What impostor syndrome actually is, and how to fix it

The basics

Impostor syndrome is a strong feeling of inadequacy when facing a challenge.

Where does it comes from

Our brain is, very broadly speaking, split in 2 parts: one that gathers information from reality and elaborates its meaning (neocortex), and the other who autonomously decides how to feel about it (limbic system). The first is the one we use to gather information from the world, the latter is some sort of database about what to make of it.

Here’s an example of how it works:

there’s a huge spider on our leg: our limbic system has some very old routines that prime for a fear reaction, but our neocortex can stop it through recognising that one in particular it’s not poisonous and it doesn’t even bite humans.


if you’re feeling inadequate is because you actually are, and your subconscious is warning you so to take action about it.

So, you might be asking

What to make of it

You have 2 choices:

  1. Become competent enough to not feel inadequate anymore
  2. If 1 doesn’t work, stop doing what you’re doing: you’re not good enough for it.

What not to make of it

Don’t try to fool yourself into “everything is fine”. Most of all: don’t try fool others into believing you’re confident in yourself – maybe becoming abusive towards those who might involuntarily remind you so, by asking you to do your job: if you feel inadequate you are. It’s not the end of the world: you should just become competent enough to not feel like so anymore.

Does feeling insecure make you automatically not competent enough?

Yes: the first prerequisite of professionalism is being sure about what you’re doing. If you’re not, you’ve not mastered yet what you’re doing. In some peculiar cases one can have the skills to do the job, but have not quite understood that yet – and that still classifies as incompetence: it shows lack of clarity about your profession, and takes away assertiveness in decision making.

If you’re insecure and pretend you’re not, you’re not only incompetent but also dishonest: you’re fooling people into thinking you can be trusted.

Politicization of “impostor syndrome”

The term itself “Impostor syndrome” is a political weapon: it makes the assumption that one can be competent but not aware of it. Maybe out of “shyness” – something, apparently, being cherished as useful value by some (???). When, instead, it’s just a rationalisation triggered to fight off cognitive dissonance (cognitive dissonance is the stress born out of lying to ourselves – in other words: our conscience): we’re aware of being incompetent, we feel inadequate, we don’t like it, we make an excuse to pretend we’re adequate even though we’re not.

Within the current social climate, “impostor syndrome” is being instrumentalized so as to build a peculiar narrative: “I’m a very sensitive and shy person: you have to treat me with great care. For instance: do not make me aware of my shortcomings and obey my wishes, because doing otherwise would hurt my feelings. And if you hurt my feelings you’re a bad person”.

In other words: emotional blackmailing.

If you do stumble upon someone acting in such a way, the best practice is listed in “What do make of it”.

Further reading

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Social-Animal-Elliot-Aronson/dp/1429233419 4/5 of this book is trash – but the part about cognitive dissonance, which is the technical term for “impostor syndrome”, is quite legit.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *