Tall Poppy Syndrome: What is it and Why? With Symptoms and 7 Strategies to Help!

Woman over a field of poppies with one tall poppy for tall poppy syndrome

Have you ever felt guilty for doing well? Been shamed for being good at something? Told off when you were feeling proud? Well it might have been Tall Poppy Syndrome. Growing up, it probably sounded like:

  • Don’t get too big for your boots!
  • Your head will get so big it won’t fit through the door!
  • Who do you think you are?

Tall Poppy Syndrome is common around the world—and women are particularly affected. In fact, according to a 2023 study by Dr. Rumeet Billan1, 87% of the 4710 women surveyed from 103 countries had experienced Tall Poppy Syndrome at work.

In this article about Tall Poppy Syndrome you’ll find:

Who or what is a Tall Poppy?

Just like a tall poppy in a field, a ‘Tall Poppy’ is someone who stands out from the crowd—a person who has stretched out and grown tall over the heads of others.

Perhaps they have more knowledge, expertise or are more skilled and talented. Maybe they have succeeded where those around them have not, or can’t yet. And they are often women.

So, What is Tall Poppy Syndrome?

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a cultural phenomenon where people are resented, bullied, criticised or shunned because of their success, status or achievements.

Tall Poppies are viewed with suspicion, envy and resentment and are often subjected to criticism and malicious gossip. And the shaming, guilt or criticism can be both subtle and direct.

Sadly, some people just feel the need to cut those Tall Poppies ‘down to size’.

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a Big Obstacle to GrowthA beautiful vintage poppy

Human beings are highly social creatures. And when we’re judged and excluded by others, we tend to feel shame.

Shame is one of the few universal emotions found in all cultures around the globe. And it’s specifically designed to make us feel terrible.

The evolutionary purpose of shame was to keep the tribe safe from danger and threats. And it works! because shame literally makes us feel so bad, we won’t want to do whatever we did again…

So our Tall Poppies internalise all the negative messaging (and shame), and learn to shrink themselves back down to size, so others won’t do the job for them.

What are the symptoms of Tall Poppy Syndrome?

The symptoms of Tall Poppy Syndrome include:

  • Dumbing ourselves down.
  • Not trying too hard.
  • Setting smaller goals.
  • Mminimising our accomplishments.
  • Avoiding openly expressing our talents.
  • Learning not to share our successes—and keeping quiet when life is going well for us.

People simply decide to stop being a target—by not growing taller than anyone else…

But there are also broader societal implications

When Tall Poppy Syndrome runs rampant we can end up discouraging excellence, innovation and creativity.

Each of us has unique talents and skills. But when we worry too much about how others feel about our success, we end up with an environment of conformity and mediocrity—because people are afraid to excel.

Ultimately Tall Poppy Syndrome creates negative morale and a mistrusting atmosphere where no-one really feels safe.

So why do people “Prune” our Tall Poppies?

There are many reasons that some people feel the need to ‘cut others down to size’. And those reasons can be personal—or supposedly for the greater good.

Many people do in fact mean well…

Pruning those Tall Poppies can be a very effective way to ‘level the playing field’ so those less successful don’t feel bad about themselves. This could be a manager at work or a teacher shaming a Tall Poppy student in front of the class.

But while cutting one person down to size so that no-one feels bad about themselves seems like a noble goal, it actually hurts all of us.

Because when someone’s successes and strengths become shame-worthy, we’re sending a message to everyone:

  • Don’t succeed (too much) or this could happen to you too…

And then, of course, there are people who do not mean well…

3 Types of Tall Poppy Syndrome “Pruners” Scissors for pruning tall poppies

There are 3 main types of Tall Poppy pruners and it helps to understand the intentions behind the people who put us in our place.

  1. People who want to PROTECT US from what other people think. Often these are the people who care most about us like our parents and grandparents etc. who mistakenly believe they’re protecting us from ourselves.
  2. People who want to PROTECT THEMSELVES. These people feel personally threatened by your successes and achievements and they fall into 2 sub-types:
    • People who see you as a THREAT. They’re trying to knock out the competition and will feel better (and do better) if you stopped trying so hard, or if other people liked you less.
    • People who worry you’ll LEAVE THEM BEHIND. These people worry that if you get too strong/successful you won’t have any more need for them. So they’re trying to keep you from outgrowing them…
  3. Lastly, there are people who think they are PROTECTING SOCIETY. They feel the need to teach you a lesson or slow you down—for the betterment of society, or the people around us.

Given how culturally ingrained it is, it’s unlikely (for now) that we can avoid Tall Poppy Syndrome altogether.

But there are things we can do to make it easier for ourselves, others—and maybe even contribute to the change we wish to see…

7 Strategies to Stay Strong and Manage Tall Poppy Syndrome

1) Let go of the guilt!

Stop feeling guilty for who you are! We can’t all be good at everything. And everyone has their own unique strengths, skills, talents and gifts.

If someone hasn’t found their strengths and talents yet, it isn’t your fault.

2) Become excellent at giving credit to others (where it is due)

This is tricky because Tall Poppies can get into a habit of deflecting credit onto others as a way to avoid being ‘pruned’.

So don’t deflect. But do take the credit you are owed.

AND then, when appropriate, be sure to generously credit anyone who helped you along the way.

3) Decide to stop worrying what others think!

There will always be someone, somewhere who will find fault with you. Even (especially) if you’re good at something.

So, make a choice to stop worrying what other people think. Instead, focus on your own vision and goals. Be true to yourself. Live your values. And continue being the best version of yourself.

If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much.  Lewis Carroll

4) Own and Use Your Strengths

Figure out what you’re good at—and then use those strengths to be—and do—your best!

Now not only are you a role model for others, but you’re also maximising your own chances of success.

Plus you may just enjoy life more (because we tend to enjoy what we’re good at).

5) Celebrate other people’s successes and great qualities!

When someone you know has their own success, why not be the first person to give credit and honour them? And be generous (yet authentic) with your acknowledgements.

Because by celebrating other peoples’ successes (and appreciating their strengths) we contribute to a positive culture of support and encouragement: literally role modelling the world we want to see.

Plus, it might help make those Tall Poppy pruners look bad…

6) Build strong relationships

Do you have a support team? A group of people who think you’re awesome? Who will celebrate your successes with you and encourage you to do—and be—more?

These are the people who will help you deal with Tall Poppy Syndrome.

So if you don’t have a ‘Spark Team’, it’s time to start! These people help mitigate the impact of Tall Poppy Syndrome. They listen, support, encourage— and remind us—that we are fabulous just the way we are.

7) Talk about it!

Lastly, one final way to overcome Tall Poppy Syndrome is to talk about it. Let people know about the negative impacts.

So, when you see an opportunity, use prompts like these to start a conversation:

  • If we penalise someone for being good at their jobs or for succeeding, what does that mean for other people when they succeed?
  • Isn’t Tall Poppy Syndrome really just another form of bullying? (exclusion, unnecessary criticism, gossip, malicious envy)
  • Women especially seem to suffer from Tall Poppy Syndrome. Why is that?
  • Yes, we live in a society that is unhealthily fixated on winning. But does that mean we need to put people down when they do succeed?
  • Why can’t we have participation badges AND acknowledge those people who do well?
  • How can we help everyone find their own unique strengths?
  • How can we celebrate each other more so everyone feels good?
  • Can we find ways to celebrate success that inspires and includes others—like focusing on how hard someone worked and who else made it possible?

Other people’s success brings out the best in each of us

When people pull others down for succeeding, we create a society that is afraid to excel—and that damages everyone.

Because when we see other people achieve and succeed—we see what we might be capable of.

Consider that until Roger Bannister broke the 4 minute mile, no-one thought it was possible. But once he broke the record, suddenly everyone else was doing 4 minute miles too…

Wrap-up (let’s help everyone succeed!)Fierce Kindness Logo

Tall Poppy Syndrome is a terrible misuse of energy. And it is a form of bullying.

These Tall Poppy Syndrome experiences (or fear of them) are a huge block to our personal growth—and they also negatively impact our society as a whole.

Do you know a Tall Poppy? Who do you know who learned that it’s dangerous to be the Tall Poppy in the room? Yourself? A friend or partner?

Well, whoever is making you feel bad—whether it’s colleagues, a sibling, sports coach, mom, friend, lover or even our own inner critic—it’s not OK! Use the 7 strategies above to help you carve a new path.

Let’s create a more positive society! Next time you notice someone holding back on celebrating, acknowledging their strengths or taking a risk and going for it in their lives, tell them about Tall Poppy Syndrome, and help them stand tall

…and spread the word by sharing this article with them!

Change the world. Start with you!

Which idea was most helpful? What suggestions do you have? Comment below!

If you enjoyed this article on Tall Poppy Syndrome, you may also like:


Image of A field of poppies with one tall poppy for tall poppy syndrome by Mny-Jhee via Shutterstock

Image of Tall Woman wearing red by Kraken Images


  1. Vanessa Farrell

    This is an excellent article. I think many successful women find themselves in the situation outlined, but never really knew how to describe it. On the flipside, we talk about imposter syndrome when the places we are planted allows us to really bloom beyond our expectation. We then think or start believing that we don’t belong, or don’t deserve and thereby embrace the limitation that others begin to put on us . The tall poppy syndrome, reinforces the importance of women truly sticking together and working towards uplifting each other. Let’s get savvy enough to identify and recognize when we are placed in a situation where other people try to dim our light and stymie our growth and nip it in the bud.

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Vanessa, thank-you for your thoughtful comment. And alongside Tall Poppy Syndrome, Imposter Syndrome is (yet) another thing so many of us have to deal with in the workplace. I love your suggestions. Emma-Louise X

  2. Andrea P

    This really resonated with me and offered some strategies to deal with what’s going on with my team. Thanks Emma Louise!!

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Andrea, so glad this was Tall Poppy Syndrome article was helpful! Emma-Louise x

  3. Ann

    This article is very prescient as I make my decision to leave a women’s service organization that has become toxic. I stepped up to put myself forward as president as no one else wants this leadership position. I had high hopes but eventually and gradually came the negative emails, scoldings, and microaggressions. The final straw was when the incoming president started criticizing my sister, also a member of this group. After reading your Tall Poppy article, all the negative behaviors, snide remarks, eye rolling, etc. made sense to me. I was a member of this group for ten years and enjoyed all the community work we did, but I could no longer tolerate the negativity and undermining behaviors that are ruining the club. Thank you for this article. I have shed my guilt and know that I did the best I could with integrity and grace.

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Ann,
      It takes a lot of courage to leave toxic workplaces—somehow we always wonder: Is it me?! And no, it isn’t!
      Well done, and so glad this article on Tall Poppy syndrome is helpful!
      Love Emma-Louise


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