≡ Menu

Imposter Syndrome: The Signs That You Underestimate Yourself

Imposter Syndrome: The Signs That You Underestimate Yourself post image

Talking to others about imposterism can help to recalibrate a person’s estimation of their own abilities.

People who suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ continually underestimate themselves and their abilities.

A key sign of imposter syndrome is living in constant fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Those who experience the syndrome assume their success is down to pure luck or a chance concatenation of circumstances.

Imposter syndrome was first identified by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 (Clance & Imes, 1978).

They observed that many highly successful women did not think of themselves as intelligent.

The syndrome is not confined to women, though, successful or otherwise.

Around one-in-five college students experiences imposter syndrome, one study finds.

Some estimates put the prevalence of imposter syndrome at 70 percent of the population, meaning that most people experience it at some point.

However, while it is normal for people to lose confidence in themselves occasionally, imposter syndrome is probably something stronger.

Dr Kay Brauer, author of a study on the subject, explained:

“They think that all of their successes are not a product of their skill or hard work, instead they attribute their own successes to external circumstances, for example to luck and chance, or believe that their performance is massively overestimated by others.

Failures, on the other hand, are always internalized, as the result of their own shortcomings.”

Previous studies have looked at imposter syndrome using vignettes, said Dr Brauer:

“These studies determine how strongly the participants agree with various theoretical statements, such as that they find it difficult to accept praise or that they are afraid of not being able to repeat what they have achieved.”

For his research, Dr Brauer and colleagues asked 76 people to do an intelligence test and then asked them how they thought they had done.

The results showed that people with a tendency towards imposter syndrome devalued their performance on the test.

This doesn’t mean they have a mental illness, Dr Brauer said:

“The impostor phenomenon is not defined as a mental illness.

However, people who suffer from it show a higher susceptibility to depression.”

Escaping from imposter syndrome

It is not hard to see how devaluing one’s own abilities and constantly attributing success to mere chance could lead to depression.

Feeling like an imposter lowers self-esteem and makes people feel less effective than they really are.

One way of escaping from imposter syndrome is to seek social support outside of the group that is creating feelings of imposterism.

While avoidance is a common tactic, talking to others can help to recalibrate a person’s estimation of their own abilities.

The study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (Brauer et al., 2022).



A new psych study by email every day. No spam, ever.