Have you ever felt that you don’t deserve to be where you are? That you don’t deserve compliments on the job you have done? That you are less than the others because of your low competencies or expertise? Like your friends or colleagues are going to discover you’re a fraud, and you don’t deserve your job and accomplishments? You may probably experience Impostor Syndrome. It’s not simple stage fright or performance anxiety; rather, it’s the deep and sometimes paralyzing belief that we have been given something we didn’t earn and don’t deserve and that at some point we’ll be exposed. Psychologists refer to it as an impostor syndrome, the impostor phenomenon, impostor fears, and impostorism.
What is Impostor Syndrome
Impostor syndrome, the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications, was identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. In their paper, they theorized that women were uniquely affected by impostor syndrome. Since then, research has shown that both men and women experience impostor feelings, and Clance published a later paper acknowledging that impostor syndrome is not limited to women.
Most of us have experienced impostor syndrome, at least to some degree. One study estimated that 7 in 10 adults experience it at some point or another. Interestingly, it’s often people who are hard workers, high achievers and perfectionists who are most likely to feel like frauds – including many doctors, lawyers, academics and celebrities. Even Einstein once said that he thought his research got way more attention than he thought it deserved.
Impostor syndrome can manifest itself in many ways, including:
- At work: people attribute their success to luck rather than their own abilities. It usually holds them back from asking for a raise or applying for a promotion. They also might to believe that they have to overwork themselves to achieve the impossibly high standard they have set.
- At home: Any parent can probably remember some points in a time when they have felt incapable and not prepared for the responsibility of raising a kid. If these feelings are not under “control”, parents may struggle or fear that they are going to mess up their kid’s life.
- At school: Students might avoid speak up or asking the questions in class for the fear that teacher or classmates may think they are helpless.
- In relationship: Some people feel unworthy of the affection they get and fear that their partner will discover they are not that great. Sometimes they decide to self-sabotage that relationship.
5 types of people with Impostor Syndrome
(source: Valerie Young, the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women)
- “Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence
- “Experts” feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or trainings to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or speak up in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.
- When the “natural genius” has to struggle or work hard to accomplish something, he or she thinks this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily, and when they have to put in effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
- “Soloists” feel they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
- “Supermen” or “superwomen” push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.
Why do people experience impostor syndrome?
There is no single answer. Some experts believe it has to do with personality traits, like anxiety or neuroticism. However, others focus on family or behavioral causes. Sometimes childhood memories, like feelings that your grades were never good enough for your parents or that your siblings outshone you in certain areas, can leave a lasting impact. Sometimes to be loved or be lovable transmitted into: I need to achieve, or I need to be perfect. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Factors outside of a person, such as their environment, can also play a major role in spurring impostor feelings. If you would like to know whether you are affected by Impostor Syndrome, you can take a quiz.
How to deal with Impostor Syndrome
Overcoming impostor syndrome starts with recognizing your own potential and taking ownership of your achievement. Here are some tips on how to overcome it when it comes into your life:
- Separate feelings from Facts: Chances are, you’ll feel impostor syndrome creeping in your life. Observe these feelings, be mindful of them and be ready with a response. Recognize that just because you think these things doesn’t mean they are true. If your mind says: “I don’t know what I’m talking about” remind yourself that you know more than you think you do and are capable of learning.
- Take a note of your accomplishments: when comes a moment when you feel “less-than” it would be helpful for you to have a tangible evidence of your successes. When someone send you, a message recognizing your excellent work, save this message in a “Special” folder. If your friends give you a card telling you that you are the great partner in crime, expose it visibly on your table. If your children draw a picture and write a message telling you how much they love you hang it on the fridge where you will be able to see it every moment when if feels like nothing is going right with you.
- Stop comparing with others: this is the killer of our self-confidence. Rather than comparing yourself to others, start focusing on you and your accomplishments only. It is nonsense to compare with influencers on social networks or with your friends or anyone else. It is a comparison of the incomparable. We are all different, we each have different potential and we live in different circumstances. It's like comparing apples and pears.
- Turn Impostor syndrome on its head: Smart, high-achieving people, perfectionists most often deal with impostor syndrome. So, the very fact that you recognize it in yourself says a lot about you. True impostors do not have such kind of feelings.
- Talk to others: it is good to have a friend or colleague to talk with who knows you well and supports you. It can help you to realize that your impostor feelings are irrational. This is like an emergency brake that slows down your impostor feelings.
- Talk to an expert: an expert can help you to recognize feelings associated with impostor syndrome and reframe or create new behaviors to overcome it. Action is the generator of changes. You should not get stuck in the stage: “I cannot do this” or “I am not able to overcome it”. However, you need to take and action and move forward.
My Impostor Story
I used to be heavy impostor, felt that all the achievements were nothing related to my talents, experiences and skills. I used to thank to everyone else for achievements however, not to myself. Also, my former work environment did not support the success of the individual, which from perspective of teamwork might be good. However, do not forget that the team is made up of individuals and their talents, and if you do not recognize achievements of these individual talents separately too, then it shrinks and diminishes until it fades away. This is one of the usual reasons why people (talking about individuals not a team) leave the company, cause their individual talent, expertness or skills were not recognized at all.
When I was fighting with overwork, because I wanted “to be more” I started to talk to an expert and step by step I took the actions. My starting point was to distinguish What feelings hinders me in Which situation. Once I knew which they are and When it happens, then I started to find Why it hinders me. When I found this Why, I realized that some of them are no longer valuable formulas (coming from my child age and no longer valid to my age and circumstances). So, I abandoned them. At the same time, I pampered myself by my rich, deep, long term experience that I visualized by many facts and tangible evidence like photos and messages from my Japanese work era, thank you messages from my mentees and coachees, articles that I wrote. I also went through several talent tests to see what my pure talents are. However, the most powerful tool of recognition for me now are private letters and cards from my family and pictures with love rows especially from my husband and two little sons.
I feel better now. I am away further. Change is the process, and it takes some time. Sometimes some relapse comes, however for that case my family is opened 24/7 so I am quickly back on the right track. I am no more fraud; I am now who I am - Perfectly Imperfect. And I appreciate it.