Imposter syndrome is a recognized disorder

Impostor Syndrome - Have self-doubt too

Impostor Syndrome - Have self-doubt too. The term “impostor” from English for fraudsters or impostors basically means classic blenders. In short, this can be expressed like this: big mouth, nothing behind it.

But behind the so-called impostor syndrome or impostor syndrome is exactly the opposite of it. Because they have a “small mouth and a lot behind it”. Despite their excellent performance and frequent praise from colleagues, those affected plague self-doubt. They fear that someone could expose their subjectively perceived inability. Therefore, they justify success with external influences or lucky coincidence. Those affected actually believe that they are cheating on their environment.

What if I get noticed

The effect mostly relates to the world of work, as this is closely linked to the concept of performance. However, it can also permeate into private life. Thoughts like: "What happens when the partner notices that you are not as great a person as he thinks?" Are not uncommon.

Some scientists speak of an impostor self-concept. Because the word syndrome immediately makes you think of illness. Because in the globally recognized classification system for medical diagnoses, ICD for short, the extreme form of self-doubt is currently not listed as a disease.

Mental problems

It costs those affected an incredible amount of strength. They believe that those around them regularly overestimate them and are afraid of being exposed. The constant fear leads to constant stress, which can result in sleep disorders, high blood pressure or social isolation. In addition, the supposed impostors work very hard for fear of being exposed.

They often neglect their families because a lot of time is spent on their job. This effort is rewarded (surprisingly for those affected) by climbing the corporate ladder further and further. However, they do not believe that their professional success depends on their own abilities. They have extreme self-doubts and try to compensate for them as much as possible.

One-third of the self-doubts are anchored in the genes and two-thirds are determined by upbringing and the environment. Whether the doubts develop into an impostor phenomenon depends on several factors. Possible causes include the combination of low self-confidence and the high demand to have to do everything perfectly.

Measures against impostor syndrome

It is high time to act at the latest when the affected person's wellbeing, health or personal development is impaired. The first step is to even become aware that there is a “wrong” self-perception. The thought of not being alone helps. Therefore, an exchange in appropriate Internet forums can be of great help.

At the latest when the affected person turns into a disorder that manifests itself in depression and burnout, among other things, professional help through psychotherapy is urgently recommended. Coaching can also work well and help.

The goal should be to rebuild a realistic picture of yourself, to ignore the inner critic and to admit your own mistakes. It is also important not to make yourself dependent on the evaluation of other people. That means working on self-esteem and self-confidence. This is how those affected get out of the difficult situation.


Matthias Hettl is known as an international management consultant. He trains and coaches board members, executives and executives. He also held a professorship for management and has many years of leadership expertise. He has experience as a supervisory board member, managing director and internationally as a consultant at the United Nations. As a renowned management and leadership expert, he is a sought-after speaker.

More information at: Hettl Consult