What is impostor syndrome?
Have you ever felt like a fraud? As if your colleagues or loved ones would suddenly discover that you are not who you claim to be? As if the whole world would finally realize that you don’t deserve your achievements because they are only due to luck.
These feelings are a phenomenon that is unfortunately widespread in the world. You have just experimented with what is called the Impostor Syndrome. (IS)
The term first appears in 1978 in the article “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” by two psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne Ament Imes at Georgia Slate University.
You are not alone with your IS. A study published in The Journal of Behavioral Science explains that 70% of the population is confronted at least once in their lifetime with the imposter syndrome.
Contrary to what is often claimed there is no gender difference, men and women are equally affected.
IS is not only related to the world of work; it affects all spheres of our lives, such as family and relationships.
Celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Maya Angelou, or even Michelle Obama have suffered from IS at some point in their lives.
Many entrepreneurs, some of whom, such as Australian billionaire CEO Mike Cannon-Brookes, have confirmed that they are also affected by this feeling.
In short, the impostor syndrome is the feeling of being a liar, a scam—the sensation of never deserving what you achieve.
I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’ Maya Angelou
What are the causes of IS?
This syndrome is mostly related to low self-esteem, leading to a systematic belittling of one’s own skills and successes.
By implication, this affects your self-confidence and, therefore, your resilience in coping with your fears (fear of failure, fear of success, fear of other people’s opinions, etc.).
It can also lead to quite common procrastination, as people are afraid of being unmasked if they succeed.
Procrastination is such a situation that helps to avoid this possible problem, generating at the same time anxiety and doubt.
On the other hand, one of the most frequent defensive strategies is over-investment to highlight the enormous amount of work done and not the skills or even the talent.
In the worst scenario, this long-term strategy can lead to burn-out.
Impostor Syndrome Consequences
- Lack of self-confidence
Is it a pathology?
IS is neither a disease nor a pathology. It does not need to be treated with medication, except in some instances due to severe consequences such as burn-out or depression, but then it is no longer IS.
In the original article by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, the term “syndrome” never appears. The term “phenomenon” is used.
You can find the complete article in the “source” section at the end of the paper.
Symptoms: How to identify it?
Before you can deal with it, you need to be aware of it. Learning to identify the signs and symptoms of IS is the first step to getting out of the tunnel.
In order to best determine if you are suffering from IS, I have created a test to help you find out if you are affected. This test takes about 5 minutes.
Impostor Syndrome Quiz: Free and Get Instant Results:
5 Different Types of IS
Dr. Valerie Young is an internationally-known speaker, author, and leading expert on the impostor syndrome. In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, she defined five different categories of people affected by IS due to decades of research.
1. The Perfectionist
The perfectionist is probably the profile most encountered when it concerns IS. With unstable self-esteem, an enormous desire to be recognized and to succeed, and choosing objectives that are almost impossible to achieve, they are the ideal target to experience the feeling of fraud.
Even when a perfectionist achieves his goal, he will never be delighted with the result, thinking that he could have done better and faster.
They usually suffer from a very high level of anxiety, and are uncompromising with themselves, and do not forgive themselves any mistakes.
2. The Soloist
These people want to show their worth by working alone and refusing any assistance. They have an individualistic nature and do not wish to delegate their tasks to others.
They tend to think that outside help is proof of weakness, unfortunately in the worst situations, they can be affected by burn-out, having never been able to ask for help or have accepted that it was impossible to do everything alone.
Being myself concerned, I like to remember the famous African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
3. The Natural Genius
These individuals are similar to the perfectionists. However, there are some notable differences. While they set their goals excessively high, they also want to succeed on the first try and in record time.
They do not accept failure, which they see as a personal attack, and feel deeply hurt.
4. The Superwoman/man
This is probably the profile that is the most vulnerable to burn-out in professional circles.
These people see themselves as inferior to others, and to compensate for their lack of skills, they work harder and harder to try to make up the difference.
They are in an external validation process because they lack hindsight and do not accept their qualities and efforts.
5. The Expert
These individuals feel that they are never expert enough. i. e. they are never satisfied with their knowledge and experience level, always trying to learn more.
They are convinced that the world will discover their mistakes or deficiency.
Although these people are often very competent in their respective fields, they underestimate their own abilities, making them especially vulnerable to IS.
How to cope
We will distinguish two main approaches that have been proven to work with IS:
– A coaching program will allow to work on the revaluation of self-esteem, regain confidence, and work on procrastination and on the fact of no longer being dependent on the opinion of others.
– When more serious mental disorders are present, such as burn-out or depression, behavioral and cognitive psychotherapy is clearly to be preferred.
Even if you feel like you’ve always been like this, IS is not inevitable. You can eradicate this feeling, but working on yourself is essential.
This phenomenon is based on bad habits of thinking that only maintain this pattern.
Although mainly linked to a false belief system, the impostor syndrome is nevertheless relatively simple to overcome.
Happy Changing my friends.