Correlation of Underachievement with Low Self-Esteem

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  1. gmwilliams profile image84
    gmwilliamsposted 12 years ago

    It is common knowledge that highly successful people possess a high level of self-confidence and self-esteem.   Of course, other factors such as intelligence and education are proponents in this issue.   However, some highly successful people possess average intelligence but they have the belief that they are invincible and have a "can do" attitude.   

    Conversely, there are many highly intelligent people who have either unsuccessful or have achieved only a modicum amount of success.   They languish in jobs and/or situations which underultilize their enormous intellectual potential.    The root of this is often parental expectations of their children.   Many children of average intelligent achieve great heights of success because of constant parental encouragement and ability to view failure and mistakes as a part of experimentation and learning.   These parents do not believe that if their child "misses the mark:, he/she is deemed inept and no longer capable.   However, many bright and highly intelligent people have critical, judgemental, and/or perfectionistic parents who believe that their children should be as perfect as possible.  These parents give their children no quarter when it comes to a margin of error.   In other words, no mistakes and errors are to be made if possible.   So many highly intelligent children reared under these circumstances are afraid to fail and thus are afraid to succeed!   If they do fail and make mistakes, they are verbally crucified by their parents.   In turn, because of the constant abusive haranguing by their parents, their self-esteem plummet and they feel worthless.   They furthermore feel that nothing they do pleases their parents.   So they become risk aversive and take the safe route because they know that they will not fail.   Because they are highly risk aversive, these children become underachievers when young thus establishing a pattern which lasts throughout adulthood.  Do you agree with this premise?

    1. Lisa HW profile image63
      Lisa HWposted 12 years agoin reply to this

      I don't doubt that somewhere out there there's someone who would fit into what you describe.  I'm not a big one, however, for ever generalizing about any group of people.  People are individuals.

      Some of the most highly intelligent children get to be that way because they have parents who have been very loving and made them feel super secure when they were very young.  As a result, their brain developed really well (and often earlier, in lot of ways, than with kids who would "score" as having "less intelligence" (although even generalizing about intelligence is wrong sometimes, because there are many different areas of cognitive development.  Some kids do well in most of them.  Some "specialize" in one or more).

      In any case, some very bright kids happen when parents are super skilled being warm, loving, parents and when those parents absolutely adore their children and respect them (and enjoy being with them) for the little human beings they are.

      A lot of "underachievement" just comes when people have to make choices.  I think of it as "The Georgy Bailey Syndrome" (from "It's A Wonderful Life").  Someone with, say, amazing artistic ability may have to choose between the best school in the world to develop it (but a school far from family), or else a mediocre, unrewarding, school where the person doesn't have to move to another country in order to do best by his career.  OR, the person who meets someone and wants to get married may get "x far" along in his career aims, only to get to a point where the choice to become a family starts to become more urgent.  So, some people choose to pass up some career opportunities in favor of something a little bit "achieving" or "impressive", because they want to start and complete having a family in "x time frame".

      When children come into the mix, if parents are what parents are supposed to be (and people who had warm, loving, nurturing, parents tend to be), a certain amount of giving up some career opportunities is often necessary.  Besides, once children are born; even the person who takes his career quite seriously (although not seriously enough not to have children instead of having it) will still always put children's needs first.

      Kids who are secure and "plenty smart" (including "extremely smart" - and a whole lot of kids really are that) may not want to disappoint parents they love when it comes to how they behave, but kids who are secure and love tend to have their own minds when it comes to their own ideas about what they find important.  Ironically, perhaps, kids who have kind, understanding, solid, parents are more likely to "sit in judgment" of parents than kids who have had the at "mind of their own" "beaten" (if only verbally) out of them.   In other words, a lot of very intelligent kids/young people just don't give "the proverbial rat's....." about who thinks what about what they do.    smile   THAT, actually, could be a common cause of a lot of kids' "downfall" when it comes to whether they achieve "modestly" or achieve closer to their true potential.

      When it comes down to it, the kind of generalized thinking of a parent who thinks, "you'll miss the mark if you're not perfect" is nothing more than an indication of a parent who lacks both parenting skills AND the kind of reasoning ability that would prevent such a narrow view of who accomplishes what, with what skills, and how much (etc. etc.).  Those parents are out there, and I imagine they mess up their kids fairly well a good part of the time; but I don't think that's the biggest cause of "underachievement in life".

      1. gmwilliams profile image84
        gmwilliamsposted 12 years agoin reply to this

        To Lisa, while what you have said is true, there are many highly intelligent children who are raised by parents who are highly critical and perfectionistic.  These parents portend that their children should be number 1.  This means that they must be as near perfect as possible.  Any type of mistake is interpreted by the parents to mean that the child is not apt and misses the mark.    This is the parent who goes ballistic if their straight-A child has one B and/or their college age child is not accepted into an Ivy League University.   There are parents out there who have certain perceptions of what is means to be smart and intelligent.   If these parents believe that their children does not fit this said definition, no matter what evidence either by teachers and other adult authority role models that their children are smart and intelligent, this parents will rigidly adhere to their view. 

        Conversely, there are children with average abilities whose parents tell them how special and smart they are.    Even though these children may be mediocre students,  their parents tell them how intelligent they are and they CAN achieve whatever they put their minds to.    There was an article in Reader's Digest some decades ago regarding nurturing parenting.  This article stated that one parent consistently told his son who was an average student in school that he was smart and will attend college.   The son ended up attending a prestigious college.   Yes, parental attitudes towards their children influences whether they will become achievers, overachievers, and/or underachievers. 

        Some underachievers are quite intelligent but they have parents who constantly criticize them for the most minute things.   These parents often have unrealistic and rigid expectations for their children which the latter must follow or else.   I have witnessed mothers who harangue their children for one, minute mistake as if their children must be perfect and on all the time!

    2. profile image50
      skcoloposted 10 years agoin reply to this

      No, I don't agree with your premise. Intelligence is genetic so the parents are often in the same boat as the child. Often the parents are supportive of the highly intelligent child because they are able to nurture the intellectual needs of the child. The issue of highly critical parents afflicts children of all levels of intelligence and is not specific to highly intelligent children. 

      The "environment" that influences a person, any person includes the community, extended family and peers. Often environmental influences are chalked up to parenting alone,  but they bring only a part of the environmental influence to the picture. Highly intelligent children who become underachievers learn to do so within their environment, but many such children have parents who recognize their needs and nurture them. When these children enter school and social situations, they quickly learn that they are different and treated as such.

      Schools are not set up to attend to the educational needs of  the one to two children in a classroom who are highly intelligent. They are geared to nurture the children who are slightly above average, average and slightly below average. Highly intelligent children become bored and frustrated in school, they develop bad habits at a young age that can last a lifetime if they are not put in an environment that challenges them.

      They are still children when they are learning these things and so not emotionally mature enough to recognize what is happening or why they are different. When highly intelligent children talk about what is obvious to them to their peers and their peers don't understand them, they are likely to be ridiculed and socially isolated. All this happens at a young age and can set up such a child for a struggle and underachievement if not given a chance to nurture their intellectual curiosity. Highly intelligent people rarely fit in unless they learn good social skills early on, or have other skills that help them fit in with their peers better such as athletic ability.  Some highly intelligent children learn self discipline and are successful, but more often than not, they are not successful.

      Parents still matter, but parents can't control the environment outside the home which is the "real world." To put it mildly, the real world is not as welcoming of highly intelligent people as many might assume as such people make up about 10 percent of the population or less depending on what level of intelligence you are considering.  Extremely high intelligences represent less than 2 percent of the population. So imagine if you were one in 100, you might feel out of place. That contributes to low self esteem. Usually one is more mature before they realize their own intelligence is much higher than average so the ego factor doesn't work. People get defensive around intelligent people because they think the intelligent person is intentionally trying to put them down or make them feel stupid, when in fact the intelligent person is just talking about what is obvious to them and they don't realize other people don't understand what they are saying. An intelligent person has no way of figuring out what an average intelligent person is able to understand without simply trying to share their perspective. It's why some become withdrawn and  others become openly arrogant. Also, conditions such as autism, adhd and depression afflict people with high intelligence more often than people with average intelligence which also limits their social skills.

      Highly intelligent children tend to act up in class more often due to boredom unless they are prone to behaving quietly. Highly intelligent adults often don't fit in at work ,except in certain professions that have only become profitable in recent decades. Sadly, a disproportionate number of criminals are highly intelligent, as are people suffering from disabling conditions, chronic unemployment and underemployment. Without structure and positive outlets for their intelligence, it gets lost or misdirected. The most successful people in the world are the ones that fit in, which are the people of average and slightly above average intelligence. The very few geniuses who are famous or highly successful will tell you they developed discipline early on and were given room to nurture their gifts properly. Highly intelligent people are not more resilient or better at filtering out the negativity they receive unless they learn that from their families or if it's part of their personality. When you constantly hear "you're stupid, you are weird or you are arrogant" from the time you are 5, it does a lot of damage, which highly intelligent people hear a lot. Highly intelligent people are human beings like everyone else and are vulnerable to the negative emotions that come from not fitting in.

  2. Stacie L profile image88
    Stacie Lposted 12 years ago

    About twenty years ago, the education professionals and psychology field were touting the individuals EQ as being more indicative of future success than their IQ. EQ being the emotional quotient as apposed to intelligence quotient. I tend to agree as a seasoned educator that this is very important, if not more. I've worked with highly intelligent individuals over the years that were held back due to their emotional damage and low self esteem, which gmwilliams alluded to.

  3. Pearldiver profile image68
    Pearldiverposted 12 years ago

    Some of my best friends are doubts... I often wonder why I need friends!

  4. profile image0
    EmpressFelicityposted 12 years ago

    Another reason for high IQ people being underachievers is that they can see both sides of every issue and they're less likely to want to make the compromises that being "successful" sometimes entail. Like sucking up to unintelligent bosses, backstabbing or sacrificing values that are important to them.

    It isn't necessarily down to pushy parents. In fact, pushy/perfectionist parents might be at no. 2, 3 or even further down the list in a lot of cases.

  5. Dr Pooja profile image60
    Dr Poojaposted 12 years ago

    I can relate to this situation as I too am under confident.I am extremely hard working but eople who boast about their abilities and Yes move ahead play and impact me a lot.Feel too belittled by such people.deep inside I know am better but just can say it loud and at times get upset.Good that this post on Forum allowed me to vent my feelings.

  6. psycheskinner profile image83
    psycheskinnerposted 12 years ago

    Plenty of highly successful people are introverts and even neurotic.  Research scientists for example.

  7. knolyourself profile image60
    knolyourselfposted 12 years ago

    Low self esteem is the plague of the progressive system, employing myriads of psychological pseudo specialists.

  8. Mighty Mom profile image76
    Mighty Momposted 12 years ago

    Mighty Mom's unscientific study of the correlation between self-esteem and achievement.
    Here are the possible groups in quartiles

    Overachievement/High Self-Esteem
    Overachievement/Low Self-Esteem
    Underachievement/High Self-Esteem
    Underachievement/Low Self-Esteem

    How will people fall naturally into each group?

    I think people with both low self-esteem and high self-esteem become overachievers, but for very different reasons.
    BTW, so do alcoholics/drug addicts, who are known for overachieving early in their disease process. Such people suffer from both ends of the self-esteem spectrum at the same time. Really!

    We can easily see how low self-esteem people can be underachievers. That's expected.
    But, how about those with inflated senses of self who believe they are better/smarter than they are? Their sense of entitlement leads to poor job performance (they owe me!) and/or laziness and underachievement.


  9. knolyourself profile image60
    knolyourselfposted 12 years ago
  10. profile image0
    ksinllposted 12 years ago

    I think the root of the issue is that people who are successful aren't afraid to fail.  Successful people and high acheivers know that you learn more from failure than you do from success.  Also, children adopt the coping mentalities or mindsets of their mothers, predominantly.  So if you have a mother that has the expectation that you are supposed to succeed at something the first time around or is overly negative or critical than the children adopt that mindset as well.  So everything the child tries isn't perfect the first time, so the child eventually finds that trying isn't worth it.  What creates the low self-esteem is the fact that the child never develops a talent or skill but instead give up on things at the first obstacle.  Once people learn to stick with things and overcome obstacles a sense of accomplishment develops; then comes self-esteem.

    1. gmwilliams profile image84
      gmwilliamsposted 12 years agoin reply to this

      To all especially Mighty Mom and ksinll, all of you have made some insightful,poignant, and excellent points.   Let us continue the discussion, thank you all!


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