Home » Blogs » Imposter Syndrome » The Social Need Behind Imposter Syndrome

The Social Need Behind Imposter Syndrome

Every self-diagnosed imposter secretly longs for one thing: Belonging.

The need to belong, according to researchers at Penn State University, is one of the most researched human needs.

Self-determination theory states that in order to function optimally at the core of our very existence is a basic psychological need to relate to and care for another person. (Lavigne et al., 2011) This need to belongs is so deeply rooted in our psyche that any threat of rejection conjures reactions that are similar to those of physical pain. (Laslocky, 2013)

Source: Penn State University

Imposter syndrome may be the epitome of deprivation when it comes to belongingness. We might even say that as soon as the would-be imposter understands fully that he or she belongs, imposter syndrome is cured (and since imposter syndrome is not a medical diagnosis, we can use the word “cure” freely here)!


How do we go about meeting our need to belong?


We can break the issue down into two questions, both of which are informed by neuro-linguistic programming: 1) To whom do you need to belong? and 2) What stops you from belonging?

It may not be enough to just say I belong to the human race. Meeting the need to belong may require a more day-to-day sense of belonging that you can experience directly and not just in concept. Let’s try to answer the two questions in a concrete way.

To whom do you need to belong?

Let’s keep it simple. This question is to identify other people or groups that you can participate in, effectively experiencing a sense of personal belonging at the moment. Belonging is, by definition, a social experience. Identifying a person, people, or a group that is compatible with your personality and values is a key criterion for having that experience.

Some people just fall into a peer group and take for granted their need to belong because it never lacked and was therefore never in question. Those of us who’ve lived with imposter syndrome have a completely different perspective. There is nothing to take for granted about belonging except that we (obviously) don’t belong, so fitting in necessarily becomes a matter of faking it. You could even say that would-be imposters take for granted their non-belongingness to the same degree as those who never questioned their own belongingness.

Enough mumbo jumbo! To whom, specifically, do you belong?

What stops you from belonging?

If identifying to whom you need to belong is an external pursuit, this one is an internal pursuit. Assuming most of us are not physically barred from access to other people, we must conclude that the obstacles to belonging come from within.

The prevalent inner obstacle around belonging consists of two categories of limiting beliefs: 1) beliefs about self 2) beliefs about others.

What must we believe about ourselves if we block our own opportunity to feel belongingness with others? Whichever the beliefs, they must add up to rejection. What must we believe about others? Those beliefs must add up to rejection as well. In order to feel the impossibility of belonging, we simply must believe we’d be rejected if we tried. If we’re going to participate in society at all, then we must put on a psychological mask and pretend to be like everyone else.

What’s next?

It would probably be a great idea to thoughtfully answer for yourself every question raised on this post.

The Social Need Behind Imposter Syndrome

Mike Bundrant

Mike Bundrant is the author of Your Achilles Eel: Discover and Overcome the Hidden Cause of Negative Emotions, Bad Decisions and Self-Sabotage and co-founder at The iNLP Center which offers online certification in Neuro-Linguistic Programming and life coaching.

No comments yet... View Comments / Leave a Comment



APA Reference
Bundrant, M. (2020). The Social Need Behind Imposter Syndrome. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Jan 2020
Statement of review: Psych Central does not review the content that appears in our blog network ( prior to publication. All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author alone, and do not reflect the views of the editorial staff or management of Psych Central. Published on All rights reserved.