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Impostor Syndrome: How It Manifests Itself and How to Deal With It

Causes and Risk Factors

Impostor syndrome was identified by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Eames in an article in 1978. Initially, psychologists believed that the phenomenon affects only women. The reasons were social inequality and gender discrimination.

At the time, many in society believed that women should be housewives and not build careers. When they were successful in their jobs, they themselves began to be influenced by society: they thought it was an accident or a mistake.

But men were also at risk. Researchers found this out only in 1993, because the stronger sex is usually less likely to share problems with a psychologist.

Reasons for developing the syndrome:

  • Habituation to success. Many people achieve goals easily from childhood, such as graduating with a gold medal and a university with a red diploma. But when they start working, they encounter difficulties. Problems cause insecurity.
  • The hopes of the family. Parents praise the child a lot, tell him he’s special. He ends up thinking that he needs to work harder on himself, and being special in the eyes of the family is not enough. Growing up, the person starts blaming themselves for not living up to expectations.
  • Comparison with others. A child is constantly being set as an example of his smart brother or sister. Even as an adult, the person will try to prove that he or she is better than the other children in the family.
  • Character traits. Perfectionists demand one hundred percent results from themselves. And when they do not achieve it, they get disappointed and force themselves to achieve the goal. Loners are also susceptible to imposter syndrome. Often those who do not like to work in a team think that it is a shame to ask for help. It’s like admitting they don’t have enough knowledge or experience.
  • Fear. A person gets a promotion, hits a jackpot at 22Bet, or successfully launches a startup. Starts to worry that he won’t be able to succeed at anything else. This is how imposter syndrome progresses. The person works more and more, gets nervous and emotionally burned out.
  • Negative evaluation from outside. For example, a young employee is appointed head of a department. He deserves it because he works hard and often offers useful ideas. But other employees do not take the specialist seriously and say that he doesn’t have enough experience for such a position. The new manager begins to doubt himself, worried because of the judgment of others.

How an Impostor Complex Develops

A person ceases to evaluate himself objectively. He begins to think that he is a fraud, and expects his deception to be discovered soon. He gets nervous a lot.

He has health problems because of his anxiety. Body produces cortisol, a stress hormone. From this comes lack of sleep, digestive problems, headaches, and nervous breakdowns.

This leads to apathy and even depression. The result is a person becomes withdrawn, loses interest in work and career growth, despite the fact that he has always strived for it.

Types of People With the Syndrome


Signs. This person thinks a task could have been accomplished better. Does not accept even well-deserved praise. Loses confidence from a minor mistake.

Example. The client manager resolves the conflict with the customer. He is satisfied and continues to cooperate, the manager writes a bonus. But the employee still thinks he didn’t do enough.


Signs. This person knows his or her field but denies it. Afraid to ask questions and appear stupid. Thinks he doesn’t deserve the position. Will never take on a task if he doubts he can do it.

Example. A programmer refuses to take on a project because he thinks he can’t handle it. Although he has experience and knowledge in the field, time to work.

Natural Genius

Signs. Since childhood, this person easily solves tests, passes exams, wins at Olympiads and competitions. Therefore, he is accustomed to achieving without preparation.

Example. Sales manager usually closes all the deals after the first or second meeting with the client. Faced with a problem: a difficult customer who does not sign the contract in any way. Starts to doubt his abilities.


Signs. This person believes he has to do everything alone. Willing to neglect personal time in order to get tasks done quickly and well. Cannot share experiences: otherwise society will think he is an impostor.

Example. A woman wedding planner is getting married. She decides to prepare the celebration on her own. Later she realizes that she cannot be a bride and an organizer at the same time. It is difficult for her to admit this and turn to an agency, because to ask for help is to fail.

Superman and Superwoman

Signs. This person always takes on a lot of tasks, works harder than others. And doesn’t think it’s enough to succeed.

Example. A man is simultaneously seeking a promotion at work, taking on big projects. At the same time trying to spend more time with his wife and children, to help his parents to make repairs. He gets tired and nervous, panics that he doesn’t have time for everything.

How to Get Rid of Imposter Syndrome

Evaluate achievements and praise yourself. Objectively analyze your successes. To do this, make a list of victories and the reasons that led to them. Think about how much of each factor contributed to the achievement, and write an approximate number next to the reason.

For example, you think you got a perfect score on your diploma because you got lucky. But in fact, you were 60 percent successful because you studied articles on the topic every day and put in hours of work. The other 40% was by attending all of your advisor’s consultations.

You will see that you achieved your goal for a reason. You worked hard and earned praise. It’s also helpful to share your victories with friends, family, and colleagues. Positive appraisals from loved ones will also help in the fight against imposter syndrome.

Take time to educate yourself. Read books, listen to podcasts, watch lectures in your specialty. Constantly learn new things, stay on top of trends. Knowledge will give you self-confidence, and imposter syndrome will bother you less often.

Contact a psychologist. Find out with a specialist where you got the complex from. Often psychological problems are related to childhood. These are inflated expectations of parents, comparing a person to a more successful brother or sister, bullying by peers. A psychologist can help you let go of the past and work through the problem.

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