Home » Blogs » The Therapist Within » Transplanting ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’: Overcoming Fear of Judgement

Transplanting ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’: Overcoming Fear of Judgement

Have you heard of ‘tall poppy syndrome’?

It’s that social tendency which sees high achievers – ‘tall poppies’ – as standing ‘above the crowd’ somehow; and it cuts them down to size.

And if it’s taken root in your patch, it can make it tricky for you to strive. To grow. To dare to put yourself out there in the world and try your best at what you’re passionate about. For it can be a pretty potent motivator to stay small…safe…(silent, even).

Once it’s put like that, tall poppy syndrome starts to sound a bit like fear of judgment. Or maybe even fear of success.

Do any of these things sound familiar to you?

If so, what is it, exactly, that you might fear if you stuck your head up above the parapet?

(It might be worth getting to know that stuff a little better, for, often, we can carry around fairly nebulous worries that can actually draw strength from remaining indistinct… Getting clearer about them sometimes brings them into sharper focus; makes them more known to you. Maybe even more manageable).

So what are you anxious might actually happen if you thrive or succeed or shine?
What do you worry could be said or done?
Which parts of you do you fear might be ‘cut down to size’?
And who do you imagine might be doing the cutting?

One intriguing thing I’ve learned again and again as a therapist is how often the stuff that’s feared from the outside can also be happening from within.

So if it’s others’ judgment you fear, how harshly do you judge yourself?

If you take a moment to really look now and then, is there a chance you might sometimes spy the secateurs in your own hands? Is it possible that tall poppy syndrome has invaded your own internal field of dreams?

And if it has, what might you like to do about that?

What might it be like to transplant it for a while?
To weed it out?
Maybe to practice forgetting about it and just let your qualities and skills and passions and poppies grow to whatever size they will?

It can be challenging. For there is a risk of judgment (from outside and within).

But, as Robert Rosenbaum reminds us,

“Our judgments


edit our experience”

(… our experience of the world… our experience of ourselves… and perhaps our experience of life itself).

So will you let your experience of the world be edited in this way?

Will you let tall poppy syndrome decide what the field of your life gets to look like?

Or might you risk planting richly and abundantly, and just letting yourself grow?


Reference: Rosenbaum, R (1999) Zen and the Heart of Psychotherapy, Routledge, p.48
Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She was the former editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.
Transplanting ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’: Overcoming Fear of Judgement

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

5 comments: View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2019). Transplanting ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’: Overcoming Fear of Judgement. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 29 Mar 2019
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.