Confronting the Imposter

girl covering her face with a cutout animal mask

/The exaggerated esteem in which my life’s work is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.
Albert Einstein

When we find ourselves staring at the face of success – success we’ve worked towards with diligence and perseverance, and perhaps, faith in divine predetermination – we often stagger to uphold a sense of calm. Joy, gratitude, fulfillment.

An uninvited guest might present itself at the party if you consider yourself amongst the lucky ones.


Pour your to-be constant companion some honey-sweetened tea garnished with belladonna. It plans on staying awhile. /


Imposter syndrome was first studied by psychologists Drs. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, who published their findings in an article titled “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”.

This phenomenon was initially considered to be experienced exclusively by high-achieving scholarly women as a result of the culmination of early family dynamics and further introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping. However, broader study observations have established that, although individuals suffering from imposter syndrome are high-achieving, it is not limited by gender or academia.

K. M. Caflisch describes imposter syndrome, or imposterism, as “a faulty belief system wherein one chronically doubts his or her abilities in spite of rivalling external evidence.” Currently, there is no official definition in the field of psychiatry since the disorder remains unrecognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

/ With high-calibre extraordinaires, such as the likes of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel, Maya Angelou and Sonia Sotomayor, being subjects of imposterism, it might seem inconceivable or unreasonable to consider yourself a patient of a similar ailment.

Fret not; we all start small. Literally. /

The research article sheds light on how seeds of imposterism can be sprinkled across a person’s mind at a young age, either due to an excessively competitive academic environment or familial upbringing that values accomplishments and fosters comparison over providing support.

However, as outlined previously, cultural expectations, gender biases, personality traits like perfectionism, and self-comparison also contribute to forming the bedrock on which imposterism flourishes. Oftentimes, imposter syndrome in women stems from the disproportionate representation and stressful conditions common in corporate workspaces.

Imposter syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young hypothesised five types of imposters in her
2011 book:

● The Perfectionist
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are the best of comrades. Demanding excellence in every endeavour might seem like a virtue, but it entails setting unsustainably high expectations. When failure – bitter but necessary – appears on the horizon, perfectionism causes us to question our self-worth and dive into a well of doubt. Anxiety and depression aren’t uncommon amongst this group.

● The Superperson
When bouts of imposterism settle in, the superperson believes that in order to overcome a crippling sense of self-depreciation, they have to work overwhelmingly harder. Superpeople associate competency with their ability to succeed in whatever role a circumstance calls for, and this drive to achieve success can lead to recurring burnouts and severely affects mental health and relationships.

● The Natural Genius
This category of people is characterised by a proclivity for equating ease and speed with competence. Succeeding at the first try or handling things with little difficulty is the set norm. Taking some time to refine a new skill and process information, or just having a hard time in general, can lead to feeling like a fraud. Chagrin and shame, two delectable face-reddening agents, are involved here.

● The Soloist
Also known as rugged individualists, the soloist likes to shine solo. Their self worth is proportional to productivity, and working alone leads to hesitance or outright refusal of help. Soloists believe that if a task is to be done right, they have to do it themselves. Accepting assistance, to them, means admitting inadequacy and putting their failure on display.
● The Expert
Experts measure their worth based on the depth of their knowledge. These individuals are always on a quest to seek out information related to their task, sometimes to the extent where they devote more time to research than completing the actual task. Being unable to answer a question or discovering something they’d previously missed sends them tumbling down the rabbit hole of perceived fraudulence.

If you can relate to one or more of these imposters, welcome to the realm of imposter syndrome. Luckily, we’re not alone. An estimated 70% of the global population will be subjected to imposterism at some point in their lives. And as astonishingly prevalent as this phenomenon is, it is hardly talked about.

Some argue that imposter syndrome cannot be accredited for all feelings of incompetency in working professionals, especially in women, since the impact of racism, xenophobia, classism, and other biases on the perception of self-worth was an absent factor when the syndrome was initially identified. While that may be true, a first step in the right direction is to start a conversation and hope that other imposters can find a sense of community and hope.

There is currently no prescribed treatment for imposter syndrome, but there are ways to combat it.

Avoiding comparison by getting yourself off the modern perpetrator of all things negative (social media in boomer language, we love it) can help you breathe better. There is no mapped timeline for life, and if someone is putting their achievements on public display, wish them well and know that if you keep working towards it, no goal is far-fetched. Whenever your imposterism shows
up, try to separate feelings from facts. Your accomplishments and qualifications will remain when the imposter scurries away.

Lastly, acknowledge your feelings and talk about them. Opening up can help you find your community, and sharing your feelings with trusted friends or peers might just push them to reveal that they, too, experience similar emotions. And you can further sit and plot the demise of your common enemy – the impostor.

So, with a few elaborately-strung positive affirmations, designated self-care days, and the knowledge that you aren’t the lone impostor sulking in a corner at your own party, I hope that we can navigate our way through the dismal trenches of fake fraudulence and arrive at an idyllic junction of time with contentment and acceptance.

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