When someone achieves something great, like gets a promotion at work, totally nails a presentation, or finishes a personal project, that good news is sometimes met with judgment, criticism, or backlash. Colleagues, friends, and, in some cases, even complete strangers, may come out of the woodwork and try to discredit these positive gains. As a result, the achiever may experience what Australians have coined as tall poppy syndrome, a term that comes from the way poppies grow: When one becomes taller and stands out from the rest, it gets cut down so all are on the same level.
While to the person afflicted, the experience can feel like a personal attack, in reality the issue at play is one of projection: That’s because it’s not about the achiever at all, but rather those who are around to witness the achiever accessing high levels of success. For some, this situation can trigger feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, fear, jealousy, and anger that lead to a desire to cut others down. “Their negative feelings are projected and thrust outward to their perceived object of discomfort: the tall poppy,” says Linda Humphreys, PhD, a psychologist and life, relationship, and spirituality coach.
“Their negative feelings are projected and thrust outward to their perceived object of discomfort: the tall poppy.” —psychologist Linda Humphreys, PhD
Still, knowing that it’s not you, personally, who is the issue doesn’t necessarily make dealing with people’s unkind comments or behaviors any easier. So below, Dr. Humphreys and Julie Parker, a certified life coach, and CEO and founder of the Beautiful You Coaching Academy, share their top six pieces of advice for how to handle a bout of tall poppy syndrome.
6 ways to deal with the tall poppy syndrome, so no one dims your light.
1. Practice compassion toward others
Because tall poppy syndrome comes about as a result of the people who are trying to dim your light, Dr. Humphreys says it’s important to cultivate and practice compassion toward others. “It comes from a place of deep hurt, pain, neglect, unworthiness, and suffering,” she says. “They are not happy within themselves or comfortable in their own skin. Allow them to be themselves as they are today, and strive to love them, no matter what.”
2. Remove yourself from harm
“Remember: Being compassionate does not mean availing yourself to being someone’s punching bag,” Dr. Humphreys says. That’s why, if you’re in this type of situation, she advises removing yourself from it and ending contact with the person or people.
3. Do what makes you happy—no matter what
Don’t let the naysayers stop you from going after your dreams and desires. You can decide to not let them bring you down. “Do the thing you want to do, and then no matter what happens from there, you can be proud you followed through on your big calling,” Parker says.
4. Gather a support squad
To keep your spirits high when others are trying to tear you down, ensconce yourself in a group of people who are distinctly different from who you are. “Surround yourself with amazing people who love, support, and honor you for who you are—well beyond your achievements or what you do,” Parker says. “They can make all the difference at times when others are being unkind.”
5. Don’t waste energy fighting back
Your energy is a finite resource, and when it comes to haters, critics, and toxic people, most of the time, it’s just not worth your time and effort to fight back, argue, or try to defend yourself. “Your time is better spent just getting on with the business of being you and creating your great work in the world,” Parker says.
6. Remember, it’s out of your control
The way others react or perceive you and your accomplishments is beyond your control. Your only job, Parker says, is to do what lights you up and share it with the world, regardless of what others may think or how it makes them feel.
And, even if you were to give in by dimming your light to avoid outshining others, doing so won’t necessarily protect you from critics, either. “We can hide, and people may still criticize us for doing so,” Parker says. “There is always the potential that critics will criticize; however, there is the same potential that people will love, support, and cheer us on.”
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