The Busy Girl's Guide

What is Imposter Syndrome and How Can You Beat It?

Are you a perfectionist? Do you believe that no matter how much success you achieve, you could always be doing more? Do you feel like a fraud among your co-workers or classmates, as if you don’t belong with them? You might be suffering from a phenomenon known as Imposter Syndrome.

What Is Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills”. The term was first introduced by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes in the article “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” (1978). It was first used to describe a concept found in a study of high achieving women; however, imposter syndrome can affect both men and women of varying demographics.

Different Types of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome can manifest itself in many different ways and a person does not have to exhibit all of the behaviors to experience it. Some scholars have separated the Imposter Syndrome into five different categories, although one individual may experience symptoms from each category:

  • The Perfectionist feels like their work has to be 100 percent correct at all times. These imposters set impossibly high goals and when they fail, they believe it’s because they are not cut out for the job.
  • The Superman/woman pushes themselves to work extremely hard to make up for the fact that they feel unworthy of their position. They tend to overwork themselves to the detriment of their health and personal relationships.
  • The Natural Genius prides themselves on being able to complete tasks quickly, on the first try and with little difficulty. These types of people were normally described as the smart child in the family and when they have trouble achieving a task, it can result in extreme feelings of shame and self-doubt.
  • The Soloist believes that if they ask for help they will be exposed as being a fraud. The usually have an “I don’t need help from anyone” attitude and prefer to accomplish things on their own.
  • The Expert measures their worth on what and how much they know.  Although they may have years of experience,  they will always believe they don’t know enough and fear being exposed as unknowledgeable.  

Studies have shown that major life changes such as going to college or starting a new career can evoke feelings of self-doubt and insecurity, eventually leading to the Imposter Syndrome. In addition, many people also suffer from related anxiety and depression. Dealing with Imposter Syndrome may seem like a never ending cycle but there is hope. It is possible to overcome it.

How to Beat It

Although it’s not considered a mental disorder, the ways to beat Imposter Syndrome can help with the anxiety and depression that comes along with it. One of the main things you can do is to simply talk with someone about it. Those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome tend to keep their fears and insecurities to themselves. Speaking with someone, a friend or even a counselor can help one learn to accept that they’ve worked hard and deserve the success they’ve achieved.

Remember to give yourself a little credit. Don’t be afraid to celebrate getting an A on that test or scoring a huge promotion at work. You worked hard for it, therefore, you deserved it. There’s nothing wrong with taking credit for your own work. Along with giving yourself credit when you succeed, you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you fail. Failing is part of the learning process. Making mistakes doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve, but only that you just have to change your approach.  

It can be easy to compare yourself to others, but realizing that you aren’t alone in this can be helpful in tackling those fears. Studies show that up to 70% of people experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives. There have been many public figures who’ve expressed their struggles with Imposter Syndrome. Maya Angelou, Michelle Obama, and even Serena Williams have all felt that they didn’t measure up to those around them at some point in their lives. If it seems crazy to think that these accomplished women could ever have doubts about their success, then it’s easy to see how your own fears could be unwarranted. 

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"You can’t make decisions based on fear and the possibility of what might happen." - Michelle Obama

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