Don’t you ever believe the good things about yourself? You suffer from the impostor syndrome


Who does not remember Pretty Woman? After a night of love, Richard Gere tells Vivian, Julia Roberts: “You are not only beautiful, you are also intelligent.” And she replies: “It’s much easier to believe in evil, have you ever noticed?”. And the viewer stops for a moment: “Damn, it’s true, it happens to me too, I only believe in bad things, but if they give me appreciation I think they are lying”.

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It is a syndrome

That feeling that you lived as indecipherable and exclusively personal, is expressed in two words on the screen and suddenly you understand that you are not the only ones to perceive the flattery in a distorted or otherwise conditioned way.

But why does this happen? Are you insecure? Frustrated perhaps? Afflicted by delusions of persecution? Not exactly. You are simply part of a large group of people suffering from what is called “Imposter Syndrome”.

The definition of this state of mind (which is not classified among the officially recognized mental disorders, but is the subject of in-depth studies by psychiatry specialists), was devised by two American psychologists in the late 1970s. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imesobserving the attitude of their university students, they noticed that many felt inadequate with respect to the results achieved. For example, some felt that they did not deserve to have been accepted in prestigious universities, and came to hypothesize that their application for admission had been confused with that of some other candidate.

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The origin of a mental attitude

Starting from this scenario, the experts have decided to focus their studies, but also their work as psychotherapists, on the origin of this mental attitude, in order to help the “patients” get rid of the cumbersome weight of personal lack of esteem and rediscover the right self-confidence.

Dr. Clance, who published the book on the syndrome in 1985 The Impostor Phenomenon: Overcoming the Fear that Haunts Your Success, tells how discouraged and in great difficulty the people who had confronted her were about the inability to overcome their blocks. People almost paralyzed by mistrust in their possible gifts. Clance offered them a test with multiple choice questions through which it was possible to establish whether the disorders described could actually correspond to the impostor syndrome. “In the affirmative – explains the specialist – a process was started aimed at strengthening the patient’s inner strengths and tracing the actual external resources useful for his self-realization”.

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A discomfort common to many people, even celebrities

A recent study found that 70 percent of humans have experienced an episode classifiable as at least once impostor syndrome. That is, he felt the sensation of being “bogus” in the fulfillment of certain tasks or even in any successful action. And when one is overwhelmed by this erroneous belief, one is led to devalue and throw away any proof of merit obtained, it is judged as a trivial stroke of luck, perhaps due to being in the right place at the right time. In short, a continuous and maniacal de-legitimizing what has been done, aggravated by the terror that someone on the outside may at any moment unmask us and condemn us, as “impostors”, to blame, or worse, to derision.

If this has happened to you, or if you feel that you too can fit into that 70 percent, know that you are in good and illustrious company. Famous scientists, writers, politicians and actors are part of that percentage. It seems that Albert Einstein, one day he said to a close friend of his: “The exaggerated consideration in which all my work is held makes me uncomfortable and sometimes makes me feel like a cheater, even if unintentional.” Incredible.
Much more recently the former American first lady Michelle Obama, attending a public event in London for the promotion of his autobiography, revealed that he suffers exactly from this syndrome: “It is a psychological condition – explained Michelle – which makes one think, despite the outward demonstration of their skills, that they do not deserve the own success. It is attributed to an error in the evaluation of others and it is a feeling that never goes away “.

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How Psychiatry Can Help

As mentioned, psychiatry experts are deepening their studies on this discomfort, which is evidently very widespread. Among the most recent texts dedicated to the problem, the doctor’s book was published last February Sandi Mann, an associate professor of Psychology at the University of Central Lancashire, UK, titled The impostor syndrome – because you think others overestimate you.

The expert tackles the issue of the disorder by broadening the view to life contexts at all levels, thus focusing attention not only on those in important and prominent professional roles, i.e. those who seem to be most affected by this syndrome, but even for example on adolescents and their parents. With the help of tests to identify what kind of “impostors” you might be and with practical tips and tools to address your insecurities in various fields, Dr. Mann brings her experience as an academic and clinical psychologist into a comprehensive guide. particularly interesting also for the “investigations” on famous people who live this psychological condition and suffer from it.

Names that you would never have imagined could have to do with such a discomfort. It is mentioned Tom Hanks who in an interview released in 2016 stated “When will they find out that I’m actually a cheat and will they take everything away from me?”. And the splendid one also appears Michelle Pfiffer, who had confided to a reporter, “I keep thinking that people will find that in reality I am not very talented. I’m really not particularly good, it’s just all a big hype.”

Another undisputed star like Jodie Foster manifests the same frailties and after having won the Oscar in 1988 for the interpretation in the film Under Prosecution confesses: “When they gave it to me I was afraid they would come to my house, knock on the door and say: sorry, we actually meant to give it to someone else, you had to go to Meryl Streep“.

Epper who knows, maybe even to her it would have seemed an undeserved recognition. Yes, because even Streep knows the taste of temporary attacks of disdain; once she managed to come up with an at least surreal consideration about herself: “In reality, I don’t know how to act at all.” Would you ever have said that?

In eight enthralling chapters, Dr. Sandi Mann manages to explain the two possible psychological origins of impostor syndrome, both, needless to say, traceable within the family dynamics. It then helps the reader, with the support of a questionnaire, to understand if he is part of that famous 70 percent of individuals who have experienced this disorder at least once or who suffer from it in a chronic way. Finally, it examines and describes the possible social contexts in which you could more easily be led to feel inadequate and out of place.

Maybe you have never had the slightest symptom of this syndrome. It may be that you are even one of those who have the opposite problem. In fact, there is a sort of cognitive distortion that leads those who suffer from it to constantly overestimate themselves, even though they are actually incompetent. In any case, if you want to find out how much you are really worth, but above all to put a stop to your merciless and penalizing self-criticism, take a tour of the pages of Mann’s book and also of other manuals dedicated to this curious syndrome. You will not necessarily end up always believing in your objective qualities, but perhaps you will stop martyring yourself even when it is not the case. And who knows that at the next success, instead of slapping yourself alone, you won’t be able to enjoy the applause and feel so proud of yourself for once.


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