Publish at April 20 2021 Updated April 07 2022

Imposter syndrome: the little beast behind the self-sabotage

It affects both children and adults

It goes by the name of a syndrome, but it is not a disease per se. Everyone who has it feels like they are the only ones who think this way. Yet about 70% of the population will, at some point, experience the perception of being an imposter.

In fact, so many of us believe that our good deeds and accomplishments are not really our doing. That we were lucky or undeserving of the compliments, awards or opportunities we are given. As a result, this little beast that is the feeling of imposture goes so far as to provoke self-sabotage to "prove" our lesser value. What explains this way of thinking?

A bad perception of oneself

People suffering from impostor syndrome have the impression of deceiving everyone and, that one day, this deception will be revealed in the open. A fear that forces these individuals to adopt strategies so that others will not notice. They will often deflect the focus of compliments onto external elements that are beyond their control, giving others the feeling that they had nothing to do with the success of a project or task.

Interestingly, impostor syndrome particularly affects gifted people, perfectionists, self-starters and those with high potential. While the syndrome affects all classes and genders, many women may feel like impostors in positions of power.

The site "Getting Real" does a good job of explaining through a graphic the vicious cycle of this syndrome. Thus, as soon as a task related to success appears in the lives of these people, they will begin to experience doubt and anxiety. Will I make it? Then, generally, they will adopt two postures.

Either they will feel like they have to work twice as hard to succeed while others will procrastinate, a kind of self-sabotage to take the pressure off themselves. However, when there is success, no matter which way they choose, despite the relief, they will reject the positive feedback. Procrastinators will say they were lucky while others will place this on the fact that they had to put in extra effort to get "beyond their incompetence."

As a result, they feel like impostors, their self-doubt increases, and often come with depression and anxiety.

Childhood and Imposture

We might feel that this cognitive dissonance only affects adults. Yet children experience it. In fact, in general, the syndrome begins in childhood. This Canadian mother will provide a great example with her 10-year-old son telling her that he is not a good person because she had already stated that he was a good big brother. However, that day, the two boys had a quarrel and the older boy pushed his younger brother. He attributed the punishment he received to his personality rather than the act. When he spoke with a psychologist, she confirmed that this was perfectly normal. Many children, regardless of the type of home they live in, will have this kind of thinking. Hence the importance of showing them how to dismantle this psychological mechanism.

In fact, when this is not done, individuals carry with them this impression of imposture and success at all costs with them. One only has to read these testimonials from American students to understand how much some suffer from this.

Unfortunately, it impacts their entire lives. Both in their studies and their careers, impostor syndrome constantly comes to stand in the way. It hurts the potential of people who will use self-sabotage techniques or turn down great opportunities for fear of failing.

Dismantling the workings of sabotage

So how do we get out of it? There are no magic formulas, but already, those around children need to have caring approaches. It can help to share stories with them where trusted adults have felt the same emotions and thoughts. After all, at least 7 out of 10 people have experienced it; they are not alone.

Then be careful about setting expectations and giving compliments. For example, the mother who told her older child that he was a "good big brother" puts a huge burden on him. It is better to praise more specific behaviors. It may seem positive to tell a child that he or she is the best at something or at school. However, this puts pressure on them that will turn into impostor syndrome from the moment they "fail" or are less adequate.

Besides, addressing the issue of failure is essential in preventing the syndrome. Indeed, the school system tends to dryly categorize "success" and "failure" without providing the nuance needed to better understand. Teachers should provide more targeted feedback whether it is good or bad. Did the student do a very good French assignment? What aspect in particular did he or she master? The geography assignment is not so good? Then say exactly what and remind the learner that failure is not death. It is an opportunity to learn and improve. Mentors can be excellent guides who will manage to communicate relevant feedback with young people.

Finally, those experiencing this syndrome can work through it on their own or with therapy if it is too disabling. They need to adopt a caring attitude toward them. When confronted with compliments, a simple "thank you" helps avoid external excuses and makes it easier to accept kind words. It's all about building self-confidence.

Illustration : Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

References :

Amirali, Ahmad. "How Teens Can Overcome the Imposter Syndrome That Haunts Their Success." My Readables. Last updated October 3, 2020.

Byrd, Ian. "The Curious Case of Impostor Syndrome." Accessed April 15, 2021.

"Imposter Syndrome in Kids." Kids & Mental Health. Last updated February 8, 2021.

Jones, Heather M. "It's Not Just Adults - Kids Struggle With Impostor Syndrome And Low Self-Esteem Too." CBC Parents. Last updated on May 10, 2019.

"Le Syndrome De L'imposteur." Realizing. Last updated January 3, 2021.

"Le Syndrome De L'imposteur, Ou Pourquoi Douter De Soi-même?" News Chastin. Last updated August 3, 2020.

The Learning Network. "What Students Are Saying About 'Impostor Syndrome,' Beloved Places and Finding Balance in 2021." The New York Times. Last updated January 21, 2021.

Lecombe, Jérôme. "Imposter Syndrome | Doubt Is Harmful To The Quality Of Work." Mindsense. Last updated June 22, 2020.

Mimouni, Sabrine, and Alexandra Guichard. "Le Syndrome De L'imposteur, Ce Sentiment D'illégitimité Lourd à Porter." Last updated January 29, 2021.,help-je-souffre-du-syndrome-de-l-imposteur,1966738.asp.

"Quand Le Syndrome Du Doute Permanent Révèle Les Répercussions Des Stéréotypes Hommes/femmes." France Inter. Last updated February 23, 2021.

Raillan, Alexandra. "How To Overcome The Imposter Syndrome?" Last updated November 17, 2020.

Vecchi, Elsa. "Gare Au Syndrome De L'imposteur Chez Les Enfants Et Les Ados!" HuffPost Quebec. Last updated January 14, 2021.

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