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The Impostor Syndrome. Do you have it?

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I was watching Lupita Nyong’o‘s interview on Youtube one day and she mentioned that when she received the role of Patsey in 12 years a slave, she suddenly had an impostor syndrome feeling. She described it as if the casting team had made a mistake and she wasn’t really talented enough to be part of such a big movie.  At that moment I realized that I, too, have felt like this in some moments of my life.  Then I recalled a friend of mine also telling me about how terrified she felt when she asked some colleagues for a job recommendation. Have you ever felt like this?

Here is what the impostor syndrome is all about: the impostor syndrome, or fraud syndrome, is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to acknowledge their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, people with this syndrome believe that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have. Instead they are convinced that their success is only luck, or  a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. It’s not a mental disorder, but merely a phenomenon. Psychological research done in the early 1980s estimated that 2 out of 5 successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70 percent of all people feel like impostors at one time or another. Also, more successful women seem to suffer from this syndrome than men.


This syndrome is experienced as chronic self-doubt and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. The impostor feelings can be divided into three sub categories:

1.  Feeling like a fake: the person believes that he does not deserve his success and that he has deceived people into thinking he is more that he really is. Also the person is afraid of being discovered or unmasked.

2.  Attributing success to luck: the person attributes his success to luck and not to his own abilities.

3.  Discounting Success: the person minimizes or discounts his success.  


Succes and failing 

This phenomenon is related to the the fear of succes and fear of failing. People with this syndrome may fear success and the responsibility and visibility that come with it. People live in a constant pressure to avoid failing which is being “found out.”  


 Getting out of the impostor syndrome

Having this syndrome in some situations does not mean you are mentally ill or stuck with the feelings forever. You can get out of it by:

1. Becoming aware of the thoughts and more important, automatic thoughts.

2. Doing reality checks.

3. Changing perspective: listing the real achievements and internalizing them.

4. Becoming aware of your abilities and qualities.

5. Talking with other people and sharing the experience, so you can understand everyone goes through this at some point.  


Sources: wikipedia, caltech counseling center,

Photo: Adrian Ion Photography 

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