Examining the Impostor Phenomenon in Relation to Self-Esteem Level and Self-Esteem Instability

Abstract

The impostor phenomenon involves feelings of intellectual self-doubt that often occur to people in challenging new roles or in the wake of personal success. Many previous studies appear to have understated the relationship between the impostor phenomenon and self-esteem, and have included only measures of self-esteem level in their designs. In the present study, the impostor phenomenon was examined in relation to both self-esteem level and self-esteem instability. Three-hundred and four undergraduates completed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale, the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale and a measure of self-rated instability. A subsample was also assessed for statistical instability (n = 38). The impostor phenomenon was negatively correlated with self-esteem level (r = −.62) and positively correlated with self-reported (r = .32) and statistical (r = .57) instability (all ps < .001). A multiple regression model predicting the impostor phenomenon with self-esteem level and self-rated instability revealed a negative main effect of self-esteem level and a significant 2-way interaction. Simple slopes analysis revealed that the negative effect of self-esteem level was weaker among participants with unstable self-esteem, compared to those with stable self-esteem. Results emphasize the critical involvement of self-esteem problems in the impostor phenomenon, indicating that people with low self-esteem are especially vulnerable to impostor feelings, and that people with unstable high self-esteem are more vulnerable to such feelings than are those with stable high self-esteem.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Quadratic effects of self-esteem level, self-rated instability, and self-esteem level X self-rated stability were also explored with hierarchical regression. The addition of quadratic terms to model presented in Table 2 did not significantly contribute to incremental variance explained in the DV (Δ R2 = .01, F(6298) = 1.54, p = .20). Therefore, only linear terms were retained in the final model.

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Correspondence to Nick Schubert.

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Anne Bowker declares she has no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this article.

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Schubert, N., Bowker, A. Examining the Impostor Phenomenon in Relation to Self-Esteem Level and Self-Esteem Instability. Curr Psychol 38, 749–755 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12144-017-9650-4

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Keywords

  • Impostor phenomenon
  • Perceived fraudulence
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-esteem instability
  • Self-esteem fragility