What is Imposter Syndrome?

Have you suffered a crisis of self-doubt? You are not alone. About 70% of us will feel self-doubt at least once in our lives. In 1978, clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes noticed a thinking style pattern with their female high-achieving college students. They coined the term imposter syndrome which they define as the self-perception of intellectual fraud. Despite repeated successes, people will attribute their success to 'dumb luck' or simply being endorsed by people holding a personal bias toward them. Ultimately, because people feel undeserving of their success and therefore unable to internalise their accomplishments. Achievements are overshadowed by a remarkable sense of inauthenticity and riddled with the fear of being discovered as a blagger.

“I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.”

—John Steinbeck

Although it was initially observed with females, imposter syndrome is also common in males. But there are sex differences with how males and females react and manifest the related behaviours. In a recent study, Rebecca Badawy and her colleagues felt that the relationship between imposter syndrome and performance is poorly understood - especially with males. The discovered that men react more drastically that their female counterparts in the face of anxiety related imposter feelings. When performance is demanded of them, mens’ anxiety levels spike higher than womens’ while their performance levels takes a dive. The reason for this might lie in the over-concern of gender-norm violations i.e. men are supposed to perform well. To excuse themselves from their fear of being found out, men develop a self-handicapping strategy where they can blame their lack of effort instead of their inauthenticity. Women however, appear more robust in the face of criticism by responding with increasing their effort while secretly harbouring their imposter feelings.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the manifestation of a kink in our personality and linked to anxiety. It comes down to two personality characteristics: self-esteem and self-monitoring. People who score low on self-esteem score higher on imposter syndrome, while people who perpetually self-monitor and present themselves per the social situation also experience imposter syndrome. It is also highly correlated with social anxiety, people who are introverts, and family environment.

For example, critical parents create in their children excessive concern with impressing others and the need to protect themselves from criticism. Children will combat their sense of inadequacy by overachieving as a means of 'earning' their parent's love. Parent’s love becomes conditional upon success or achievements rather than being loved unconditionally. Emotionally unavailable parents construct environments that are inauthentic - especially with expression of feelings. However, when families genuinely support each other; engage in open communication about thoughts, feelings and emotions and have low levels of conflict, imposter syndrome is far less prevalent.

10 Tips for Dealing with Imposter Syndrome

“Am I too loud? Too much? Dreaming too big? Eventually, I just got tired of always worrying what everyone else thought of me - So I decided not to listen.”

- Michelle Obama

  1. List your achievements and practice the art of humble bragging.

  2. Practice anxiety management techniques - such as meditation.

  3. Challenge the negative inner script with cognitive reframing.

  4. Know who you are.

  5. Accepting who you are - especially if you are an introvert.

  6. Accept praise and compliments.

  7. Develop being authenticity skills.

  8. Don’t be afraid to look and ask for ways to restore your sense of feeling more in control.

  9. Change your perfectionism tendency style from maladaptive to adaptive.

  10. Work with a Person-Centred Therapist. They specialise in recreating the loving environment we should have experienced in childhood; research shows that this kind of relationship heals these old wound source.

If this article resonates with you and you’d like to investigate this further, talk to me about how you can develop your authenticity.


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