Imposter Syndrome Can Play a Surprising Role in Narcissistic Relationships

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Clinical psychologist Dr. Ramani Durvasula is an expert in narcissistic abuse in relationships. In a new video on her YouTube channel, she explains a consequence of narcissistic manipulation which is perhaps not surprising: impostor syndrome.

Often discussed in professional contexts, impostor syndrome is the belief that you don’t belong or are under-qualified, and will one day be found out as a fraud. Somebody with impostor syndrome might constantly feel as if they are being judged and found lacking by others, and end up overwhelmed by anxiety.

“Impostor syndrome is something that happens within us,” says Durvasula, comparing the phenomenon to internalized depression and societal invalidation, and pointing out that this can be especially true in people who are marginalized in some way, be it due to race, gender, class, or sexual orientation.

“This can also happen in relationships; feeling that you aren’t enough and don’t deserve,” she continues. “And this feeling can be really drawn out in a narcissistic relationship… I believe that anyone who’s experienced narcissistic abuse does end up with a case of impostor syndrome.”

Durvasula believes this is a sadly inevitable outcome for anyone who has faced years of being belittled, invalidated, and gaslit. “Survivors of narcissistic abuse go through the world forever feeling incompetent,” she says. “If you experience narcissistic abuse patterns in childhood, these patterns affect your sense of self, identity, and your sense of competence. Second-guessing and self-doubt become your primary psychological language, and that trails you into adulthood… The narcissist may go, but the impostor syndrome feeling stays.”

She concludes that combating narcissistic abuse by being aware of the tactics used is “essential” in order to reduce the number of people whose potential is then hindered by impostor syndrome. “Abusers and manipulators want everyone to feel like an impostor because then they can, in their entitled way, keep the world running in a way that works for them,” she says. “The grand irony is that the narcissists, with all of their insecurities, they may be the ones that feel like the biggest impostors of all.”


Philip Ellis is a freelance writer and journalist from the United Kingdom covering pop culture, relationships and LGBTQ+ issues.

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