Maybe you’re sitting around the family dinner table wondering how on God’s good earth you could be remotely related to your parents and siblings. Maybe you’re driving down a highway thinking nobody else on it deserves to drive. Maybe you’re on a work call thinking you can do your co-worker’s job better and in half the time. Maybe you just walk around everywhere thinking that you’re inherently more intelligent, more competent, and simply better than everyone.
Thinking you’re smarter than everyone, whether occasionally or all the time, might afford you an ego boost, but it also puts you at risk of constant frustration, excessive stress, and isolation from others. It doesn’t take a genius to know that it’s not exactly smart to bring any of those things upon yourself.
According to Kirk Honda, a psychology professor and host of the podcast Psychology in Seattle, there are several reasons an individual could feel like they’re the smartest person in the room.
Sometimes, it’s simply an easy out. Say you’re trying to get something done with a bunch of co-workers and for one reason or another they just don’t seem to be pulling their weight. That can make you frustrated and lead you to think they’re incompetent instead of considering other reasons they’re not getting the job done. They could be dealing with something at home, for example, or working on something else that’s more important to them.
People who felt misunderstood or uncared for as children can feel hurt and angry when they don’t feel understood as adults. This could lead them to think that the people they’re dealing with aren’t intelligent enough to understand them, but underneath that is a feeling of loneliness and isolation. Kids who are made to feel stupid can grow up wanting to flip the script and make others feel stupid, too.
It could also be a symptom of narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), wherein people have an inflated sense of self-importance. Some people with NPD convince themselves that they’re smarter than everyone else and even ridicule other people for their supposed subpar intelligence in the service of establishing this superiority. But “underneath all that is a deep sense of inferiority,” Honda told VICE.
Of course, some people are actually smarter or more competent than others, at least in certain regards. Knowing that you know more about something than someone else isn’t inherently harmful, said Honda, and can even be used to do good. Just think of helping a new co-worker figure out how things work at the office.
While it might be normal for everybody to sometimes think that everybody around them is dumb, the degree to which they think so and how much it affects their judgment and behavior are what make the thought dangerous.
The most obvious risk to thinking and acting this way is developing poor interpersonal relationships, said Peter Gordon, a licensed mental health therapist.
Honda, the psychology professor, explained what this might look like in a work setting:
“[People] don't want to work with you, they don't want to be in a relationship with you, or they might just shut down when they're around you and wait for you to take over because they know that you're going to jump down their throat eventually anyway,” Honda said.
Gordon added that there is also the risk of developing personality disorders such as NPD, borderline personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even paranoia.
“Humans by and large need connection with others. When we choose behaviors that can keep us isolated and estranged from others, we can create a fertile ground for the development of maladaptive behaviors and personality traits and disorders,” Gordon said.
Both Gordon and Honda advised people who catch themselves thinking this way to go to therapy in order to understand how these patterns formed. Outside of therapy, Gordon said it’s helpful to simply be mindful of the thought when it arises, stop it, or reframe it.
One way to reframe it is to remember that one sign of intelligence is knowing that you don’t know everything, and that everybody knows something you don’t. This way, nobody is completely dumb and you’re not superiorly smart.
“If one thinks everyone around them is dumb, then that individual is consciously or unconsciously saying that they know it all and that is just not reality. We are all capable of learning something new from others, and in many ways that is a sign of emotional and intellectual intelligence,” said Gordon.
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