Imposter syndrome: What is it?
Have you ever accomplished something only to feel immense self-doubt about what you just finished? Do you ever feel like a fraud after doing something successful and fear that others are going to call you out as the charlatan you know yourself to be? Maybe you find that you doubt your abilities and believe someone will eventually unmask the real you and finally show the world that you are talentless and incapable and you feel this way even though people around you give you positive feedback? Perhaps you identify yourself as a perfectionist or high-achiever yet you procrastinate and owe all of your successes to luck instead of personal effort?
If you relate to any of the above questions chances are that you may have what psychologists in the 70s coined as “imposter syndrome.” Imposter syndrome is not an official diagnosis and can be described as a cycle of fear, self-doubt, or a feeling of inadequacy motivated by a pressure to achieve and appear competent and capable.
How does imposter syndrome affect people?
- It increases stress and anxiety
- Limits opportunities and potential success due to avoidance of situations where you might be “found out”
- May lead to feelings of failure and disappointment following an accomplishment
- Can lead to negative self-talk and depression
- Perfectionism may lead to feelings of shame or humiliation if a mistake happens
- General dissatisfaction with life
Where does imposter syndrome come from and who does it affect?
Imposter syndrome is experienced by a wide range of people including different genders, people in various work occupations, and in different cultures. It is thought that imposter syndrome arises through a combination of factors including individual personality traits, family environment, and social factors.
Those with a penchant toward perfectionism are more likely to run into imposter beliefs than those without perfection-seeking behaviors and thoughts. People who grow up believing they lacked parental care or who received confusing messages about achievement and self-worth may be at increased risk of feeling like an imposter later in life. Because Imposters fear being exposed as lacking ability or being thought of as incompetent, they oftentimes hold a false belief that they must be perfect in order to be accepted or approved of by others.
What to do about it
If you believe that perfectionism, self-doubt, or fear of being perceived as incompetent might be leading to feeling like an imposter, here are some activities that might help.
- Practice ways to celebrate your successes
- Remind yourself that no one is perfect
- View mistakes as learning opportunities, not as character flaws
- Practice using affirmations and positive self-talk when the imposter tries to create self-doubt
- Seek therapy or find someone to talk to about what you’re going through
- Reflect on and acknowledge what you’re good at
- Try a new activity outside your comfort zone where you’re not the expert
~Inspired by a prompt from: The Great Pretender
Sakulku, J., & Alexander, J. (2011). The imposter phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 6 (1), 73-92.