Imposter Syndrome: An evil to overcome, or a hero in disguise?

A small child dressed as in a home made super hero costume. Is imposter syndrome actually a hero?

“A hero? Are you serious? Imposter Syndrome is a cruel master. It stops me growing my business and makes me feel like total s**t. How can THAT be classed as a hero?”

It’s a valid question. How can something that is so inherently negative, ever be twisted into a positive Imposter Syndrome has been held as an accessory to stress, anxiety, depression, procrastination, low self esteem, poor social connection, and much worse. And on all accounts it has been found guilty as charged.

However, Imposter Syndrome is as much a part of the human condition as having brown eyes. Around 70% of people experience it regularly, and although more studies have been done on women, it is becoming more widely recognised as a ‘human’ condition rather than a solely ‘female’ experience.

This begs the question, why on earth does it exist? What was the point in humans evolving to feel such an intense emotion that is, by all accounts, self-detrimental.

In short, we don’t really know. There are many theories that each make some degree of sense and mean that Imposter Syndrome may have played a part in our very survival. Let’s take a look:

Anticipatory Anxiety

Just as it sounds, some believe that Imposter Syndrome may be a part of our brain’s system that anticipates the bad stuff that might happen and makes sure we are either a) prepared for it, or b) avoid it altogether. Makes some sense!

Evolutionary trigger

How much more quickly would other species evolve if they had a fear-based driver that made them feel that they were not good enough and needed to be more perfect? One of the most common responses is perfectionism, so it is easy to see how this would help to push the human race to constantly strive for improvement.

A safety valve

There are few (if any) 3-year-olds that have Imposter Syndrome, but they do have parents doing the job for them! “Be careful!” “If you do that, you will fall and hurt yourself!” “If you say that your friends won’t want to play with you anymore.” When we are adults, having a brain that takes over that dialogue and helps us to underestimate our abilities could be the thing that has kept us alive and kicking for so long.


Old faithful. The silent kicker. Some researchers believe that Imposter Syndrome is an offshoot of shame, and essentially ‘keeps the tribe together’. If we are constantly on the lookout for what others might think of us, then we are less likely to rock the community boat. After all, in the good old days, numbers = safety!

Whoever is right, it does make me think about Imposter Syndrome in a slightly different way and how it may have been pivotal to our survival. However, just like underarm hair, it is more an annoyance than a life-saver in modern times and we need some regular strategies to manage it. Left unchecked, we can develop what is known as an Imposter Syndrome Cycle, which can lead to high levels of anxiety, self-loathing, procrastination, depression and fear.

So, thank you for all you have done to get me here, Imposter Syndrome. Now go have a KitKat – sounds like you could do with a rest (and so could I!)

If you want to learn to manage your imposter syndrome, check out our blog for more resources.