Four years ago, my friend and I got leadership jobs in the same international company. The work was interesting and paid well. Often, our immediate boss appointed my friend to lead us in departmental tasks. My friend didn’t like that and complained about the responsibilities she’d been given, though she received praise for her work.
Nevertheless, my friend continued to insist that she was unhappy with the work, and even went so far as to say that she thought her leadership was a fraud and would be noticed one day. She claimed that some of us were more qualified and therefore should be doing the work instead. One time, she actually asked our boss, point blank, to remove her from a leadership role, stating that she didn’t feel qualified to lead this particular team. That very move, acknowledging her weaknesses, made her a leader in many eyes, but she still didn’t see it. She just wasn’t aware of her competent leadership and result-oriented management.
For one particular task, my friend did endless research and spent hours coming up with strategies. On consecutive mornings, we would find her in the office, compiling presentations. That moment spurred me to do some research and learn more about her mindset. What was driving her to think this way? Maybe I could help her learn to feel more self-confident in her abilities.
What I found was fascinating! I stumbled upon a psychological problem known as “Imposter Syndrome.” I studied various types, as well as strategies on how to overcome it. Later, I shared all my results with my friend and she had a significant breakthrough, learning to own her abilities and putting them to good use which much less fear.The following post details the information found during my research. I believe that the post here will go a long way to helping you better understand Imposter Syndrome. Furthermore, you will understand how it appears in different personality types and will learn how to cope with it.
What is the Imposter Syndrome?
The term ‘Imposter Syndrome’ was first coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. The two specialists described the syndrome (also known as “Fraud Syndrome”) as a psychological pattern which makes people doubt their accomplishments, causing an internalized fear of being exposed as frauds, so that such individuals persistently reject praise.
Modern psychologists explain that Imposter Syndrome makes capable people feel like they are lacking in intelligence and abilities, to the point where such individuals even disregard the evidence of their own accomplishments. Due to this mindset, afflicted individuals not only fail to trust their instincts but also brush aside any rewards for their hard work, as they feel it is unmerited.
According to some estimates, over 70 percent of successful people experience Imposter Syndrome, including famous American poet Maya Angelou, German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, and celebrated American actress Meryl Streep.
Other recent findings suggest that Imposter Syndrome also makes people feel like intellectual frauds. These individuals may feel that their academic qualifications are undeserved. Such people then reflect upon about how they achieved a certain academic level in the face of what they perceive to be their shortcomings. Further studies indicate a correlation between this lack of self-belief and low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, a tendency to self-sabotage, and anxiety.
People suffering from Imposter Syndrome convince themselves that their achievements are based on factors beyond their control. Such people need to be encouraged to embrace the abilities and hard work that have led them to success in their lives.
Types of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter Syndrome can take different forms depending on an individual’s background, personality, and prevailing circumstances. Below are common types of Imposter Syndrome that will help you understand what type of perceived imposter you might be. After you’ve identified the types, you may be able to help change your personal mindset.
Perfectionists require themselves to carry all tasks out to exact precision, with the goal of avoiding possible negative feedback. Perfectionists set absurdly high-performance standards and evaluate themselves based on a rubric of success that few people are able to even comprehend, much less fulfill.
Notably, perfectionism and Imposter Syndrome go hand in hand. Perfectionists do not believe that their outputs are sufficient to deliver acceptable quality. Moreover, perfectionists set goals that are so lofty, they may be impossible to achieve. If a perfectionist then fails to attain said goals, self-recrimination invariably sets in.
Another tenet of perfectionism is feeling like you are the only one who can achieve the desired results. The success of others is never satisfying because you believe you could have done better. Many of us can admit to having fallen victims to this particular symptom of Imposter Syndrome.
Finally, perfectionists tend to hide their mistakes and dissociate themselves with their errors. They blame circumstances, or others, believing that to admit their mistakes will make them appear imperfect (and therefore, incompetent) to their acquaintances, friends, co-workers, and relatives.
The natural genius
People with this type of Imposter Syndrome think that they should not struggle when doing something. To struggle suggests to them that they are not competent or worthy of the tasks set before them.
Just like perfectionists, natural geniuses set their internal bars impossibly high. However, natural geniuses do not judge themselves based on ridicule and another people’s evaluation. They judge themselves based upon whether they are successful on their first attempt at a task.
Natural geniuses tend to reject the notion of mentors, thinking they can handle things on their own, based on their experiences. They don’t believe they need guidance—they already know what they’re doing.
Natural geniuses do not like facing setbacks. Any small mistake sends their confidence plummeting because they believe they need to get it right the first time. As a result of this, natural geniuses often avoid new challenges. If they don’t start something, they won’t fail, so it’s safer not to even try and risk the shame of defeat in the face of uncertain odds.
The over worker
According to psychologists’, this is the most harmful manifestation of imposter syndrome when it comes to a person’s health and mental well-being.
An over worker works harder and harder to measure up to colleagues that they believe are more qualified than they are. Ironically, this approach can have the opposite intended effect as it can affect a person’s relations with others, the very same people the over worker is trying to emulate. Over workers can come across as trying to be office “favorites” (or in grade school, “teacher’s pets”) because of the enormous amount of extra time and effort they put in.
Over workers do not necessarily work for the benefits that come from the work itself, such as overtime pay or vacation. They feel like time off will make them idle. What they do not know is that they’re obsessed with getting the glory that comes from doing all the work, not from doing quality work.
The rugged individualist
A rugged individualist is a person who feels that asking for help will expose her as an inexperienced phony. In many instances, this type of individual refuses assistance, with the intent of proving her own capabilities.
Such people like to work alone, because then they receive all the accolades when a task is successfully complete. Most sufferers of this kind of Imposter Syndrome only care about getting the job done. Obviously, they do not care about their well-being since the task may be mentally taxing, or even dangerous to accomplish alone.
Experts believe that their qualifications and skills, including academic credentials, are frauds. It’s almost comical that people who suffer from this type of Imposter Syndrome feel they’ve tricked their employers into hiring them. Things are no longer quite so funny, however, when a person develops an immense fear that he or she will be exposed as incompetent and inexperienced.
Often, experts shy away from applying for jobs because they think that they don’t meet the requirements. They continuously seek training and additional certifications in order to improve their perceived lack of skills.
While learning more skills can always help you professionally, nonetheless, if you never feel that your skills are sufficient, you’ll never stop believing that you’re incapable of doing a job properly. At this point, all the classes you take are no longer about the pursuit of knowledge but about chasing self-validation. This has obvious financial ramifications—classes aren’t always cheap—and impinges on your own personal time.
How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome
If not dealt with, Imposter Syndrome may lead people to develop anxiety, stress, and possibly, depression. Imposter Syndrome causes people to become obsessed with their mistakes, failures, and any negative feedback received. The following are some ways that Impostor Syndrome sufferers can cope with their condition.
Realize that no one is perfect
Imperfection is part of being human. We can never be 100 percent accurate but must accept that adjusting to changing times and environments is part of life. So, stop feeling inadequate and unqualified for whatever task is set before you. Instead, appreciate that you may have the basic foundations required to carry out day-to-day activities. You won’t get it right every time, but don’t quit before you’ve even started, due to irrational fears.
Change your mentality
Reframe your thoughts and understand that the feeling of inadequacy and fear of being a fraud is a figment of your imagination. Instead, think of instances when you’ve successfully completed a task and give yourself well-deserved praise. When faced with a new challenge, remind yourself that trying does no harm. Happily, embrace the results, regardless of the outcome of your endeavors.
Make a list of your achievements
Stop discounting the many successes people tell you that you’ve accomplished. Instead, make a list of the things you’ve achieved, regardless of how small they may appear to you. Start by taking a look at everything you have achieved in the past. Moreover, take some time and reflect on all the hard work you have put in to be at your current position. This way, you will embrace the fact that your achievements are real and deserved.
Create a positive response to failure and mistakes
As the saying goes, to err is human. So, don’t put yourself down when you make mistakes. Develop some personal sayings that you repeat to yourself, as needed. Encourage yourself by believing that you will definitely succeed at the task next time. At one time, renowned inventor and founder of the Ford Motor Company, Henry Ford said that failure is the only opportunity to begin again more intelligently. Therefore, give yourself the opportunity to try again. You’re only human!
Talk to someone
After identifying that you are suffering from any type of Imposter Syndrome, talk with a close friend, relative, or professional counselor about your low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence. People who know you well may surprise you by explaining that they envy your talents and accomplishments. Professional counselors or psychologists may go further to help you unleash the potential that you took for granted in the past. It is wise for people suffering from Imposter Syndrome to remember that they are not alone. Remember, more than seventy percent of people may suffer from some variation of the syndrome, so seek help!