Those who suffer from impostor syndrome are plagued by massive self-doubt and low self-esteem. Those affected believe that they have achieved their demonstrable successes only by chance and not because of their abilities. They are even convinced that they are actually deceiving their fellow human beings because “in truth” they don’t have any skills. Because of this distorted self-perception, they live in constant fear of being caught. Hence the name Imposter Syndrome. Who exactly can it hit and what helps against it, explains Dr. Interview with Hanne Horvath, co-founder of the online therapy platform HelloBetter.

dr Hanne Horvath: No, impostor syndrome, also known as impostor syndrome, is not a mental illness, but a psychological phenomenon. But that doesn’t mean that those affected don’t suffer badly from the syndrome, which is why I recommend taking it very seriously and dealing with it. Because it is very exhausting to live in constant fear of being “unmasked” at any time.

dr Horvath: You can’t say it that way. The thesis that women are affected more often than men is related to the origin of the research on the subject. In 1978, clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes researched the phenomenon of extreme self-doubt in successful women. Therefore, the syndrome is mentioned more in connection with women than with men. However, current scientific studies show that men are just as affected. They just deal with it differently. A study by Rebecca Badawy found that women are more likely to be spurred on by the prospect of negative feedback, while men are more resigned.

dr Horvath: There are basically two ways in which those affected deal with the syndrome: overperform or not perform at all. Typical of the first type of behavior is that those affected prepare meticulously for challenges, usually do excellent work, but somehow are never really satisfied with their performance. Those affected, who tend to be avoidant, put off tasks, cancel appointments and try to sneak out of responsibility in some way. This handling is very similar to procrastination.

In both cases, the relief effect is only of a very short duration. With every success, people who tend to overperform are afraid that they will not be able to maintain the level or doubt how much their own skills have contributed to it. The syndromes even increase as they become more successful. Affected people who tend to avoid things are initially happy if they were able to postpone something. But the task is not solved and the fear of failure remains. Both types agree on the assumption that they can’t do anything and will soon be exposed.

dr Horvath: There are of course many different reasons. Very often, the impostor syndrome is related to a very critical self-image, because excessive doubts about oneself and one’s own abilities encourage fear of failure. A person who tends to think “I’m not enough” or “I’m not worth it” simply has a hard time believing that the opposite is true. Success and appreciation from others can’t change that much at first. The inner conviction that you just can’t make it runs deep.

In addition, there is usually a tendency towards perfectionism or, as I like to call it, an overly focused “error focus”. Those affected only see their mistakes, no matter how well something went. They are also hardly in a position to accept positive feedback from outside. It just doesn’t get through to them. However, they actually hear criticism out of everything and take it very seriously.

dr Horvath: Many of those affected were actually shaped accordingly in their childhood. Mostly because the parents thought they would give their children the best possible support. There are such typical sentences as “Always do your best” or “You have to make an effort in life”. This creates the misconception that they are actually never good enough. Gradually, one’s own self-esteem is unfavorably linked to a goal that is simply not attainable. In addition, the assumption is cultivated that the love and recognition of parents can only be won through appropriate performance.

dr Horvath: Affected people often have the feeling that they don’t deserve other people by their side. This can be family, friends, but also your partner. Ultimately, it is also about the idea of ​​not being enough as a person, but having to do something to maintain the connection. They live in constant fear of being abandoned if they let up in their efforts for others. They find it difficult to accept recognition and appreciation from outside, even in private, although they long for it so much.

dr Horvath: The most important signs are: massive self-doubt despite demonstrable successes, a stressful inner restlessness and insecurity before every new task and the constant fear of being “caught”. There are also typical physical symptoms such as insomnia, high blood pressure, headaches and stomach and intestinal problems. This is because the whole body can no longer come to rest due to the constant tension and fear. Over time, the symptoms can become so severe that those affected repeatedly drop out due to illness. This constant stress can eventually lead to burnout and depression. It is therefore of course highly recommended to actively deal with the impostor syndrome before it gets that far.

dr Horvath: Since it is not a mental disorder, but rather a psychological phenomenon, there is no special therapy. Of course, the causes of impostor syndrome can be addressed as part of therapy. Central to this would be the topics of self-esteem and self-esteem as well as dealing with the formative family environment.

Then I would like to recommend keeping a success diary. Simply record every compliment you receive, every little thing and mini-appreciation in it and leaf through it again and again. At first this will feel very strange, probably even ridiculous. I motivate you to stick with it, to consciously perceive your own thoughts and to try turning them around.

dr Horvath: Those who try to calm their self-doubt with even more effort can even be rewarded with further success. This is fatal because it intensifies the syndrome. It grows with the success, so to speak. In addition, the health suffers greatly from the constant stress and those affected will feel the typical symptoms already mentioned after a while: headaches and stomach ache, tension, sleep disorders. In addition, there is usually a social withdrawal. At some point there is only the job and it is very likely that burnout and depression will follow. Simply because there is no longer a healthy balance: nutrition, exercise, social contacts, breaks, all of that gradually disappears and sooner or later the body pulls the emergency brake. But it doesn’t have to come to that. I therefore really recommend that you seek support here at an early stage.

This article was written by (ml/spot)

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