Like what students in elite schools usually do these days. When asked why they got good grades, they’re too unconfident and uncomfortable to admit their hard work and usually attribute to good luck or others’ lapsus.

  • I know what you're talking about, but you'll get better answers if you be a little bit more descriptive Mar 4, 2019 at 3:17

5 Answers 5


They have a habit of being "self-deprecating", perhaps because it makes them feel uncomfortable to be in the "limelight". Said another way, they display limelight avoidance.




Well, the term that most aptly describes this is "false modesty":

false modesty n
behaviour in which a person pretends to have a low opinion of their own abilities or achievements: He shows great pride in his work and has no false modesty about his success.
Cambridge Dictionar Online

This can be genuine diffidence, or it can be vanity posing as humility (downplaying one's abilities so that others will contradict them).

  • Thanks for answering, but I’m looking for a single long word that may or may not start with an “a” according to my vague memory.
    – Mira
    Mar 4, 2019 at 4:02

Don't "Dumb Yourself Down" Psychology Today

"dumbing oneself down" to avoid intimidating others.


While the motives of the person of whom you speak are far from clear, he or she is possibly guilty of either false humility or self loathing. Let me explain.

False humility is a pretense of sorts. Do you remember the late Johnny Carson from NBC Television's Tonight Show? Often during the opening of the show and prior to telling the first joke, Johnny would often pretend to silence the audience's applause with one hand, and at the same time with the other hand encourage them to continue applauding. One hand up, palm forward, says "Oh, please, stop. I am not worthy," while the other hand at thigh level beckons "More, more, more!"

Carson's gestures mimic (or possibly parody) false humility. With one hand he deflects the praise but with the other hand, sub rosa, he is hinting that you should continue praising him, thus keeping him in the spotlight and giving him more time to "deflect" the audience's praise. In doing so, he is simply prolonging his admirers' attentions and blandishments.

The person serving as your exemplar could also be engaged in a form of self loathing. He or she engages so habitually in self agnegation and self defecation--I mean deprecation!--that they are truly uncomfortable with praise and admiration.

Both modes of deflection can be pathological. The golden mean between these two extremes is summed up well by the apostle Paul in his letter to the Roman Christians:

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith (Romans 12:3 NASB).

Another version of that verse puts the thought this way (and the bracketed words are original to the quotation):

For by the grace [of God] given to me I say to everyone of you not to think more highly of himself [and of his importance and ability] than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has apportioned to each a degree of faith [and a purpose designed for service].

True humility, I suggest, takes a good hard look at one's abilities and achievements and draws several conclusions:

  1. Regardless of how much greater or lesser someone's abilities and achievements are when compared to mine, since all my endowments are a gracious gift from God, they are unmerited, undeserved, and hence not really mine, either to brag about or to minimize.

  2. My primary task as a recipient of God's gracious gifts is to think dispassionately about about what I am to do with them and devise a plan whereby I can best steward them. (I use the word steward here as a verb meaning to put to work in ways which please the Endower and edify and affirm others.)

  3. Putting my gift to work is going to require a degree of faith (which itself is a gift from the Endower), since false humility and self loathing are lurking in the background, threatening to undo true and grateful humility by replacing it with their counterfeits.

Addendum: From a more explicitly Christian perspective, I recommend the article found here.


The term I've heard is Imposter Syndrome, especially when talking about academia. Them being "unconfident and uncomfortable" is usually because of self-doubt and a feeling of being unworthy:

First described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.
APA: Feel like a fraud?

See also:

  • Thank you Laurel! This is exactly the answer I’ve been looking for!
    – Mira
    Mar 5, 2019 at 7:09

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