There is a disquieting trend emerging among women particularly – that of feeling like a fraud at work, along with the accompanying fear and anxiety about being “found out”.

The Scientific Evidence

This trend has been investigated scientifically only relatively recently, with studies beginning in the seventies, with findings that the people who suffered from this syndrome had significantly high levels of self-doubt and an inability to internalise their success (Clance & Imes, 1978). Further research has shown that there is a link between the Impostor Syndrome and high Neuroticism and low Conscientiousness on the Five Factor Model of Personality (which are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, & Neuroticism), and depression and anxiety were particularly important characteristics of those with imposter feelings as well as low self-discipline and perceived competence (Bernard, Dollinger & Ramaniah, 2002). This implies that there is a tendency for those who score high on Neuroticism and low on Conscientiousness to develop this syndrome, not that there is a necessarily causal link between the two.

In English Please?

Enough of the science, basically what we have is a set of characteristics that you may find rather familiar: depression, anxiety, fear, neuroticism, low self-discipline and a distorted view of reality (the latter particularly through not being able to recognise achievements for what they are and instead attributing them to sheer luck). While that list is still rather technical, if you think that you are not ‘worthy’ for your position at work and dread being found out, you have classic symptoms of the syndrome.

How many people have it and who are they?

What you might not realise is quite how pervasive this syndrome is: it is estimated that 30% of the population has some form of this, and that it is cross-cultural to the extent that it appears so long as people have gone beyond the basic need for survival. You don’t see this in people who either are imposters or who have not achieved a high level of success (of course that latter is subjective, so difficult to pin down). Generally there is a higher tendency for women to display symptoms, but it is not unknown for men to develop it. You can particularly see it in high achievers, and the higher incidence in women I would suggest might be due to the pressure to ‘have it all’ – the career and the home life and its associated pressures.

How does it develop?

It has been suggested that it develops when children who are told by their parents that they are wonderful, then meet a challenge (either by being put in a bigger pond, or by simply encountering a subject which they take a while to understand and ‘get’) and start getting the feeling that they may actually not be wonderful, but instead may be average or, worse, stupid. External proof of achievements is dismissed and instead it is assumed that any success is due to luck or through their contacts. Since nothing is ever without a bit of luck, and rarely without asking someone you know for help, this is a really vicious circle.

So what to do?

By yanam49

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