Imposter Syndrome: What It Is & How to Manage It
Do you sometimes feel like you’re inadequate at something, even though you’ve demonstrated competency in that area? Have you ever felt unworthy of an achievement, even though the people around you believed that you deserved it? Is it hard to be proud of your successes, no matter how hard you try? What you are experiencing may be imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a belief system that causes individuals to feel doubtful of their skills and unworthy of their achievements—they feel like a fraud. According to research, 7 out of 10 people have reported feeling like an imposter to their own successes, so this isn’t a rare phenomenon.
The History of Imposter Syndrome
The concept of imposter syndrome was coined by psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. It was discovered in their 1978 study that focused on high-achieving women, however, a huge limitation to this study is that women of color and other people with different socioeconomic backgrounds were not included, so this is why imposter syndrome was previously believed to only be common in exceptionally successful white women. As more studies were done on the phenomenon, research revealed that women and men from many different backgrounds can experience it. Research suggests that there are many different factors that can cause imposter syndrome such as family dynamics and upbringing, personality type, new responsibilities, and existing mental health conditions.
The Types of Imposter Syndrome
There are five basic types of imposter syndrome according to expert Dr. Valerie Young:
The Perfectionist - this involves having to be perfect in everything, all of the time. The problem is that no one on earth is flawless, so when a perfectionist falls short of their goals, they are extremely disappointed in themselves, often causing self-doubt. Self-doubt is a major component of imposter syndrome.
The Natural Genius - similar to the perfectionist, this type involves setting very high goals and feeling ashamed when those goals aren’t met. The “natural genius” believes that they should be smart and brilliant enough to get things right on the first try, and if they don’t, they may feel like a fraud.
The Superwoman/man - this type of imposter syndrome consists of one overworking themselves so that they feel like the hardest working person. They may feel like a phony compared to their colleagues and peers, so they push themselves to extreme lengths to measure up.
The Expert - those experiencing this type of imposter syndrome feel inadequate if they don’t know everything there is to know about a certain subject or field. This also makes them fearful that since they aren’t an expert, others may think that they’re unqualified or inexperienced.
The Soloist - with this type, one may feel inadequate if they had to get assistance from someone else in order to accomplish something.
My Experience with Imposter Syndrome
The picture above was me back in 2018 after being awarded the Woman of Distinction Award for undergraduates. Recipients of this award are chosen based on their outstanding service to their university and community. I look pretty happy in this photo, but in reality, I didn’t think I deserved it. Though I could recall putting in the work, I still felt that someone else deserved that award more than I did. It was so depressing not being able to fully enjoy that moment, and not understand why I couldn’t be happy for myself. To compensate for those feelings of inadequacy, I worked myself even harder; and no matter how much more I accomplished, I was never satisfied—the success never felt valid. This was a harmful cycle of depression and guilt that I just couldn’t break out of.
So I decided to do some research on what I was experiencing and came across imposter syndrome. I was so relieved to finally have answers for what I was going through, however, I was really disappointed when I learned that there is no cure for it—in fact, it isn’t even considered a psychiatric diagnosis. So if there’s no cure, what can be done? You learn to manage it the best that you can.
How to overcome the feelings of imposter syndrome
1). Be aware of the symptoms.
When you know the symptoms of this phenomenon, you can be aware of when you’re experiencing feelings of inadequacy, thus allowing you to fight against those thoughts. Here are some of the common characteristics of imposter syndrome:
feeling undeserving of your accomplishments and successes
feeling afraid that people will find out that you’re a fraud
feeling that your achievements are due to luck, not your hard work
feeling doubtful of your abilities
self-sabotaging your work
setting unrealistic goals and feeling incompetent after failing to achieve those goals
2). Talk to a therapist.
As I mentioned, there are many factors that can cause imposter syndrome, like how we were raised. Personally, I’ve always had pressure on me to be smart because both my mom and dad were exceptionally intelligent people. The thing is, no one in my family actually set those expectations for me, I just naturally felt like I had to measure up to them just because I was their child. Everyone always bragged about how smart my parents were, so if I didn’t turn out smart, what would that make me look like? A failure, a disappointment. This was something that was rooted in childhood, and I knew that I had to let that expectation of myself go in order to fight the feelings of inadequacy. So if you’re dealing with unresolved issues from your past that is contributing to your feelings of imposter syndrome, please consider talking to a mental health professional. You’d be surprised by the amount of weight that can be lifted from your shoulders once you open up to someone who’s truly willing to help.
3). Write down affirmations for yourself every day.
When you wake up in the mornings, start your day off with a few positive affirmations to set the tone. Here are some examples to help get you started:
“I work hard for my accomplishments and successes, so I deserve to feel happy for the fruits of my labor.”
“I release all feelings of self-doubt and unworthiness.”
“I am capable of achieving my goals.”
“I have earned this position in my field.”
“I am skilled at what I do.”
“I am a master in my line of work.”
Imposter syndrome will make you feel like you’re incompetent, but at least it means that you are actually successful to some degree in your life if you’re still accomplishing goals, right? Don’t let these feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy take over your mind. Believe your friends, family, and colleagues when they praise you for your good work. Accept the compliments that are given to you. You are amazing, but you have to believe it in order for it to make a real difference in your life.