success deemed undeserved – Vanilla Magazine


It will have happened to some of us, perhaps not many, to feel too lucky to have achieved some kind of recognition from others just because we are kissed by the goddess of luck, and not meritorious in receiving gratification. If the Dunning-Kruger effect is something that each of us has experienced, sooner or later in life, I talked about it in a previous video, the impostor syndrome is something much rarer, which happens to a few, but which has equally interesting psychological implications, implications that can however be associated with even serious pathologies, such as depression.

The individual in this case is not in a specter of overconfidence but doubts his own abilities, and fears he has defrauded others with his success.

External evidence does not serve to convince the subject of his adequacy, the individual thinks he is just an impostor, someone who has taken the place of another more qualified and talented than him.

These people mistakenly attribute success to luck, chance, and the conclusion they draw creates a major psychological distress to them: it was luck or the successful attempt to make themselves believe smarter than they really are that led them to success. .

The consequences of this syndrome vary from person to person, and are related to individual defense mechanisms, which often prevent “false impostors” from engaging in healthy human relationships.

The term “impostor phenomenon” was introduced in an article published in 1978, entitled “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”By Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes. Clance and Imes defined the impostor phenomenon as an individual experience of self-perceived intellectual falsehood. The researchers studied the prevalence of this intimate psychological condition by interviewing a sample of 150 successful women. All the participants had been recognized for their professional excellence by some colleagues and had achieved relevant academic achievements.

Despite external recognition, these women lacked intimate recognition of their achievements. Participants explained how their success was perceived as the result of luck or the overestimation of their intelligence and ability. Clance and Imes advanced the hypothesis that this mental structure for the phony phenomenon had developed due to factors such as gender stereotypes, certain childhood family dynamics, culture of origin and the like. The researchers also determined the consequences of the impostor syndrome, which manifested in these women with symptoms related to depression, generalized anxiety and low self-esteem.

The research by Clance and Imes initially hypothesized that the phenomenon was less relevant in men and that it mainly affected successful women, but subsequent investigations found exactly the opposite, namely that the impostor syndrome is able to affect people of all kinds. regardless of social class.

The impostor experience can be accompanied by anxiety, stress, or depression. In his 1985 academic paper, Clance wrote that the phony phenomenon can be distinguished from six dimensions:

  • The cycle of impostors
  • The need to be special or the best
  • Having super-man or super-woman characteristics
  • The fear of making mistakes
  • The denial of capacity and the devaluation of praise
  • Feeling fear and guilt for the success achieved

Attempting to explain these aspects in detail certainly puts me on the spectrum of the Dunning-Kruger effect, but I will try anyway. The crucial point, for Clance, is the impostor cycle. When faced with an assigned task, feelings of anxiety, insecurity and worry follow. The person’s response to the task will be with excessive preparation or procrastination.

If you respond with procrastination, it will then turn into a frantic effort to finish the job in pursuit of perfection. Once the task is completed there will be a short period of accomplishment and a feeling of relief. If positive feedback is given, once the work has been completed, this good response will be discarded.

If you respond to the task with too much preparation, the positive result will be seen as the fruit of hard work. If you respond by procrastinating the result will be interpreted as a matter of luck.

But now let’s get out of the theory and talk about practical experiences, which are probably easier to explain for me who are not a psychologist and I am delving into dark meanders.

Agata Boxe is an American writer and university professor of Polish descent. She was interviewed by Gordon Flett, who is a psychologist at York University in Toronto, who has studied and theorized the inner workings of a perfectionist’s mind. The interview is taken from the Discover Magazine website.

Agata tells:


“On a rainy January afternoon I walked down the corridors of a huge building and entered a gloomy, windowless room. I was there for an interview for a full-time faculty post. I sat down and went through the interview with the research committee. The nine members started asking me questions in bursts and I approached them without hesitation, until they asked about a course I had taught in but didn’t go as planned. I started making up an answer. The truth was, I was always spending hours preparing for every lesson, activity and discussion to stay in control and avoid any unexpected events. It is part of my total pursuit of perfection.

In addition to making me turn like a sock during a job interview, this tendency pushed me to worry about the smallest mistakes, to waste amounts of time procrastinating and accumulating stress that could only lead to exhaustion. The problem of striving for perfection began to manifest itself after immigrating to the United States in her mid-twenties. The growing inner turmoil has built up in the 10 years since my move.

My struggles with maladaptive perfectionism and impostor syndrome intensified when I was a journalism student in New York. During the first week a classmate asked me where I came from after hearing my foreign accent. I said I was from Poland and he asked me if I knew any Polish jokes.

I took the blow, but I realized that what had happened had affected my self-esteem. It made me feel like I was a joke, a bluff. In response, I was obsessed with creating flawless stories for the classroom, but the fear of not meeting my – unreasonable – standards blocked my writing process. Sometimes it made me miss deadlines: Procrastination, as research shows, is linked to perfectionism. Because of this, I regularly burst into tears in crowded subway cars. An A– often sent me to despair. I was working on homework seven days a week, which made me a workaholic. “

In addition to the unreasonable pursuit of perfection, Agata is then completely alone:

“I even became a freelance writer to be able to work alone. At home only my cats judge me. Eventually, I got out of my hermit shell and started teaching in class as an assistant, but still hesitated to make friends. When I later embarked on a full-time academic job search, I lacked the support of friends and paid an exorbitant emotional price for it. I felt alone in the seemingly endless cycle of nominations, interviews and rejection. Living in the shadow of your unattainable standards can exhaust you ”.

Alone, obsessed with work and accompanied only by her cats, Agata had entered a vicious cycle from which it was very difficult to escape, but in the end she made it in a quite natural way. Tells:

“I taught four contract classes at two different colleges and still worked as a full-time freelance writer. In the meantime, the research committee practically ignored me by not making themselves heard and, in addition, I received an e-mail of rejection of another opportunity. I was still having an interview on a lush green campus adorned with a fountain and couldn’t sleep the night before the big day. Then, it finally happened: I was too tired to be perfect. I have no longer tried to hide my flaws. I took the opportunity to be myself and talked about how I tried to manage my time, but sometimes I failed. In the end it worked. I got the job ”.

Perfectionism is not the only behavior that has a connection with the impostor phenomenon, which can also be connected:

  • To the expectations of the family
  • To an overprotective parent
  • To the degree courses attended
  • To racial identities
  • Anxiety
  • To Depression
  • Low self-esteem

If the Dunning-Kruger effect affects 100% of the world population, the impostor syndrome also has a relevant prevalence, with estimates that are around 70% of the total number of individuals. Feelings of insecurity can come from a new and unfamiliar environment and can lead to lower self-esteem and confidence in one’s abilities. To combat this type of syndrome, psychotherapy is used which can be very effective when faced in a group, a way that allows you to alleviate feelings of inadequacy and fraud that are experienced in solitude.

Among the most famous people who suffer or have suffered from the impostor syndrome we can mention Tom Hanks, Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer and Emma Watson. And you? Have you ever felt like an impostor?

Matteo Rubboli

I am an editor specializing in the dissemination of culture in digital format, founder of Vanilla Magazine. I don’t wear a tie or designer clothes, and I keep my hair short so I don’t have to comb it. It’s not my fault, they drew me like this …


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