What is the impostor syndrome?

Published May 20, 2023 • By Candice Salomé

Impostor syndrome is quite common and gives the sufferer the feeling that he or she does not deserve the position he or she occupies. This syndrome has its origins in battered egos and the need, which we all face, to compare ourselves to others.

So what is impostor syndrome? What are its manifestations? How can we free ourselves from it?

We explain it all in our article!

What is the impostor syndrome?

What is the impostor syndrome? 

The impostor syndrome was revealed in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Susanne Imes, two psychologists. They studied what they later called "impostor syndrome" in 150 female graduates who were working in prestigious jobs where they were recognized for their skills.

These brilliant women did not consider themselves successful. They explained their situation by external factors such as luck. In contrast, other people at the same level claimed to be successful because of their skills and hard work. These 150 women feared that they would be "found out" and that others would realize that they were not as competent as they thought.

It is now estimated that 70% of people worldwide are affected by this disorder at least once in their lifetime. Impostor syndrome is thought to occur particularly during periods of transition: first degree, first job, new schooling, major career advancement, etc.

Impostor syndrome is not limited to the professional and academic fields. Psychologists also talk about it in parents who underestimate their ability to take care of their child(ren). It can also occur in a couple when one tends to idealize one's partner.

What are the main traits of the impostor syndrome? 

Constant doubts regarding your own capabilities 

Individuals with impostor syndrome, attribute their success to external factors such as luck.

Furthermore, when they fail, they blame themselves for the problem by taking full responsibility for poor performance, even though the environment or circumstances may have had a real impact on the situation.

For example, a person suffering from impostor syndrome may feel responsible for a drop in the company's turnover. 

The minimization of your own accomplishments

People with impostor syndrome tend to explicitly downplay both the quality of their work and their achievements. They are surprised or even embarrassed by the compliments they receive.

Perfectionism and following high standards 

The perfectionism of people with impostor syndrome refers directly to the systematic underestimating of the quality of their work. This leads them to expect a lot from themselves and their achievements. Moreover, it provides a framework for regarding their current results as never being up to the highest standards.


The impostor syndrome leads to an over-investment in projects to ensure what they believe to be a minimal outcome when it is, objectively, a high level of performance.

Thus, the energy they invest into their tasks is much greater than the majority of individuals. This tends to generate a significant level of stress.

Comparing yourself to others 

People affected by impostor syndrome tend to look at the qualities that others have and that they do not. Conversely, they will focus on their faults without considering their qualities. This makes them feel inferior to others.

The fear of being yourself 

People with impostor syndrome tend to devalue themselves and have difficulty being themselves.

In relationships, this can be seen as only showing yourself in the best light for fear of not being loved for who you are.

These people are so demanding of themselves that they do not want to reveal any weaknesses or imperfections for fear of pushing their partner away.

How to free oneself from the impostor syndrome? 

Impostor syndrome is now commonly recognized. Although the name "syndrome" has been retained, it is not a disease. Psychologists now prefer to talk about a temporary experience.

Impostor syndrome is not listed as a mental disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Impostor syndrome is often resolved over time when people learn to appreciate themselves unconditionally and be less intransigent with themselves.

Impostor syndrome, even if it may be deeply rooted in you and your ways of functioning, is not inevitable. It is based on narcissistic flaws concerning self-esteem or, even more deeply, self-love, which are most often linked to emotional wounds.

By talking about it with those around you, the discomfort can disappear. Indeed, your friends and family can reassure you of your own worth.

If this is not enough, psychological support focused on these problems - cognitive behavioral therapy is preferable in this case - will enable you to gradually modify your beliefs and operating modes in order to develop a more peaceful professional and personal life.

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avatar Candice Salomé

Author: Candice Salomé, Health Writer

Candice is a content creator at Carenity and specialzes in writing health articles. She has a particular interest in the fields of women's health, well-being and sports. 

Candice holds a master's degree in... >> Learn more


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