An impostor is a person who deceives those around him or her. This can concern his identity, personality traits or even his skills. To succeed in deceiving his close relations, the impostor will show various strategies of manipulation (lie, distortion of the facts…).

As for him, the impostor syndrome is an impression to manipulate his entourage (relatives, employer, colleagues, teacher…) on their competences. While the impostor commits intentional acts of manipulation, people suffering from impostor syndrome only have the impression of it. It is more a matter of self-deprecation of one’s skills and potential than of deception. This constant feeling of incompetence overwhelms their lives and greatly affects their relationship to work, to others, to themselves.

The impostor syndrome is generally expressed by :

  • Difficulty accepting compliments: “I’m not as smart as they say I am”, “My work is not that good, hardly correct”.
    A self-deprecation of one’s abilities and an overvaluation of those of others: “He is so good, clearly I am not at his level”, “His work is of better quality, mine is mediocre”, “I will never reach his level”.
  • A strong value attributed to success and intelligence: which can be translated into an excess of training (doing several masters, additional training…) to satisfy their criteria of excellence and success.
  • An external attribution to their successes and an internal attribution to their failures: “I got a good grade because the test was easy / the teacher graded nicely / I worked hard or I wouldn’t have made it”, “I didn’t work hard enough, it’s all my fault / I’m not good enough”.
  • A generalized anxiety, accompanied by a fear of failure, of disappointing: “They expected better of me”, “I don’t live up to their expectations”, “I’m a failure / I’m no good”. Each new task will be a source of stress because it will be a test to avoid being found out or you will have to be up to the task.
  • A tendency to procrastinate or overwork because of the fear of not doing well enough. The person invests himself in a disproportionate way, which usually brings him a good result. They may appear to be uncompromising and perfectionist. They may spend weeks on an assignment and still be dissatisfied. She may also become anxious about not succeeding and decide not to work until the last minute in an intense way, which will result in an average result and a feeling of guilt.

  • Imposter syndrome can have an impact on mental health, professional life and also social life. The questioning of one’s abilities is not understood by those around him/her. The person is perceived as lacking confidence or seeking attention. Relationships can then become strained and the person can isolate himself in his malaise. The person lives in fear and secret anxiety that his or her imposture will be revealed and that people will recognize his or her ineptitude and incompetence. In addition to low self-esteem and violent self-deprecation, they have a very unrealistic and idealized image of themselves that they try to live up to (“I want to be good at everything”, “I have to be the best”, “If I don’t get it right the first time, then I’m no good”, “I can do everything on my own, I shouldn’t need anyone else to get it right”) This greatly limits their potential because they do not allow themselves to seize opportunities deemed superior to their skills (new job, participation in a contest, asking for a raise…).
  • How to get out of the impostor syndrome?

    • Learn and understand your syndrome:
      Understanding is the key to action. There are several websites offering the Clance test (1980) to measure the intensity of the imposter syndrome. Knowing what you have allows you to be informed and to offer yourself the means to act and react. Keep questioning, searching and understanding yourself.
    • The power of beliefs:
      Beliefs are generalizations you make about your experiences (“I never manage to get the average” / “as soon as I take an exam, I get anxious and I miss everything”, “I’m sure I’ll fail my interview, I’m terrible at speaking!”). When these are limiting, they will prevent you from fulfilling yourself. The impostor syndrome is this set of beliefs that limits you in the development of your potential (“I could not” / “I should not” / “I will not know”). These beliefs are part of you, they accompany you throughout your day. But you can exist without them. Try to change them little by little.
    • Identify automatic thoughts:
      This article highlights several examples of typical sentences of the imposter syndrome. All of these phrases are imposed on you as soon as you fail to reach your requirements or you reach them thinking you are cheating. They are the basis of your beliefs. Analyze yourself, write down these phrases. Knowing that they exist will allow you to realize their over-representation in your day and in your thoughts. It is important to know that not everything you think is true. Just because you put forth the idea that you are an imposter does not make it true. For example, raise your right arm and say out loud, “My left arm is up. Every word can be deceptive, your automatic thoughts can be real imposters without your knowledge. To note them, to spot them, is to give them less power over you.
    • Write down your qualities and have them written down:
      Try this little exercise. Ask one or more people you trust for their benevolence, for whom the opinion counts, to write down your qualities on a sheet of paper. Think about it too, be sincere with yourself and write down what you think you are good at (“I am a good listener”, “I am good at mental arithmetic”, “I know how to make a good lasagne”). Compare notes and have an open mind. Dare to hear that you may have other qualities that you don’t yet perceive. And if you’ve been scoring the same ones, take the time to realize what you’re worth. Keep these notes carefully and read them again in those moments when your automatic thoughts take over.
    • Take time and be kind to yourself:
      Overcoming imposter syndrome takes time. Taking care of yourself takes time. Change takes time. Kindness is what will allow this time to be beneficial and enjoyable.

    Written by

    Laure Raynal

    Etudiante en 1ère année de master de psychologie à Paris VIII, je m'intéresse particulièrement aux problématiques centrées sur le stress et les psychotraumatismes. Pour moi, il est essentiel de croire en la capacité de chacun à s'épanouir.