You may not have heard of Tall Poppy Syndrome before, but you most certainly have seen it and possibly experienced it before. Feelings such as jealousy, insecurity, and resentment are natural human emotions that sometimes get the better of us. Tall Poppy Syndrome is rooted in these negative feelings and causes people to cut down others who grow taller than everyone else.
What Is Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Tall Poppy Syndrome (TPS) is the phenomenon of being resented, discredited, or criticized because of successes you achieve. People’s envy, insecurity, and jealousy cause them to be unhappy when other people succeed and drive them to tear down, undermine, or exclude the high achiever.
Think about getting your test results back in some class back in school, there were always those kids who asked the other students how they did on the test and what their score was. Those kids typically didn’t respond well to someone who did better than them.
For many people throughout their school years, getting a good score on a test and sharing it with peers would often be met with comments like:
“Wow, look at you Einstein” in a sarcastic tone
“So you're the one that messed up the curve. Thanks a lot”
“It must be because you’re the teacher’s favorite”
All of these comments are an attempt, whether conscious or unconscious, to cut someone down or devalue their accomplishment. It makes the person with the better score feel bad about their success.
People do this because they are insecure and embarrassed about their own score or because they are envious of the person and their result. Unfortunately, some people don’t grow out of this practice and carry it on into adulthood.
TPS stifles ambition, makes people hesitant to share and celebrate their achievements and ideas, and can stop people from working towards their goals.
Who Does Tall Poppy Syndrome?
Everyone is susceptible to experiencing TPS, but it is especially common for women, and is also seen in cultures with reputations for being more “laid back.”
Women are often the targets of TPS for a few reasons. While there has been much improvement in the way women are viewed and valued in society, in the workforce, and among other women, there are still negative dynamics ingrained in our culture.
Many still do not value women, their ideas, and contributions the same way they value them when coming from a man. And some women are still taught, often unintentionally, that they are in competition with one another. Women are pitted against each other, rather than being taught to lift each other up.
Both ways of thinking create breeding grounds for envy, lack of respect, sabotage, and criticism.
The culture in Australia and New Zealand have a reputation for being known as egalitarian societies full of easy-going, laid back citizens. Known for valuing equality and an expectation that people remain humble, rather than boastful, the culture in these countries encourages people to not stand out too far from all the others. And these countries are certainly not the only example of this culture.
While this mindset of egalitarianism throughout Oceania is wonderful in theory, there are downfalls to it as well. The need for everyone to be on the same playing field has led TPS to be woven into the fabric of their culture.
Who Does the Cutting?
TPS can occur in regards to all areas of life. Successes within your career, finances, personal life, athletics, fame, etc. can all lead to other people trying to cut you down. Sadly, the person, or people, cutting you down could be from any area of life as well. It could be a coworker, a boss, a friend, a teammate, a family member, or a partner.
You wouldn't expect a close friend or family member to put someone they care about down. However, a 2018 study found that people doing the cutting were more commonly from their trusted network, their friends, and people from their personal lives.
One study found that outside of work, half of the people who experienced tall poppy syndrome said friends were the ones responsible for trying to cut them down.
It's not uncommon to hear about women who tear each other down, even friends. You see it if someone is considered to be progressing quicker or in a different direction in work, relationships, appearance, or other areas.
Tall Poppy Syndrome at Work
Some men do not take women seriously in the workplace, especially in positions of power or in traditionally male dominated fields. Some women are still taught, often unintentionally, that they are in competition with one another. They are pitted against each other rather than taught to lift each other up.
The same study that found how prevalent friends being the antagonists of TPS also found that 66.1-70% of women reported experiencing TPS at work. They found themselves being undermined, frozen out, ignored, discredited, sabotaged, and having the credit for their work and ideas stolen (especially by men) in the workplace.
When one poppy starts growing higher than the others, some people will always attempt to chop them back down to match the size of all the rest.
The Effects of TPS
TPS can severely hinder people’s confidence, mental health, and stress level. It can lead them to fear sharing their milestones with others and stop them from showing their ambition and reaching for their goals and it can curate a lack of trust in others.
It has some serious effects on the individual, but these effects can also negatively affect work culture. TPS within a company culture stunts productivity, creativity, and leads employees to either stifle their ideas and potential, or to seek employment elsewhere.
How to Combat TPS
Unfortunately, there will always be someone who is not going to be happy about your success, but that usually has more to do with them and their own insecurities than you and your accomplishments.
It is easier said than done, but if you find yourself at the brute of TPS, don’t take it personally, and don’t let it deter you from working towards your goals. You don’t ever need to do less or make yourself smaller in order to make other people more comfortable.
Take a good look at your circle and surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you and want to see you succeed. If you notice friends, or other people in your personal network, bringing you down when you share good news, maybe it’s time to let that relationship go.
Bring awareness to people who are doing this, or to organizations where it is frequently occurring. Perhaps it is subconscious, and once they are aware of it, they can choose to react differently in the future.
What if I Do the Cutting?
Perhaps you’re reading this and realize you are the person cutting down the tall poppies. If you are prone to feelings of jealousy and insecurity or getting defensive when seeing and hearing about other people’s successes, don’t be discouraged.
It is in our nature as humans to feel this way from time to time, but you don’t want those feelings to take over. You may not be able to control those feelings, but you can control the way you act when those feelings arise. Letting them consume you is not good for you, or for people around you.
Look inward and identify your feelings when someone shares their good news with you. Practice being happy for others. Look at their successes and your own successes independently from each other. There is no need to compare yourself to others when everyone’s path is unique and so are the timelines.
Be Proud of Success
Regardless of which end of Tall Poppy Syndrome you find yourself on, remember to give yourself grace and love. If you want something, put in the work to get it. You are the only person who can bring yourself success, and other people around you finding success will not take away from your own.
If you find yourself struggling and being cut down, or being riddled with envy and cutting others down, Inner Balance Counseling can help you move forward. Our counseling programs help you invest in your mental health and teach people to celebrate and feel good about each other’s successes.
Reach out today to learn how to create a world where we all grow to be tall poppies.