It always feels good to be appreciated and be complimented on a job well done, whether at work, school, or in pursuing something you’re passionate about. Hearing positive feedback and encouragement is a confidence boost that can help us during bad days and inspire us to move forward. They can make us feel accomplished and validated. However, there are times when our minds play tricks on us, and we hear this sinister voice questioning our talents and capabilities. This inner voice can be persistent and unrelenting. It’s a tormenting experience that can undermine our confidence and leave us feeling like a fraud. This is a case in point example of what is often referred to as “Imposter Syndrome,” and if you have ever experienced such feelings, you are not alone.
Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that affects many individuals, particularly high-achievers. Imposter syndrome makes individuals question their achievements, despite tangible evidence of their success and accomplishments. It can manifest in various ways, such as feeling like a fraud or a fake, attributing successes to others, and feeling inadequate. Imposter syndrome may feel difficult, but it’s something many people have worked to overcome.
Impact and Characteristics
Imposter syndrome can have a negative impact on people, causing constant anxiety and even leading to depression. While it may push some to over-prepare and work harder to achieve success, the underlying belief that they are a fraud never disappears. This belief persists even in the face of evidence to the contrary, making it difficult for people to accept their successes. This can be especially true for those who have received comments that they are not good in social or performance situations. Despite doing well, imposter syndrome causes some to attribute their success to luck, further increasing their self-doubt.
The characteristics of imposter syndrome differ for everyone, however some of the common characteristics include:
- Difficulty in evaluating your competence and skills based on reality.
- Attributing your accomplishments and successes to luck, timing, or other people’s help rather than acknowledging your efforts and talents.
- Overly criticizing your performance and feeling inadequate, even when others recognize your achievements.
- Fear of not meeting expectations and constantly worrying about being exposed as a fraud.
- Setting highly unattainable goals and feeling disappointed or discouraged when falling short.
- Self-doubt and a lack of confidence, often second-guessing decisions and questioning one’s abilities.
- Engaging in behaviors that hinder your progress, such as procrastination or avoiding challenging tasks.
Here are a few examples of imposter syndrome in everyday life:
- You don’t promote your business because you lack the same experience or expertise as others in your field.
- You might constantly compare yourself to others and feel you don’t measure up. You might think everyone else is smarter, more talented, or more deserving than you.
- You might feel like you’re not good enough to be in a romantic relationship, be a good friend, or be a good parent. You might feel like you’re faking through these relationships and not meeting your or others’ expectations.
- You may feel like you don’t belong in your current job, even though you have the required skills and qualifications.
The 5 Types
The concept of imposter syndrome was first identified in the late 1970s by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They studied high-achieving women and found that many felt like frauds despite their accomplishments.
Dr. Valerie Young expanded on this work in her 2011 book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.” Young identified five main types of “imposters” based on her work with thousands of individuals in workshops and individual counseling. Though many studies show that imposter syndrome happens to women, anyone can be affected regardless of age, gender, culture, and other attributes.
Let’s examine the 5 types of imposter syndrome closely to understand their traits and how they manifest in individuals.
These individuals focus primarily on how perfectly they do things in every part of their lives. They set extremely high standards for themselves and feel like a failure when they don’t meet them. They often struggle to delegate tasks to others because they believe they are the only ones capable of doing them perfectly. Perfectionists may procrastinate and avoid completing tasks because they fear they won’t meet their standards. Instead of acknowledging the hard work they’ve put in after completing a task, they might criticize themselves for small mistakes and feel ashamed of their “failure.” They may avoid trying out new things if they believe they can’t do them perfectly the first time.
The Natural Genius
This type is characterized by the belief that if you have to work hard at something, you must not be good at it. People with this imposter syndrome believe their success should come easily and may avoid challenges that might expose their limitations. Individuals who identify with this type have spent their lives picking up new skills with little effort and believe they should immediately understand new material and processes. They might feel embarrassed if something is difficult for them or if they fail to succeed on their first try.
Soloists prefer to work alone and may feel uncomfortable asking for help or support. They believe asking for help would reveal their incompetence and undermine their credibility. If they can’t achieve success independently, they consider themselves unworthy and a failure. As a result, soloists may struggle with delegation, collaboration, and teamwork.
Individuals who identify with this type want to study all there is to know about a topic before considering their work successful. Experts need to know everything about their field and constantly seek new information and knowledge. They may feel like frauds when they don’t know the answer to a question, even if it’s outside their expertise. These actions can lead to burnout and the inability to recognize and appreciate their knowledge.
These individuals link competence to their ability to succeed in every role, whether as students, friends, employees, or parents. Failing to fulfill the demands of these roles makes them feel inadequate. To succeed, they push themselves to the limit, spending as much energy as possible in every role. People with superhero imposter syndrome believe they should be able to handle everything independently, without help or support. They feel guilty for not being able to do it all and may take on too much responsibility, leading to burnout.
While these types of imposters are common, they are not exhaustive. Imposter syndrome can manifest differently for each individual, and it’s possible to experience a combination of these types. Recognizing which type or types you identify with is the first step towards overcoming imposter syndrome and developing healthier self-confidence.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
One way of overcoming imposter syndrome is by confronting our deep-rooted beliefs about ourselves. This task may be difficult because you may not even know these beliefs.
Here are a few methods you can use to help you get started.
Recognize and acknowledge your accomplishments.
People with imposter syndrome often downplay their achievements and attribute their success to external factors. Take the time to reflect on your accomplishments, and credit yourself for your hard work and achievements. Perfectionism is also something that many people experience alongside imposter syndrome. However, striving for perfection can harm your mental health and well-being. Instead of focusing on perfection, focus on progress. Set achievable goals and celebrate your progress, no matter how small. Celebrate your successes, no matter how tiny they may seem.
Reframe negative self-talk.
People with imposter syndrome often engage in negative self-talk, criticizing themselves and doubting their abilities. Reframe negative self-talk by challenging negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. Instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough,” try thinking, “I am capable and have accomplished many things.”
Talk about your feelings with others.
Talking about your feelings about imposter syndrome with others, such as a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional, can help you overcome your doubts. Sharing your experiences with someone you trust can help you feel less alone and gain perspective. Additionally, a therapist can help you develop coping strategies and provide support.
See failure as an opportunity.
People with imposter syndrome often fear failure and can become paralyzed by the thought of making a mistake. However, failure is a part of success and the learning process. Instead of viewing failure as a reflection of your capabilities, see it as a chance to learn and grow. Reflect on what you can learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to improve.
Imposter syndrome can be an overwhelming experience, but it does not mean you are incapable or unworthy of success. The temporary feelings of doubt do not define your worth or ability to achieve success. Imposter syndrome is a common experience that many people go through. With time and practice, it is possible to develop a more positive and realistic self-image and overcome the negative impact of imposter syndrome.
Finally, here’s a secret, even CEOs and celebrities struggle with imposter syndrome. Did they get rid of their “imposter?” Not quite. But they did learn how to welcome their imposter, master their emotions, and leverage their fears to use them as strengths. We at rREST are confident you can do the same.
If you’re not sure where to get started, you can meet with a certified rREST Coach for a Complimentary Consultation