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Steiner, J. (2011). The Impostor Revisited. Psychoanal Q., 80(4):1061-1071.

(2011). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 80(4):1061-1071

The Impostor Revisited

John Steiner

Phyllis Greenacre (1958a) begins her classic paper, “The Impostor,” by reminding us that “an impostor is not only a liar, but a very special type of liar who imposes on others fabrications of his attainments, position, or worldly possessions” (p. 1025, italics in original). Yet she also recognizes a wide range of conditions that bear a resemblance to impostors, and she observes that the analyst often “gets glimpses of such traits, only partly realized or appearing brightly in an incident or two, without emerging into overt fraudulence in the lives of a number of patients” (p. 1026).

Helene Deutsch, in “The Impostor: Contribution to Ego Psychology of a Type of Psychopath(1955), is even more explicit about the ubiquity of variants of this condition, and clearly sees the impostor on a continuum that includes the as-if personality of her earlier descriptions. She writes:

The world is crowded with “as-if” personalities, and even more so with impostors and pretenders. Ever since I became interested in the impostor, he pursues me everywhere. I find him among my friends and acquaintances, as well as in myself. [p. 1022]

The authors agree that we are all impostors to varying degrees, and even suggest that talented individuals, especially artists, may be particularly susceptible to suggestions of fraudulence.


1 Editor's Note: In this article, page numbers from Greenacre 1958a and Deutsch 1955 refer to the numbering of the republications in this issue, not to that of the original Quarterly publications of those years.

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