenager. What did you think of the popular kids? The ones who WERE good at sports or at making friends? What do you think of them NOW? I know I still have a vague negative impression of many kids I went to elementary school with and that was pushing 30 years ago!
Some of that may stem from being bullied, and okay that’s fair. But how do you feel about people you meet now as an adult who remind you of those kids? Is it true that you haven’t been looking down at people you felt you could classify as a dumb jock or a vapid girl, even while they were acting neutral toward you – or even friendly? That you never did go through a phase where you scoffed and said “actually it’s should HAVE not should OF” If so then please let me know your secrets because that’s still something I have to actively work on!
So we started feeling like we were better than those other kids because we were smarter than they were. Additionally, a lot of us were really struggling socially and there’s that old trope that the child and teenage years are for the popular kids and the athletes but that our skills (what skills? test taking?) mean that adulthood will be our time to shine and for a lot of us, that didn’t happen at all. So we spent years feeling inferior but with the promise of future superiority then we learned we can’t even keep up with dishes
Now I’m an unemployed grad school dropout so how am I better than anybody? Moral superiority? Eh raw intellect is good enough a metric, right?
How’s it working for you?
And here’s the hard part… Intellect like all these other things we’ve talked about… it is also… morally neutral. Being smarter than someone literally doesn’t contribute to your worth or make you better than they are, except maybe when it comes to academic performance. But if you’re like me and your intellect was all you needed for exceptional academic performance, you probably never learned those other morally-neutral skills we actually need to succeed like perseverance, productivity, even basic executive functioning… And thanks to social media we’re easily able to see who is succeeding and inevitably end up finding ourselves on the unfavorable end of a comparison to even the most average students from our class. Many people who as kids weren’t as smart as I was are objectively succeeding professionally far beyond what I’m doing (hint: this is what I’m doing)
But that’s not what was supposed to happen! I was most likely to succeed!
Gods do I sound like such an ass right now? I guess being smart doesn’t make you a good person. But to be fair history could have told us that.
Another pretty obvious problem with treating intelligence as a virtue is that, unlike knowledge which can be endlessly expanded, intelligence refers to an inborn trait which is mostly fixed, which means two problems. First off, fixating on intelligence goes against the whole growth mindset thing – but I’ll talk more about that in a future episode. Secondly, when you start to talk about people being better or worse based on traits they’re just born with, you’re referring to _genetic superiority_which, I don’t know about you, but isn’t a concept I subscribe to. And without naming names, the people who do hold the idea that IQ is an inherited trait proving superiority of certain people are not-so-good company to keep.
Intelligence is a cool trait to have, but does not contribute to making you a better person. That’s something you have to do yourself. And it’s not the same as knowledge – that’s something you have to earn yourself. Intelligence just makes it easier for you to gain new knowledge than it would otherwise be fore you, but focus, motivation, and perseverance are needed for that as well, which means someone with average intelligence can still easily compete with you when it comes to gaining knowledge with sufficient executive function skills and a proper education.
On their own These two wax and wane. I started to get better with one but then it would make me backslide on the other. This may at first seem inevitable. If you feel better about yourself, you must necessarily feel relatively worse about everyone else, yes? Well, only if you assume that it’s necessary to ever consider your own value relative to other people
Inferiority and superiority often go together precisely because they come from the same place. They seem like they’re based on some objective understanding of how to rank people but they actually come from the idea that it’s proper to rank people in the first place (note I’m not demonizing competition like a race or spelling bee or whatever, only attempts to rank us based on general humanity
So what to do?
Well, I already covered it for inferiority, and it’s actually mostly the same for feelings of superiority. Stop treating these random traits as moral successes or failures. But there’s more.
It may seem like I’m picking on my own audience and just being mean. Like, why would I take people who I have already acknowledged believe they are garbage human beings and tell them that the ONE thing they believe sets them apart and gives them value and is the best thing about them is actually not something that contributes to their worth and doesn’t make them a good person? Well, there is a reason. It’s not better to make positive comparisons to others than negative because making positive comparisons actually reinforces negative comparisons as well by normalizing making these comparisons at all. If positive comparisons are good and rational then why would negative comparisons be any different? What if you tried to stop ranking your worth against other people altogether?
So if your worth doesn’t come from your skill set, then where does it come from?
Go ahead and think about it. Ask yourself where a person’s worth does come from if it’s not just a quantified list of their abilities like a D&D character sheet. If you ask me, a person’s worth comes from their being a person. All people have intrinsic value, and once you start to believe that in general you can eventually start to believe it about yourself and that’s when you can really start to accept yourself as no better, no worse, just good enough.
OKAY switching gears for just a minute before I go, if you ARE interested in trying to make a quantified list of your abilities similar to a D&D character sheet so that you can work on leveling up in real life – not for your self-worth, but strictly for personal growth, then head to exgifted.com/roleplan – that’s E-Xgifted.com/r-o-l-e-p-l-a-n or click the link in the show notes. I’m looking for a few people to help me out with testing the new system I’m developing. Signing up gets you a free printable for the alpha draft of my brand new roleplanner, to test out.
The role planning game is a system for tracking and challenging your growth in seven abilities and fair warning – intelligence isn’t one of them because I’m focusing only on things in our power to improve, so the MIND ability is all about expanding your knowledge through skills like reading, coursework, or puzzles.
Now, the draft isn’t done yet, but sign up ASAP because I’ll remind you over the next couple episodes, but once I send it out I won’t be taking on any more testers!
And One very very last thing. I’ve really been enjoying making this podcast and I hope you have too! I really want to do more – upgrade equipment (and by that I mean I currently record on my cell phone), do more frequent episodes, maybe even have on some guests or add a video option, and to do that I need some help from you! I’ve included a donation link in the show notes, it’s at ko-fi.com/reneliza so if you could buy me a coffee as they say and toss three bucks my way, not only will I be eternally grateful, but you will have doubled the entire income Ex-Gifted and its parent website chaoticorganized.com have made to-date. If you’re feeling particularly generous, consider a monthly $3 donation. I’m setting a goal of 4 monthly donations, because that will allow me to break even with the cost of podcast hosting. At this time, anything beyond that will go back into making this show better for you!
Thanks so much for listening, and join me again in 2 weeks for the next episode of Ex-Gifted to learn if you might be Twice Exceptional. Byeeeee.