|imposter syndrome (n., adj.)|
|Coiner||Drs. Clance and Imes in the late 1970s|
Impostor syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon, imposterism, fraud syndrome, or the imposter experience) refers to two similar forms of internal psychological and emotional experiences, one in which one has a fear or false belief that they are in some way secretly inferior and another in which one has a fear or false belief that their experiences, typically of mental illness or some other struggle, are falsified.
Imposter syndrome is not a mental illness, disorder, or diagnosis, but rather a non-pathological name for these specific emotional and psychological experiences. In some cases, imposter syndrome may be a symptom or result of another mental illness or disorder.
Causes and Symptoms[edit | edit source]
Personality traits largely affect and cause imposter syndrome. Those who experience it struggle with self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism. Competitive environments can also contribute to causing imposter syndrome. For example, many people who go on to develop feelings of impostorism faced intense pressure about academic achievement from their parents in childhood.
While impostor syndrome is not a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is not an uncommon experience. It is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this phenomenon in their lives.
Usually, those who experience imposter syndrome will have characteristics such as:
- An inability to realistically assess their competence and skills
- Attributing their success to external factors
- Berating their performance
- Fear that they won't live up to expectations
- Sabotaging their own success
- Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when they fall short
Different Types[edit | edit source]
There are different forms of imposter syndrome, all revolving around the faking aspect.
The first is the experience of thinking or believing that one is not as competent as others perceive them to be and is somehow faking or accidentally happening upon the skills or other positive traits people perceive them as having rather than genuinely exhibiting or honestly achieving such things.
It can also manifest as a consistent fear of being exposed as a fraud or "imposter" despite not actually faking or lying about that which is subject to the fear in question.
The second is the experience of fearing or falsely believing one is somehow faking or overdramatizing their own struggles, especially in the case of a mental illness or mental health issue.
It is often accompanied by feelings of guilt and downplaying one's own emotions, either by invalidating oneself or comparing one's experiences with the perceived worse experiences of others.
This internalized belief can be deeply harmful to one's mental health and self esteem and is sometimes the result of related mental health issues.
There are also specific types/categories that one could put themselves in, based on their experiences.
Perfectionist[edit | edit source]
Perfectionists are usually never satisfied with their work and always feel that they could have done better. Rather than focus on their strengths, they tend to fixate on any flaws or mistakes.
This often leads to a great deal of self-pressure and high amounts of anxiety. They focus primarily on how they do things, often to the point where they demand perfection of themselves in every aspect of life. Yet, since perfection isn’t always a realistic goal, they can’t meet these standards.
Instead of acknowledging the hard work they've put in after completing a task, they might criticize themselves for small mistakes and feel ashamed of their “failure.” They might even avoid trying new things if they believe they can’t do them perfectly the first time.
Superhero[edit | edit source]
Because these individuals feel inadequate, they feel compelled to push themselves to work as hard as possible. They link competence to their ability to succeed in every role they hold: student, friend, employee, or parent. Failing to successfully navigate the demands of these roles simply proves, in their opinion, their inadequacy.
To succeed, then, they push themselves to the limit, expending as much energy as possible in every role. Still, even this maximum effort may not resolve their imposter feelings. They might think, “I should be able to do more,” or “This should be easier.”
Expert[edit | edit source]
These individuals are always trying to learn more and are never satisfied with their level of understanding.
Even though they are often highly skilled, they underrate their own expertise. Before they can consider their work a success, they want to learn everything there is to know on the topic.
They might spend so much time pursuing their quest for more information that they end up having to devote more time to their main task. Since they believe they should have all the answers, they might consider themselves a fraud or failure when they can’t answer a question or come across the knowledge they missed before.
Natural Genius[edit | edit source]
These individuals set excessively lofty goals for themselves, and then feel crushed when they don't succeed on their first try. They've spent their life picking up new skills with little effort and believe they should understand new material and processes right away.
Their belief that competent people can handle anything with little difficulty leads them to feel like a fraud when they have a hard time. If something doesn’t come to them easily, or they fail to succeed on their first try, they might feel ashamed and embarrassed.
Soloist[edit | edit source]
These people tend to be very individualistic and prefer to work alone. Self-worth and success often come from their productivity, so they often reject help.
They tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence, and believe they should be able to handle everything solo. Asking someone for help, or accepting support when it’s offered, means more than failing their own high standards, it also means admitting their inadequacies and showing themselves as a failure.
Plurality[edit | edit source]
Imposter syndrome relates to plurality in that many systems experience it. It is common for systems to think that they are faking being a system and having system members or to otherwise doubt their own experiences. This can happen for a number of reasons including doubting one's own system, experiencing invalidation from others or from one's community, not being supported or understood by others in one's environment, and more.
Imposter syndrome can often occur in newly discovered systems or those who otherwise suffer from issues with self-doubt and poor self-esteem. It can also pertain to a larger experience of repression or self-denial of one's plurality and being a system.
Fake-claiming systems is one potential influence that may cause them to experience imposter syndrome. Due to others casting doubt on the validity of their system, one might begin to doubt their own experiences. This, like all other forms of imposter syndrome, can be very harmful to one's mental health.
History[edit | edit source]
Imposter Syndrome was the term that was first used by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s.
When the concept of imposter syndrome was introduced, it was originally thought to apply mostly to high-achieving women. Early research exploring this phenomenon primarily focused on these accomplished, successful women.
Related Terms[edit | edit source]
Imposter syndrome in the context of plurality may also be called 'Sysnoia'
References[edit | edit source]
- Sakulku J, Alexander J. The imposter phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science. 2011;6(1):73-92.
- Clance PR, Imes SA. The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Group Dyn. 1978;15(3):241-247. doi:10.1037/h0086006