Is impostor syndrome mere self-talk?        | Inquirer

Is impostor syndrome mere self-talk?       

A blue Mercedes Benz parked  in front of the Palma Hall, U.P. Diliman is always an exciting omen. It is going to be an evening  of existential gleanings with six other doctoral clinical psychology students about the human brain.

Dr. W is on campus for the neuropsychology class. Neuropsychology is a branch of science that combines  neuroscience and psychology;  it is where  the concept behind aphasia (currently in the news), an aberration in the executive portion of the brain is discussed by Dr. W aided with preserved-human brain.

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Dr. W was the proponent  of The Early Childhood Care and Development Act, or  Republic Act No. 8980 that the Philippine Professional Commission (PRC) acknowledged. This law is for the timely detection, screening and surveillance nationwide of early childhood disabilities, developmental problems and giftedness. This will save millions of developing children’s minds.


Yet, a couple of  decades ago, during a light moment in her class, Dr. W  shared her thoughts (feelings?), “… siguro nagkamali ang admitting body ng school… natanggap ako abroad… natatakot ako baka madiskubre  di pala ako qualified (The admission committee abroad probably made  an error in accepting me…  I fear I am not qualified).”

Was that mere shared-verbal-self-talk by Dr. W  or a manifestation of “Impostor Phenomenon?”



Impostor phenomenon,  also known today as a “syndrome” (IS) is  set of symptoms that are usually due to a single  cause that collectively indicates a particular physical or mental disorder, according the American Psychological Association (APA).

The term “impostor phenomenon” was defined by Drs. P. R. Clance and S. A. Imes of Georgia State University in their opt-quoted 1978 study “to designate an internal experience of intellectual phoniness which appears to be particularly prevalent and intense among a select sample of high-achieving women. This is where most contemporary studies are anchored.

This pioneering  study appears to suggest that IS can afflict high-achieving women despite their outstanding scholastic honors, professional  recognitions, positions, accolades, or owning a blue Benz. “these women do not experience an internal sense of success. They considered themselves ‘impostors.’”

Women who experience the IS  maintain a strong belief that they are not intelligent; in fact, they are convinced that they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise, so we are told. Was this the intrinsic-success-detachment feeling whirling inside around Dr. W’s mind, inquired a quasi-IS-afflicted kibitzer friend.



Drs. Clance and Imes found in their initial clinical experiences  that IS occurs with much less frequency in men; when it does, is with much less intensity. Moreover, both doctors “have noticed (observed) the phenomenon in men who appear to be more in touch with their ‘feminine’ qualities” thus, suggesting  further study. This is bluntly ‘gendered,’ quipped my DEI-believer kibitzer friend.

A recent study by Dr. B. A. Tewfik of MIT reveals that IS is being  “gendered” possibly  because the original or pioneering study was focused on women. Nevertheless, other contemporary studies appear to suggest it is prevalent across different genders, races and occupational categories.

However,  a distinct attribute remains: an IS sufferer believes having fooled others into overestimating their intelligence, according to Dr. J.C. Harvey and C. Katz, in If I’m So Successful, Why Do I feel Like a Fake?: The Impostor Phenomenon.

Moreover, Dr. K. Cokely, et al.’s 2018 study shows that a IS sufferer is likely to attribute academic accomplishment  to luck, physical attractiveness and other ‘external’ factors than innate or earned attributions  while intrinsically, constantly harboring  the fear that they would be  exposed as fraud.



Empirical studies affirm that harboring fear can significantly induce cognitive and emotional disequilibrium that literally affects the brain’s neural circuitry. A constant fear of “feeling  fraudulent” could dull one’s whole personhood, quipped another quasi-IS-afflicted kibitzer friend.

One study by Drs.  J. Langford and P. R. Clance in 1993 suggested that IS may be in response or the reaction to insecurity, self-doubt, an attempt to live up to an idealized self-image. This backlash could  affect  one’s own  self-worth thus, disabling anyone from accepting who he or she really is.

The advent of social media, and the adverse effects of unforeseen maladies apparently play a role, quipped another kibitzer friend. Dr. D. M. Bravata, et al. reported in their 2020 systematic review  of the prevalence,  predictors and treatment that IS  affects psychological health, burdens professional  performance and contributes to burnout.


IS is not a recognized psychiatric disorder, meaning it remains unlisted in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, 5th Edition (DSM-5). Many assert that  clinicians still lack evidence on the prevalence, comorbidities, and best practices for diagnosing and treating IS. They, hopefully,  are not all women experts, quipped and prayed a kibitzer friend.

 “There are an awful lot of people out there who think I’m an expert. How do these people believe all this about me? I‘m so much aware of all the things I don’t know,” declared Dr. Margaret  Chan,  who served as the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and ranked in 2014 by Forbes the 30th most powerful woman in the world.

Another Margaret, Margaret Mead, a world renowned anthropologist noted as early as 1949 that the successful or independent woman, “is viewed as a hostile and destructive force within society.” A woman’s femininity is called into question by her success, so we are told.

Similarly, Dr. M. S.  Horner’s affirmed this in 1972, “for a woman to succeed in our culture is indeed a fearsome venture.”

In 2023, tell that to Marjorie Taylor Greene, quipped a J6-canceled-kibitzer friend.

Dr. Aggie Carson-Arenas is a Certified Clinical Psychology Specialist, a former associate professor and university research director. He is a Behavior Analyst Specialist in Nevada, an educator, clinician, researcher, consultant, columnist, and a published author. His latest book is, “You’re Okay, I Am Perfect” (How Teens, Adolescents & Those In-Between Quest for Identity) co-authored by her daughter Abbygale Williamson Arenas-de Leon. Dr. W (Dr.  Wally, a nickname) is the first neuropsychologist in the Philippines and this author’s mentor in neuropsychology at UP, Diliman. Dr. W’s current involvement is with Let’s Save the Brain Foundation, Inc, (LSBFI), SEC registered in 2012 to assure excellent medical care for indigent patients of the Department of Neurosciences, University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH). [email protected]

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