Understanding “Tall Poppy Syndrome”

Identifying key symptoms of Tall Poppy Syndrome and 5 key coping strategies

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Have you ever heard of “tall poppy syndrome”?

“Tall poppy syndrome” is an term used to describe the culture of criticising, resenting, and undermining the success and ambition of other people. The term is often used in Australia and refers to the idea of cutting a tall poppy to size, so that it doesn’t stand out amongst the rest. Whether you achieve a great mark on a test or earn a promotion at work, your personal success is criticised and ridiculed by your peers.

Some examples of “tall poppy syndrome” remarks from peers include:

  • Downplaying success, e.g. “It was just good luck.”
  • Pointing out minor or irrelevant flaws.
  • Exclusion from a particular group.
  • Refusal to collaborate.
  • Sly remarks.
  • Jealousy.

The culture of tall poppy syndrome is present in schools, universities, and workplaces, and often causes distress to the achieving individual. The reactions of peers to your achievements can inadvertently cause low self-esteem and self-consciousness. These responses to success can cause you to lose ambition because of potential ridicule.

You may not be aware that you are experiencing tall poppy syndrome. Some key indicators include:

  • Hesitating to share new ideas.
  • Losing ambition and not pursuing goals.
  • Fear of making peers uncomfortable with your success.
  • Not pursuing goals in order to not stand out from the pack.
  • Talking down your achievements to others and to yourself (negative self-talk).
  • Withholding from celebrating success.

You should never let the negative words and actions of jealous individuals stop you from trying your best! It can be difficult to stay positive with tall poppy syndrome, so if you are feeling down seek the help of a friend, family member, or counsellor. Below are some coping strategies for tall poppy syndrome:

1. Don’t let the fear of ridicule stop you from succeeding

While it can be difficult to shut out negative comments from peers, don’t let them stop you trying to achieve your goals. Don’t let the negative words of others get to you. Focus on you and those who support you and block out the rest.

2. Gratitude

Compliment those around you on their success. It is difficult for a peer to make negative comments about you when you congratulate them on their achievements. This will make the other individual feel valued, and hopefully they will realise your value too.

3. Collaborate

Your success stems from ambition and hard work, but often these traits don’t come easily to others. If you are successful in a subject at university or excel at a sport, offer to collaborate with your peers so that you can work together. By studying or training together you can improve as a group.

4. Try something new and challenging

By trying something new, whether a language, sport, or other hobby, you allow yourself to be vulnerable and learn. If you are trying something for the first time you may not succeed immediately, which means that you won’t be on the receiving end tall poppy syndrome comments.

5. Practice self-care and seek help

Surround yourself with positive people who will support you and celebrate your accomplishments. Also remember to congratulate yourself and be proud of your achievements. If you are struggling, reach out for help. A counsellor or mental health professional can offer advice specific to your situation.

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More on Mental Health on Campus:

What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need

If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help

The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis

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