Imposter Syndrome Or Defensive Pessimism

The comparative analysis of Impostor Syndrome and Defensive Pessimism reveals the existence of important similarities in the type of cognitive and affective components.

What is imposter syndrome?

He imposter syndrome It has been defined as an intense feeling of falseness or inauthenticity regarding the self-image of competence, experienced by people with an appreciable history of success (Clance).

Why do you suffer from imposter syndrome?

HE characterized by fear to not being competent enough, “not measuring up”, not deserving the position held or proposed to him, thinking that someone more talented would deserve to be in his place. He is accompanied by self-limiting feelings and beliefs about himself and his success.

People with this syndrome show important They have doubts about their abilities, and believe that they are continually and unjustifiably overestimated by others, and they do not believe they deserve the successes they achieve. As a consequence of their fear and anxiety about the possibility of failing, and thus appearing to others as incompetent, impostors strive to avoid a possible failure that “could give them away and they usually experience a feeling of guilt about that result, which contributes to to the development of the feelings of falsehood mentioned

Despite the evidence of their achievements, those who suffer from impostor syndrome are continually and internally belittling them, under the thought that they are actually deceiving everyone and therefore run the risk of be unmasked. Repeated success does not weaken these types of feelings, nor does it stimulate belief in high ability; They show great ingenuity when it comes to denying external evidence of ability and discrediting positive evaluations from others.

People who suffer from this syndrome usually have too high expectations Regarding themselves, they have difficulty accepting achievements and attribute all the weight of success to external factors, such as luck. For this reason, they live in anguish, they are invaded by the fear of being discovered, perceiving themselves as a fraud. They feel constantly on test and do not consider themselves valid enough, as if they are “faking it”, considering themselves impostors in their own lives and careers.

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Why is it related to defensive pessimism?

From a clinical point of view, imposter syndrome has been associated with various types of symptoms such as generalized anxiety and depression, among others. For his part, the defensive pessimism It is conceptualized as a domain-specific cognitive strategy (achievement, social), consisting of adopting low expectations and goals in the face of a future situation to be faced, despite the fact that the people who resort to it have a clear history of success. , something they recognize as true. These people initially feel anxious and out of control, and focus their attention on possible difficulties and negative outcomes, even if they seem unlikely, investing a large amount of effort in tasks that they value as important. (Norem and Cantor).

How Defensive Pessimism Is Related to Imposter Syndrome

From a clinical point of view, it has been observed that defensive pessimists present, in the long term, higher levels of reported symptomatology (worry, insomnia, hopelessness), level of stress and life dissatisfaction and a higher level of depression, (Cantor).

In exhaustive comparative analyzes of the characteristics associated with Defensive Pessimism (PD) and Impostor Syndrome (IS), the existence of important similarities in the type of cognitive and affective components that characterize them, similarities that were justified by the appreciable overlap between the PD and the SI. Two patterns of behavior are found that have in common the existence of doubts about one’s own ability, fear of failure and maintaining low expectations of results, anxiety and doubt about one’s own possibilities of achieving good results, and low expectations are set. expectations for each new situation to be faced, all despite an important history of success and the existence of a self-perpetuating cycle of maladaptive responses in both the SI and the PD. It must be taken into account that both behavioral patterns facilitate the achievement of important successes, which would act as positive reinforcers of the beliefs, attitudes and behaviors held prior to obtaining these results.

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In the case of YES, the reaction consists of investing a large amount of effort, aimed at avoiding failure in order to prevent the disapproval of others, they want to avoid disappointment and rejection from others. On the other hand, in defensive pessimists this reaction consists of lowering expectations of success, goals, and devaluing future results with a clearly protective purpose, which would allow the control of anxiety and an increase in anxiety. control and motivation. (Norem and Cantor; Clance and O’Toole; Fernández and Bermúdez).

High standards of self-evaluation are found in the SI that would make the experience of anxiety more likely, since no level of performance and in no life context is recognized by these subjects as sufficient or adequate, which facilitates the development of chronic emotional discomfort and personal dissatisfaction. .

The deterioration of the quality of life or decrease in professional capacity are the consequences that arise from this because, although some overexert themselves, working hard and harder than the rest to demonstrate their worth, others come to reject work opportunities. and promotion, remaining professionally stagnant for fear of being discovered, preventing very valid people from continuing to progress.

Some psychological studies have suggested that 70% of people consider themselves impostors at some pointto different degrees.

When talking about this phenomenon, reference is usually made to the world of work but it is also common among students who insistently think that over time they will be discovered as intellectual frauds. One of the explanations being considered is that as we progress in an area of ​​interest, we become more aware of the limitations of our knowledge and skills.

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The most notable features that underlie Imposter Syndrome are the following:

  • Confusion in self-concept, low social and global self-esteem.
  • High principles related to values ​​such as honesty.
  • Perfectionism.
  • Low self-efficacy (low expectations of success).
  • Excessive learned humility, believing oneself lacking power over the goals achieved.
  • Causal attribution bias: attributes success to external factors, while considering failure to be due to internal factors.
  • Test and social anxiety.
  • Fear to fail
  • High level of concern.
  • Low tolerance to frustration. frustration related to the inability to meet high self-imposed standards
  • Perception of a certain degree of uncontrollability over the environment.

Valerie Young assures that imposter syndrome is more than a simple case of insecurity, it is something more complex and relates it to a constant feeling of the person who believes they do not deserve success.

What to do to overcome it?

  • Recognize, value our talents and skills and feel grateful for having them.
  • Believe ourselves capable, increasing our confidence with phrases like: “I am prepared”, “I deserve it”.
  • Focus on the value and benefits we bring.
  • Readjust our expectations.
  • Make a correct attribution of our success.
  • Recognize that we are not perfect. Only we demand perfection.
  • Accept error as a form of learning. Error is not synonymous with ineptitude.
  • Be compassionate with ourselves.
  • Share and talk about our successes.
  • Surround ourselves with optimistic people who give us motivation.
  • Accept compliments and praise from people who sincerely value us.
  • Dare to verbalize what happens to us.
  • Do not give in to the inner voice that tells us that we are a failure
  • Make a list of what we have done to obtain recognition. It will be evidence of our success.

Adamson Psychology (Granada)