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Imposter Syndrome

Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?

How to identify and overcome it with logic-based therapy.

Key points

  • Imposter syndrome involves irrationally thinking you are fraudulent in receipt of praise from others.
  • The syndrome typically manifests in anxiety about being exposed as a fraud.
  • It involves a cognitive chain of emotional reasoning in which self-devaluation is deduced from a perfectionistic demand.

Imposter syndrome involves irrationally thinking that you are unworthy of the respect conferred upon you. From a logic-based therapy (LBT) perspective, this involves a cognitive chain of emotional reasoning in which self-devaluation is deduced.

Key to understanding this syndrome is that the stated self-devaluation is deduced from a higher-order premise wherein you demand achievement perfection. However, like all other imperfect human beings, you are incapable of satisfying this demand. From a Freudian perspective, this is an id-driven demand that attempts to achieve beyond what reality permits. Thus it is up to your ego to bring the psyche back in touch with reality.

LBT can help you to do this, first by helping you to identify the emotional reasoning you are using to drive yourself into this untenable state of mind.

The Emotional Reasoning Behind the Syndrome

Accordingly, the primary syllogism that comprises this syndrome looks like this:

(Emotional Rule) I must achieve my goals perfectly

(Report) But I have not done so—I am flawed. My work has imperfections in it even though others think I am worthy of respect.

(Conclusion) Therefore, I am a fraud, a false front, a deceiver, not worthy of the respect I receive.

The language may vary but the point should be clear. You deduce a self-damning judgment about your self-worth from a rule that demands (behavioral) perfection and a report that informs you that you have failed to achieve the perfection you demand.

As such, your emotional reasoning engenders a contradiction. You must achieve perfection, but you don’t achieve it. Essentially this says that it is necessary (that is, true in all possible worlds) that you achieve your goals perfectly. But in this world, you fall short of so doing. Hence, in this world you are not what you must be, namely perfect. Since you are not what you must be, you are inferior notwithstanding any accolades you may receive. Sadly, you feel like a deceiver when you receive such accolades since, as stated, you see yourself as unworthy of them. (Emotional Rule) I must achieve my goals perfectly.

In some cases, the individual with the syndrome deduces (volitional) can’tstipation from the self-damning conclusion. This means that you disavow your capacity to refrain from doing things you really can refrain from doing. The expanded syndrome looks like this:

(Report) But I have not done so—I am flawed. My work has imperfections in it even though others think I am worthy of respect.

(Conclusion 1) Therefore, I am a fraud, a false front, a deceiver, not worthy of the respect I receive from others.

(Conclusion 2) Therefore, if others found out who I really was, I would be mortified.

(Conclusion 3) Therefore, I can’t do anything that would expose who I really am.

In Conclusion 2, you catastrophize about being exposed, and in Conclusion 3, you can’tstipate yourself by disavowing your capacity to do anything that would (or might) expose who you (irrationally) believe you really are. Thus, you live in a perpetual state of anxiety.

While some high-profile individuals have imposter syndrome, others tend to avoid taking on responsibilities that would blow their cover. For example, some people who suffer from imposter syndrome avoid challenging employment that would be risky in terms of being exposed. They may thus avoid “putting themselves out there,” preferring part-time employment or other forms that allow them to keep a low profile.

In any event, if you have imposter syndrome, you probably spend inordinate amounts of time attempting to attain perfection, inevitably falling short of your goal. Again, in Freudian terms this means that you let your id control your ego, instead of conversely. As a result, you undermine your own personal happiness.

So how do you get over this self-defeating syndrome?

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome With Philosophy

First thing is to identify your perfectionism and work towards overcoming it. This is because the entire edifice of your imposter syndrome stands or falls on your emotional rule in which you demand perfect performance or achievement.

Giving up your demand for perfection can be a life-changer because much of your life is likely ruled by this premise, making you a slave to your perfectionism by stubbornly refusing to accept your natural human limitations.

LBT uses philosophical reflection and behavioral assignments to work on overcoming perfectionism. The goal of this project is to strive to become more metaphysically secure. This means learning to accept reality, including human reality, as inherently imperfect. LBT helps you to embrace a philosophy of life that helps you to see reality in this new light. For some, this may be Buddhism, according to which perfection is a pseudo idea since all things are impermanent and ever-changing. Hence, it prescribes letting go of your demand, which you can practice doing through such activities as mindfulness meditation.

For others, giving up your perfectionism may lie in the acceptance of God as the only perfect being. For yet others, it may be the Nietzschean idea that falling short—indeed exceedingly short—of perfection in life can make you stronger and wiser.

However, whatever philosophical conception you embrace, you need to apply it to your life. For example, it may mean staging a situation where you “blow your cover” intentionally, and then work cognitively and emotively to accept, indeed celebrate, your imperfection.

In my book, Making Peace with Imperfection, there is a chapter devoted to achievement perfectionism, which provides a systematic set of exercises you can do in working to overcome the achievement perfectionism that undergirds your imposter syndrome.

My best wishes to you in taking the reins of your life and letting yourself be who you really are: human.

More from Elliot D. Cohen Ph.D.
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