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Feigning Inability

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I am 61 years old. I’m fairly intelligent, possessing a Ph.D. and a writer of seven books. I have a very good knowledge of most things and am widely traveled. Throughout my life, there have been times when I deliberately feign ignorance so that people will not think I’m arrogant, the proverbial know-it-all. When I watch quiz shows with family, although I can usually answer most questions, I often pretend I don’t know because I’m frightened of appearing “too clever”, different from others. Recently a very dear friend offered me advice about computers. I already knew of the app she was referring to but pretended I didn’t because I felt she would have been offended by my extensive knowledge. I’m good at most sports. I’ve occasionally let people beat me as I don’t want to appear good at everything. Some people in the past have said that they find my knowledge intimidating.I feign ignorance or ineptitude because I don’t want to appear arrogant and also, I don’t want people to be intimidated by me. Is this normal behaviour? (From the UK)

Feigning Inability

Answered by on -


To hide your light under a bushel because you feel it would be off-putting to others is not likely to help them as much as it focuses on their weaknesses. You limit yourself, rather than celebrate, encourage, and support the growth of others. To believe you have to ‘feign ignorance’ or ‘ineptitude’ is a way of distancing yourself — not helping them as you might believe. This form of self-limiting behavior isn’t something they can appreciate, because only you know you are doing it. The gesture is for you to believe you are doing them a favor. It isn’t so much for them as it is so they won’t dislike you. It is a form of control that elevates your separateness and difference. By believing everyone would be better off, if you pretended you didn’t know when you do, you fuel the belief that because you are better than them you have to limit yourself.

There are three options that may be helpful for you to increase your interactions. The first is learning about character strengths — yours and others — as a way of celebrating the fact that you might be good at some things or even many thing, but others have their strengths. Learning about the strengths of others is a way to shift your perception toward what needs to be identified and encouraged. The work here isn’t on limiting yourself, but learning how to do something called strength-spotting. Looking for what others can do and what you can do to facilitate and cultivate their strengths is a better way to make a connection. The has over 10 million people in the database and can be taken for free. I’d highly recommend you learn about your strengths and those of others as a way to begin thinking about what you can do to applaud them instead of limiting you.

Secondly, I’d read the New York Times bestseller Give and Take by Adam Grant. He has identified the properties of what it means to be a giver, which I think would be important for you to add to your many skills.

Finally, I would recommend joining a therapy group. If you are consistently finding yourself in the position of having to hide your skills and talents in the service of keeping family and friends, a dynamic group is a way to enhance your understanding of why you’ve used this approach, as well as a place to experiment with changing it.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Feigning Inability

Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Feigning Inability. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 27, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 19 May 2020 (Originally: 20 May 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 19 May 2020
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