“The real problem of the world is that the intelligent are full of doubts, while the stupid are full of confidence.”

Bertrand Russell

In this writing, I want to talk about a phenomenon related to human behavior, known in the literature as the ‘Dunning-Kruger Syndrome’, and its equivalent term in Turkish, the “kifayetsiz muhteris” (incompetent and presumptuous) concept.

An incompetent and presumptuous person’s most prominent behavior is appearing knowledgeable and capable in a subject despite lacking any knowledge or competence in it. Moreover, they exhibit such self-assuredness that many people around them can be convinced of their expertise.

We can encounter people suffering from incompetence and presumption in various settings: it could be someone in our social circle who always brings politics into every conversation and confidently believes they are right even in the face of overwhelming evidence against them, or someone we must caution and debate due to their misconduct, yet they escalate the situation with their dominant attitude, taking it to entirely different dimensions.

After this brief introduction, let’s list some general characteristics of incompetent and presumptuous individuals:

  1. They always have an opinion on almost everything and rarely use phrases like “I don’t know” or “I have no idea about this.”
  2. They have formed opinions on various subjects without being knowledgeable about them.
  3. The less information they have on a topic, the more passionately they defend their viewpoint.
  4. They believe their adopted belief or ideology is the best and will solve all problems for people.
  5. They are fanatics and generally do not like people with beliefs, ideologies, or opinions different from their own. They see them as ignorant, uninformed, or pitiable individuals.
  6. They are willing to believe any information or news that is in line with their beliefs or ideology without questioning its source.
  7. When faced with any criticism of their views, they may raise their voice, become rude, or respond with insults and profanity.
  8. They are often reluctant to admit their mistakes and refrain from apologizing. To avoid such a situation, they may resort to various psychological manipulations.
  9. They tend to be closed to change and may insist on defending views that have long been proven wrong, even years later.

Having provided this information, I can anticipate some potential questions, and I will try to answer them in a question-answer format:

Question: Why does someone become an incompetent and presumptuous person?

Fundamentally, this is a personality issue, and people who fall into the category of narcissistic personality disorder tend to develop this type of behavior. The main purpose of this behavior is to hide the feelings of worthlessness and incompetence they deep down inside. This attitude is such a dominant defense mechanism that they themselves start believing they are indeed valuable and capable. Therefore, all this “know-it-all” and excessively “confident” behavior is directed towards concealing their weaknesses and proving their worth and competence to themselves and others. However, the truth is that these individuals may not be happy, even if they may appear to be knowledgeable or competent in certain areas.

Question: I encounter many incompetent and presumptuous people around me, how should I behave towards them?

First and foremost, engaging in an argument with such people or competing with them will ultimately drain us. Engaging in a debate with them, if we are inclined to do so, necessitates asking ourselves the following questions: “What am I trying to prove to whom and why?” In this context, any argument with them will inevitably turn into an ego battle rather than a constructive discussion where both sides can learn something from each other. Furthermore, I would like to mention that sometimes, not giving room to such an argument, indicates that we might have certain complexes that we have not yet overcome, at least not to the same extent as them. However, let us not forget, we are all human, and sometimes, succumbing to our ego, we may find ourselves in a situation where we argue with an incompetent and presumptuous person or try to prove something to them. When we realize this, the most sensible action is not to prolong the argument, but to step back immediately. Such an argument will not go beyond exhausting us or making us angry. As Rumi said, “I defeated forty scholars with one proof, but I could not defeat one ignorant person with forty proofs.”

Finally, I would like to draw attention to this: when we engage in an argument with an incompetent and presumptuous person, after a while, we may start feeling “worthless,” “incompetent,” or even as if we know nothing about anything. However, let us not unfairly judge ourselves; this is precisely when they activate their “projection” defense mechanism and project all the negative emotions they harbor deep inside onto their victims. They may attribute various negative feelings to others with a single word, a phrase, or even just a look. In this regard, we should be vigilant, recognize when we are exposed to psychological manipulation from an outside perspective, and remind ourselves that all the negative emotions we feel actually belong to the incompetent and presumptuous person in front of us.

Question: I think I display some of the characteristics of an incompetent and presumptuous person from time to time; what should I do?

First and foremost, the fact that we are aware of this and accept it means that we are exhibiting a lighter form of incompetence and presumption. This is good news because the precondition for changing or preventing a displayed behavior is awareness. Many psychology theorists claim that narcissism exists in every person from birth; thus, everyone has the potential to be slightly or moderately incompetent and presumptuous. There is a small part of us that tends to lean towards this behavior. To control this aspect within us, we need to know ourselves. For instance, the more we confront and accept our feelings of worthlessness and incompetence, the lower the likelihood of displaying incompetence and presumption. This attitude is actually the defensive strategy of our ego. However, after confronting these feelings, we must maturely rationalize them. In this context, it would be helpful to remind ourselves frequently of the following: “Being wrong in any matter, having insufficient knowledge, or making mistakes does not mean that we are worthless or inadequate. It simply indicates that there are areas where we need improvement or development. Sometimes, the areas where we feel lacking may also turn out to be areas where we cannot improve. Accepting such deficiencies with maturity and expressing them without hesitation are indications that we are at peace with ourselves and emotionally healthy. Believe me, when we can do this, life becomes much more worth living.”

Ümit Akçakaya

Certified Psychological Counselor & Author