Millennium Post

Shroud of diffidence

Imposter syndrome, which forces people to undercount their accomplishments and takes a toll on their mental and emotional health, is clinically undiagnosable but can be partially controlled through Cognitive behavioural therapy

Shroud of diffidence

Answer these questions honestly:

⁕ Do you tend to brush off your accomplishments as being a 'fluke', 'no big deal', 'fate of luck' and 'coincidence'?

⁕ Do you worry that others will find out that you're not as capable as they think you are?

⁕ Are you constantly doubting and belittling your success?

⁕ Do you attribute your success to good luck or great timing, rather than your own skills and talents?

⁕ If the answer to all of these is yes, then you may be just suffering from impostor syndrome.

In imposter syndrome, the feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence overarch your capabilities, education, experience, and accomplishments. Some also term it 'perceived fraudulence'.

This concept was developed by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes; they originally termed it 'the imposter phenomenon'. Their 1978 study had focused on high-achieving women who, despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, persisted in believing that they were really not bright and had fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.

Who can get affected?

Anyone. Literally, anyone can have imposter syndrome. In fact, if you have it then you are not alone. A 2019 review of 62 studies on imposter syndrome suggested that anywhere from nine to 82 per cent of people reported feeling this way at work at some point. It can affect anyone, notwithstanding their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise.

Research has explored if impostor syndrome affects particularly women more, or only high-achieving people. It is noticed that it can attend folks from all professions, from a college student to the top boss of a company, from doctors to motivational speakers and more.

The theme is the same. The question in the mind is whether they're deserving of the accolades or not.

Doesn't sound too harmful. How bad can it be?

The downside of impostor syndrome can be that in order to counteract these feelings, a person may end up working harder, hold very high standards, and have little to no intrinsic sense of validation and happiness. This pressure can eventually take a toll on the emotional and mental health in the form of burnout, anxiety, stress and more.

How does it develop?

One reason cannot fit all. Each person's story is unique.

Childhood: Our patterns begin to form right from childhood, based on our environment, parenting, schooling, and genetics. Those who may have been pressured to do even better despite doing well, constantly compared to a sibling, constantly criticised for making mistakes and even the ones repeatedly told how gifted and talented they were, may show some features when older.

Subconscious: Most of us have an inherent fear of failure, while some have it a lot more.

Personality traits: Those with perfectionistic tendencies, people-pleasing tendency and premorbid anxiousness. Folks who only rely heavily on external validation and may not have developed a strong sense of internal validation.

Pre-existing mental health conditions: Depression, anxiety, and emotional distress can already lead to a feeling of self-doubt, poor confidence and worries about how you are being perceived by others. Impostor syndrome can worsen these conditions and these conditions can worsen it as well, generating a vicious circle.

This mindset of feeling 'less than' can both lead to and reinforce the belief that you don't really belong in your academic or professional environment.

Famous folks who said they experienced the Impostor syndrome

Superstars like Charlize Theron and former First Lady Michelle Obama have confessed to having experienced it at some point in their lives pretty strongly.

What can you do about it?

Impostor syndrome is not detected through clinical diagnosis. It is usually discovered during exploration in therapy. The idea is not to get too fixated to work on getting rid of it, but to work on parts of it. For example, being able to validate yourself, overcoming perfection as a limiting tool, learning to let go, and feeling fulfilled as a person.

Cognitive behavioural therapy can help challenge some of these cognitive beliefs. However, if an underlying mental health condition exists, then it duly needs a look into as well with the right intervention.

Popular reads on Impostor syndrome: The five main types of impostor syndrome are described in the 2011 book titled 'The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in spite of it.'

Send your questions to

Next Story
Share it