Feeling like an impostor Feeling like an impostor

Impostor syndrome happens when, despite being successful, you feel that you are a fraud and will be discovered by others.

Advisor: Daniel Espinosa
Ppsychologist, Master’s degree in Psychoanalysis and Philosophy of Culture; PhD in Psychotherapy

You probably cannot imagine that a recognized person you admire is insecure, feeling that this recognition and notoriety he or she is given is a lie. In different environments such as work, academia, or sports or artistic settings, it is common to find people suffering from the so-called impostor syndrome.
Psychologist Daniel Espinosa explains that although this syndrome is not part of a psychopathology as such, in the literature published in the last few years, it has been described as common in various contexts. “A syndrome implies a set of symptoms and phenomena that concur and characterize a certain situation. Impostor syndrome, for example, involves individuals that tend to be socially successful (from exterior standards), but have a persistent idea of personal incompetence,” he states.
In this way, people come to feel that they do not have enough skills for this position they have been given, even though they are well-valued, and their achievements are recognized. Consequently, they also constantly feel that they are going to be discovered, like a fraud.

More than insecurity
Surely these behaviors may sound very similar to what is commonly referred to as personal insecurity. However, impostor syndrome is more than that. “Personal insecurity is a trait. And when a person has this trait, this is his way of functioning. The syndrome is a more complex picture because the subject functions very well and is successful. But secretly, he is worried about not living up to the demands of his environment, which is the additional component,” indicates the psychologist.
Although specialist Daniel Espinosa clarifies that there are not, in official terms, statistics that conclude how frequently this situation is presented in our context, in general, scientific articles describe that this syndrome and feeling like an impostor is something the majority of people (close to 70%) have experienced at least once in their life.

That inner voice
Impostor syndrome manifests itself differently in each person and can have different levels. When it is mid-level, the psychologist affirms that positive feedback can make it more bearable. In high-level cases, it is possible that there is a constant feeling of anguish and uneasiness and that the person’s wellbeing is affected, for which it is advisable to resort to psychological support in order to find the deeper causes.
Their daily activities and performance can also be affected. “Even if others tell you that you are great, wonderful, there is an internal voice that says ‘I fooled him, it is a lie!’ This leads to dissatisfaction and frustration because they cannot internalize for themselves those positive elements that others see,” says psychologist Espinosa.

Even though there have not been any specific causes attributed to this syndrome, the specialist states that there are important factors such as life experiences, failures in self-esteem, and having been raised in an authoritarian or very demanding environment, with little support or affection, and with a constant lack of positive feedback. Scenarios in which there is too much pressure or comparison with others can also play a role.
For prevention, Espinosa recommends increasing positive feedback and recognition of abilities at home and in academic settings.

Related: Understanding what learned defenselessness is