Andrea Lyn Sims is quick to point out that what appears to be a typographical error in her book title, The Impostor Affect: A Closer Look by a Classic Case, is actually a comment on a syndrome that “is still affecting me.” An artist, ghostwriter and admitted “impostor”—a high-achieving person who feels like a fraud despite her accomplishments—Sims presents an important, relatable premise.
The book’s genesis as a graduate dissertation (the author never identifies what type of degree she earned) is obvious, with dozens of carefully documented references to research studies, scholarly papers, and peer-viewed articles dating back to the 1970s, when psychologists defined the impostor phenomenon. Tucked among the clinical findings, however, are the real gems: explanations for why the syndrome develops in childhood—a parent’s alcoholism, for instance, or an environment of extreme criticism or conflict—along with personality profiles of the impostor child, teen and adult, and the upside of the trait: “People who have this intense need to achieve tend to make things happen,” Sims writes, “because they are always thinking about how to do things better.”
The heavily annotated studies certainly lend credibility to The Impostor Affect. But they also overshadow the impact of the book’s message, which comes to life when Sims tells her personal, sometimes raw, stories. In one chapter, she shares the tale of a third-grade teacher who humiliated her for being “bossy” in class. In another, she recalls the gruff gynecologist who, when she was 16, pregnant and terrified, said, “This would not happen if you could just keep your knees together.”
With its heavy academic bent, it’s hard to tell whether this is intended for psychologists or lay readers who suspect they are impostors. Psychologists will find much to appreciate here, but if meant for general readers, Sims would do well to scale back the numerous scientific references and let her own narrative—the part that makes this book worth the read—shine.