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“Am I worthy?” - All about the Imposter Syndrome

Laura Matsuda

Imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome, impostorism, and perceived fraudulence) is a behavioral health phenomenon first documented by Suzanne Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline Rose Clarence, Ph.D. in 1978. It is commonly observed amongst high-achieving individuals, especially in the healthcare field, who are not able to recognize their success and, consequently, believe they are a fraud and do not belong where they are, leading to anxiety, self-doubt, depression, and fear of being perceived as a fraud. 

Despite there not being a formal medical definition for Imposter Syndrome (IS) in terms of clinical diagnosis, six main criteria were identified by Pauline Rose Clarence and continue to be explored; those criteria being: the imposter cycle, perfectionism, super-heroism, atychiphobia, denial of competence, and achievemephobia. 

About each cycle

The imposter cycle is the response of an individual with IS to tasks that need to be completed. There are two main ways tasks are faced: over-preparation or procrastination. Those who over-prepare believe that extra effort is required, as they think they are not able to meet other people’s standards and expectations. Therefore, to be able to be on the same level as others, they need to work even harder on the task. Super-heroism is a cause for over-preparation, as the individual not only intends to be the best but also wishes to prove to others that they are knowledgeable enough to know what they are doing and are competent. Procrastinators feel like imposters, as they believe that their work did not make use of the required preparation time, which will lead to the exposure of their lack of effort. 

When the task is completed, one might feel accomplished, however, that sense of accomplishment is not internalized, therefore the individual is met with anxiety, fear, and fraudulence, thus perpetuating the cycle.

Perfectionism and being a perfectionist are commonly observed among those with IS, as they impose unattainable goals for themselves with the intent of “being the best” and making sacrifices for the “greater good” despite it not existing. This, unavoidably, leads to one’s failure. Not being able to reach one’s internalized standards, leads to the person with IS blaming themselves for their “lack of ability” and believing they are incompetent. 

Atychiphobia, the fear of failure, is when one experiences anxiety when they fail or perform worse than others on a task, thus leading them to believe they are a fraud and their lack of skill will be exposed to others. The feeling of being a failure can stem from both external or internal tasks and the benchmark for success can be both standardized or personal.

Denial of competence and capability and achievemephobia, the fear of success, are closely related as well, as the denial of competence and capability is when the individual with IS refuses to believe that they are skilled or naturally gifted and internalize their failures and believe that their success is not truly theirs; they reckon that it happened due to chance or because of others. Acievemephobia, similarly to the denial of competence and capability, is when one refuses to internalize their success and instead, internalizes their failures and believes that by succeeding, workload and expectations will increase.

Addressing the Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome, despite not being a formal diagnosis, can be related to other mental health disorders and their manifestations, such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. Features present in those with imposter syndrome are the imposter cycle, low self-esteem, feelings of failure, fear of failing, fear of success, anxiety, depression, burnout, and personality disorders. 

Techniques that can be used for the treatment of IS are self-reflection, counseling, therapy, psychotherapy, and the recognition of what one has accomplished. 


About 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at least once in their lives, therefore it is normal, however, it is not ideal, as it does decrease one’s quality of life. In order to make sure  students are not going through hard times, IS can be prevented by schools and educators through the encouragement of students and the addressing of negative thoughts concerning IS. 



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