Is Impostor Syndrome Real?

Have you ever felt cheated and all your achievements have been the result of luck rather than merit? If so, you may experience something called impostor syndrome, which is a surprisingly common phenomenon that affects even the most arbitrarily bright people. Although the science behind this strange form of self-doubt is still somewhat weak, studies have highlighted our shared sensitivity to make it feel like fun.

If evidence needed for the existence and legitimacy of Impostor Syndrome, it can found in a famous quote from the great Albert Einstein, who once declared, “The exaggerated honor of my life’s work makes me very sick at ease. I am forced to think of myself as involuntarily confused.” The Impostor Syndrome Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) does not list the diagnostic handbook used by health professionals published by the American Psychiatric Association – and not considered a mental health disorder.

Yet this does not mean that it is not real or that it cannot cause any trouble. Rather the omission from the list of diagnostic diseases probably reflects the fact that it is a common normal part of human experience, and contains a wide range of existential issues such as self-esteem and insecurity. The term was first coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clans and Susan Ames, who wrote that the term “is used to determine the internal experience of intelligent phones … [those] who believe they are not really bright and have fooled anyone” thought otherwise.”

In other words, it describes the state of mind through which a person feels that they are not worthy of their success, position or rank and is living life in fear that this inadequacy will soon be identified. It is important to note, however, that this belief is certainly not a reflection of reality, and often occurs among highly skilled individuals who have truly achieved their success. Nevertheless, those who have experienced Impostor Syndrome believe that they have gone through life.

In their original study, Clans and Ames said the phenomenon “seems to be particularly prevalent and acute in a select sample of high-achieving women.” After interviewing several high-achieving women, they concluded that “early family dynamics and later recognition of social sex-role stereotyping” is among women who develop the prestigious syndrome who receive respectable titles or accolades. 

However, a later study by Clans found that Impostor syndrome is as common as it is in men. Recent studies have indicated that 82 percent of people may experience Impostor Syndrome and that man and women of all ages are susceptible to it.

A separate report on the prevalence of this phenomenon among staff at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that while men and women were equally likely to feel unfit for their professional postings, women were more at risk of experiencing Impostor Syndrome outside of work.