What if the impostor syndrome is itself an impostor?
Have you ever said one of the following to yourself: I’ll never be good enough for this job. – I don’t have as much experience as the others, everyone will see that. – They’ll soon realize that I’m just a beginner who doesn’t know what he is talking about. – I’m not at their level, I’ll be found out and fired… If this is the case, don’t worry, you’re not suffering from a shameful disease. It is simply a manifestation of what American psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes discovered in 1978 and called: the impostor syndrome.
What is it? A psychological mechanism in which a person downplays his or her achievements and believes that he or she is secretly an impostor who does not deserve the compliments, praise or congratulations that are given. This mechanism has a strong impact on the self-confidence and self-esteem of people who have experienced it. Faced with new responsibilities, a new job or a new situation, they will be overcome by stress and fear and will start to doubt themselves, devalue themselves and even self-sabotage. This mechanism is so strong that people who feel it are convinced that if they achieve their goals or wins, it is only because of external factors and certainly not because they are competent, talented or experienced. Every success is only an exception that confirms the rule that they do not deserve what happens to them. No matter what the gender of the person, the colour of their skin or their social status.
Originally labelled as a typically feminine mechanism, this is no longer the case. Indeed, numerous surveys show that at least 70% of human beings have already experienced a feeling of imposture at least once in their professional and/or private life. What is new about this mechanism, is what Basik Tewfiq, a senior lecturer at MIT Sloan, has discovered. In 2022, she published the results of two studies she conducted with more than 1,000 people who had admitted to suffering from impostor syndrome. She found that regardless of the circumstances, people who experienced this mechanism developed better interpersonal relationships with others. She conducted a study with doctors and found that doctors who doubted themselves asked more questions of their patients. The result? Doctors who doubted their diagnosis were not more wrong than those who were more confident. Indeed, by asking more questions, they had more information to validate their diagnostic hypothesis. Another study was conducted with job seekers. The study used questions to lead a group of job seekers to feel a sense of imposture. The outcome? These people began to ask their interviewers many more questions before the job interview. They were perceived by the recruiters as people who were good at expressing themselves and who showed a genuine interest in the job. Despite their lack of self-confidence, people in this group were no less likely to be invited to participate in a job interview than another group where no sense of imposture had been induced.
What do the results of the study by Basik Tewfiq teach us? That experiencing a sense of imposture is certainly an unpleasant moment that makes us question our abilities and doubt our intrinsic value. And yet, this discomfort, which forces us to question ourselves and to doubt everything, leads us to ask more questions of the people around us, to listen to them more carefully, to take an interest in the way they perceive the situation. Above all, this allows us to develop better relationships with others, to be more authentic and also to realize that we are not the only ones to doubt or question ourselves. It’s a weight off our shoulders or to share with others. So whether you are occasionally or more often affected by impostor syndrome, wouldn’t it be helpful to reconsider it and enjoy the relationships you develop because of what it pushes you to do?