In 1978, a scientific article published by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes went almost unnoticed. More than forty years later, the concept they introduced, impostor syndrome, has become a cash cow for business coaches. In the professional environment, it is manifested by incessant doubts, accompanied by a feeling of not deserving what is happening to us.
In order to combat this syndrome, many employers bring in, with the best intentions in the world, a coach to help their teams get rid of it. But that implies that the employees are imposters, otherwise why offer such coaching? It begins badly. Then there is the psychological technique (of the impossible) thought suppression: the more you are told that you have to stop thinking that you are an impostor, the more you will think it and stress. Worse, if you didn’t think you were, the coaching will put it in your head.
In the journal “Frontiers in Psychology”, Greek researchers offer an evolutionary approach to the psychological and neurobiological origins of the impostor syndrome. In order to be able to treat it, they notably suggest using brain imaging to better understand the mechanisms of stress and anxiety associated with impostor syndrome. That is.
This syndrome can however have virtues. Almost ten years ago, I was on the benches of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, where a renowned professor explained to us with conviction how he was going to help us overcome the syndrome of the impostor.
I asked to leave the course. Incredulous, he asked me why. I explained to him that the impostor syndrome, feeling illegitimate and thinking that I don’t deserve what’s happening to me, has always been my number one source of motivation. I didn’t want him to take this super power away from me. . Because the day when I will feel legitimate or deserving, the time for retirement will have come.
To question ourselves
Feeling like an impostor is something very healthy that allows you to always question yourself, learn and move forward. The reverse, on the other hand, is dangerous: this gives all these self-proclaimed Covid experts who since the end of February have become military strategists-energy experts. Let’s get rid of the imposters, the real ones, and keep the syndrome going!
The author : Olivier Oullier is a neuroscientist, co-founder of Inclusive Brains.