You got your dream job, but something doesn’t feel right—you don’t feel qualified enough to be in this position. Any day now, your manager will realize that hiring you was a mistake. Or maybe you’re building an online community by sharing useful information in your niche, but you’re not the most experienced or knowledgeable person in this field. What if someone discovers that and calls you out? If you’ve ever experienced these or similar feelings, then you, dear friend, might be dealing with imposter syndrome.
It’s a debilitating phenomenon that can be detrimental to your mental health, self-esteem, performance at work, and general wellbeing.
The good news is, it’s possible to overcome imposter syndrome.
In this article, we’ll go over the imposter syndrome definition, take a look at its different types, and, most importantly, discuss the steps you can take to overcome it.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome, sometimes spelled impostor syndrome or referred to as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is the inability to internalize your success. It’s the idea that you don’t deserve what you’ve achieved—that your title, accomplishments, and awards should be attributed to luck, rather than your skills and talent.
Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes were the first to define imposter syndrome in their 1978 paper The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women:
Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.
Since then, it’s become clear that the phenomenon is not limited to just women. In fact, it’s estimated that 70% of all people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
Imposter Syndrome Symptoms
Imposter syndrome is much more than feeling like a fraud and can manifest itself in many different ways, including:
- Self-doubt when it comes to your intelligence and abilities
- Low self-esteem or self-confidence
- Tendency to downplay your expertise and accomplishments
- Negative thinking patterns
- Feeling out of place among your peers
- Inability to ask for help
- Fear of failure or mistakes
- Sensitivity to criticism
- Looking for validation from authority figures
- Fear that someone is going to call you out for being a fraud
- Pressure to be perfect
- Setting unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself
- Feeling unworthy of your accomplishments
- Attributing past successes to luck or other external factors
- Fear that you won’t be able to replicate your past successes
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
There’s no single cause of imposter syndrome—it’s likely a combination of personality traits, childhood experiences, and the surrounding environment.
Some people have personality traits that make them more likely to experience imposter syndrome, such as perfectionism and low self-efficacy. Perfectionists tend to set extremely high standards for themselves, while those with low self-efficacy lack confidence in their ability to complete challenging tasks. Aside from personality traits, people who tend to get anxious, especially in social situations, are also more likely to experience imposter syndrome.
The way someone was raised and their childhood experiences also play a big role in their experience of imposter syndrome later in life. Their parents may have overvalued academic and extra-curricular achievements, been overly critical, or offered little emotional support to their child.
Lastly, the environment that someone is in can have a massive effect on how they feel about their accomplishments. This is why women, minorities, and people who are the first in their group to achieve something are particularly vulnerable to severe imposter syndrome. If their society tells them that people like them don’t usually achieve this level of success, it can be challenging to take credit for that success.
5 Types of Imposter Syndrome
Dr. Valerie Young, recognized as the leading expert on imposter syndrome, suggests that there are five types of imposter syndrome: the perfectionist, the expert, the soloist, the superhero, and the natural genius.
Determining which of these types you experience can help you get to the root cause of your imposter syndrome and take appropriate action to combat it.
1. The Perfectionist
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome go hand in hand. As a perfectionist, you rarely get to enjoy your success because even when you achieve something great, you feel like you could have done better. You spend a lot of your time planning and avoid getting started in fear of making mistakes, producing something less than perfect, or failing altogether.
What to do:
To overcome imposter syndrome, start by overcoming your perfectionism. Stop spending so much time planning your next steps, take action, and accept outcomes that are good enough. Recognize that “perfect” simply means the best that you can do at this very moment, and take pride in what you’ve accomplished.
2. The Expert
If you’ve ever been referred to as an expert at something, you feel immense pressure to live up to that title. You believe that in order to deserve being called an expert, you need to know everything there is to know about your subject. You spend your time researching, seeking out educational opportunities, and getting certifications. You fear that someone might someday ask you something that you don’t know the answer to and reveal you as a fraud.
What to do:
Accept the idea that you will never be able to learn absolutely everything about your subject. In fact, the more you learn, the more you will realize how little you know. Instead of digging yourself into a hole, focus on teaching others what you already know. It will help you realize how much of an expert you really are and invite others to join you on the journey of discovery.
3. The Soloist
As a soloist, you value independence and feel the need to do everything on your own. You’re afraid that by asking for help, you’d have to admit that you’re an imposter, simply pretending to know how to do what you do.
What to do:
To overcome imposter syndrome, let go of the idea that you’re not allowed to ask for help. You have people in your life—friends, family, coworkers, and mentors—who are there to support you on your journey. If no one asked each other for help, how would we ever achieve anything?
4. The Superhero
As a superhero, you work harder than anyone else around you. You stay late at the office, take on projects you have no bandwidth for, and put out fires you don’t have time to deal with. The truth is, you’re pushing yourself over the limit to get validation from your superiors and prove to everyone around you—but more importantly, yourself— that you deserve to be where you are.
What to do:
Turn inward and learn to find validation from within. Take time to figure out what kind of work you find fulfilling and find a healthy amount of it that would make you feel proud of yourself.
5. The Natural Genius
If you’re a “natural genius,” you may feel like every new skill should come easily to you, and you feel frustrated when it doesn’t. When faced with a task, you expect to accomplish it faster and more efficiently than others. If you anticipate that this won’t be the case, you avoid the task altogether.
What to do:
Perhaps you were frequently told as a child that you’re exceptionally smart, can get good grades without trying too hard, and can pick up new skills quickly. Even if that was so, that’s not a reason to feel shame when the same doesn’t happen in your adult life. Instead, understand that accomplishments take time, and how long you take is in no way tied to your worth. It may also help to think of something from your past that took a lot of time, effort, and dedication—use this as a reminder that being a “natural genius” is an unrealistic standard to uphold.
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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Now that you have a better idea of how to overcome imposter syndrome according to your particular type, let’s take a look at some more general tips that can apply to anyone.
1. Accept That Your Imposter Syndrome Won’t Disappear on Its Own
Do you find yourself thinking, “If only I could get to X, Y, or Z. Then I would truly feel like I’ve made it and stop feeling like a fraud.”
It’s easy to think that your imposter syndrome will go away once you achieve a certain level of success or reach a certain milestone. The truth is, it will likely get worse. At this new level, you’ll have new peers to compare yourself to and new standards to uphold. Not to mention, the more experience, knowledge, and expertise you have, the more you’ll realize how much is still out there for you to grasp.
The only way to beat imposter syndrome is to consciously decide to overcome it. See imposter syndrome treatment as a form of self-care, something that must be done in order to preserve your mental and physical health.
Only then will you be able to freely take advantage of opportunities that present themselves and reach your full potential.
2. Separate Your Feelings From Facts
You may feel like you don’t deserve to be where you are, but that’s not necessarily a fact, and that’s a difference you need to come to terms with.
It’s perfectly normal to feel like an imposter—as we discussed earlier, 70% of us feel this way at some point. In fact, your circumstances will often force you to feel this way—maybe it’s your first day at a new job, your first time presenting at a conference, or maybe you’re the youngest person in the room.
The important thing to remember is that while you may feel insecure, the fact is that you were invited into the room and are worthy of being there just as much as everyone else.
So don’t let your feelings stop you from taking credit for your accomplishments and stepping into rooms where you are welcomed and valued.
3. Use Positive Self-Talk
Imposter syndrome often manifests itself through negative thought patterns and negative self-talk. To combat these, you can use positive affirmations.
Simply choose a few powerful phrases that help ground you and remind you of your worth. Recite them every morning or whenever you need a boost of confidence. Over time, the positive self-talk will get programmed into your brain and overwrite any negative thoughts.
If you’re not sure what to say to yourself, think of what you would say to your best friend. Treat yourself as you would treat your loved ones—with compassion, kindness, and gentle encouragement.
4. Cultivate Confidence and Take Action
At the end of the day, there’s no life hack or quick fix for overcoming imposter syndrome. Like everything else, it simply takes practice and consistent effort.
At some point, you need to decide that you’re not an imposter and that you really do deserve all the good things that have happened to you (and those that are still on their way).
This means choosing courage… over and over again. When you feel nervous, you must choose to feel confident (even if you have to fake it at first). When you’re afraid to put yourself out there—go to the networking event, take the new job, accept the speaking engagement—you must put your fears aside and say “yes”.
Your imposter syndrome may never fully go away—as long as you keep growing, you’ll always find yourself just outside your comfort zone. But if you understand it and practice keeping it at bay, it won’t turn into anything more than a brief, perfectly healthy case of the jitters.
How to Deal With Imposter Syndrome at Work
Experiencing imposter syndrome at work is extremely common. After all, for most of us, this is the primary place where we showcase our skills and get evaluated.
To overcome impostor syndrome at work, remember that your job isn’t just a way for you to give your time and talent to your employer—it’s also an opportunity for you to learn, grow, and gain experience. When you adopt this mindset, it becomes infinitely easier to admit that you don’t know the answer to everything, need more time, would like help, or wish to pursue professional development opportunities.
In fact, your employer should support and welcome this attitude from their employees. If your employer doesn’t, perhaps you’ve found yourself in a culture that breeds imposter syndrome rather than helping employees overcome it, and it’s time to move on to another opportunity.
Free Yourself From Imposter Syndrome
Whether you’re a professional feeling insecure at work or an artist battling creative imposter syndrome, we hope this article has helped you better understand the phenomenon and start on your way to overcoming it.
Remember that it won’t happen overnight, but with practice, you’ll soon feel confident, worthy, and deserving of all the good that’s coming your way!
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