What causes the Imposter Syndrome?


Feeling not good enough is widespread and some feel that it is the human condition: that we become who we need to be in order to have our basic survival needs met.  We become the good child, the sweet child, the clever child, the funny child, and in the process we suppress our real feelings.  I agree.  Let’s revert though to what we can prove.  What are the identified causes or influences on the imposter syndrome?  Broadly, there are two:  nature and nurture.

Nature plays a role.  People who are actively experiencing feeling like an imposter are more likely to be emotionally reactive and self-focussed (which is neuroticism in the Big 5 Personality Factors) and less likely to be both disciplined and organised (which is Conscientiousness ).

Nurture in the form of childhood conditioning also plays a significant role.

Many of us grew up with one or more parents who were perfectionists – that is, they hold an unrealistic ideal of what performance looks like in a particular context – perhaps school results or sporting activities – peg our results against that ideal and then focus on the shortfall.  Does that ring a bell?

Equally well meant is criticism with the intention of motivating us to step up.  “You can do better, I know you can!”

Both these influences reinforce the ‘not good enough’ feeling so many of us experience.

Nature and nurture together create the tendency to experience feeling ‘not good enough’ or the Imposter Syndrome.  However, the feeling remains latent until it is triggered by something external to us; something we react to; something that tips us into actively feeling not good enough.

Download a list of triggers to help you identify what might create uncertainty for you.

tug of warNext:  How does it show up?

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