Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Sep 9


What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is more common than you might think. Although, for a long time it was one of those things that was “taboo” to talk about. The idea of imposter syndrome emerged in the 1970s by two psychologists (Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance) and was originally thought to affect mostly high-achieving women. It has since been recognized and acknowledged that imposter syndrome does not only affect women, it can affect anyone.

Imposter syndrome is the internal experience of believing you are not enough. It has direct links to perfectionism and is often associated with self-doubt. There are a number of characteristics associated with imposter syndrome, which you can review below, but it is essentially feeling like a fraud. A person feels like their abilities are not enough and that they don’t belong. They fear that someone will find out they are a fraud and they will be exposed.

Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome

  • You have self-doubt

  • You are not able to realistically assess your competence and skills

  • You fear that you won’t live up to expectations

  • You are a perfectionist

  • You are an overachiever

  • You feel like a fraud

  • You have a fear of being discovered or exposed

  • You have difficulty internalizing success

  • You apologize for yourself when you didn’t actually do something wrong

  • You find the fear of failure paralyzing

  • You find it hard to accept praise

According to Dr. Valerie Young, there are five types of imposter syndrome.

The Perfectionist: The perfectionists is never satisfied and always feels they could be better. Their goals and standards are not realistic and for that reason, they tend to focus on mistakes or flaws. They are known to put a lot of pressure on themselves and may even avoid trying new things if they don’t believe they can do it perfectly the first time.

The Expert: The expert is committed to learning everything there is to know about something and are never content with their level of understanding. Usually, the expert is highly skilled but downplays their own expertise. They typically spend so much time pursuing more information that they end up devoting more time to the main task.

The Natural Genius: The natural genius often set lofty goals and then feel disappointed when they don’t succeed, even on the first try. They typically pick up new skills effortlessly and for that reason they believe that they should understand new materials and processes right away. If something doesn’t come easy or they fail at something, they feel extremely ashamed or embarrassed.

The Soloist: The soloists believe they can handle everything on their own. They are very individualistic in nature and their self-worth stems from productivity. They steer clear of asking for help as they believe that is a sign of weakness or incompetence.

The Superhuman: The superhuman always feels inadequate unless they are pushing themselves to the limit. Competence is linked to their ability to succeed in every role. They work as hard as they can and expend as much energy as possible on every single role.

Starting to wonder if you have imposter syndrome? Imposter syndrome does not discriminate, it can affect anyone, no matter their social status, background, skill level or the degrees they hold. It tends to impact high-achieving individuals the most (e.g. PhD students). It is estimated that anywhere from 9% to 82% of people experience imposter syndrome with at least 70% of people experiencing at least one episode in their lifetime. You can take a short quiz at the end to determine if you’ve experienced imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome can result in negative thoughts and feelings, which can impact a person’s self-image. It is critical to understand that just because you feel like an imposter, does not mean that you cannot harness those feelings. Keep reading to learn about seven ways you can win the battle with imposter syndrome.

Seven ways to win the battle with imposter syndrome

1. Know the signs of imposter syndrome

As the saying goes, knowledge is power. Sometimes thoughts of self-doubt are unconscious and you may not even be aware they are happening. It is important to acknowledge the thoughts to yourself and potentially other people. When you say something out loud or to another person, it becomes real for a lot of people. Recognizing the signs and characteristics of imposter syndrome is one of the first steps towards overcoming imposter syndrome.

2. Separate feelings from facts

Failing to separate feels from facts can be destructive and damaging to your self-worth and confidence. For example, just because you feel stupid, does not mean that you are stupid. That’s why it is important to truth check your thoughts and ask yourself, is that a fact or is that how I feel?

3. Distinguish humility and fear

Humility is the characteristic of being humble, while fear is a behaviour. It is important to understand if your humility is warranted or if it is rooted in fear. For example, there is taking humility in your hard work and accomplishments but there is also feeling overcome with fear because of them. Remember, it is possible to feel worthy without feeling entitled. Own your accomplishments and stop making excuses for them (e.g. “it was just luck”).

4. Act like you belong

Acting like you belong can empower individuals to adopt confidence, competence and an optimistic mindset. It essentially reminds people not to wait until they feel ready because courage comes from taking risks. As Wayne Gretzky eloquently said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Even if you don’t feel confident on the inside, projecting confidence on the outside will transform your experience and interaction with other people. In turn, will make you feel a greater sense of belonging.

5. Boost Your Confidence

Research found that what you say to yourself actually can change the way you see yourself. Positive affirmations are a good way to boost your confidence. Positive affirmations can be anything from “I am amazing” to “I am good at my job.” Make a conscious decision to be confident and constantly remind yourself that you are good at what you do and you are an expert. Psychologists have found that repeating affirmations can improve stress and anxiety and help build a bridge in your subconscious mind.

6. Track your success

When you feel like an imposter, one of the hardest things to grasp is the role you play in your own success. That’s why it is important to track your success, wins, and achievements in some sort of document. Academics, typically do this already through their CV, where they track awards, grants, and publications. Success can be tracked in so many different ways and you can even create metrics for yourself. Having a document to go back and look at is a great way to boost confidence and squash those feelings associated with imposter syndrome.

7. Be kind to yourself

Everyone needs to be kinder to themselves. No one is a bigger critic than oneself and negative self-talk is not good for stress or anxiety. It is very important to adopt an inner voice that is respectful and kind. It is also important to make a conscious effort to catch negative thoughts before they fully develop. Remind yourself that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes, that’s just part of being a human. Think about all the times someone else has made a mistake and think about how you reacted. You probably didn’t even think twice about someone else’s mistake, so why are you so hard on yourself when you make a mistake? The likelihood of other people thinking about that mistake is very slim. Imposter syndrome can take up a lot of space with negative thoughts, so be kind to yourself and eliminate that negativity.

Most people have experienced symptoms associated with imposter syndrome at some point in their life. For some the feeling last a few weeks (e.g. when starting a new job), while others it can last a lot longer. Know the signs and feelings associated with imposter syndrome is a powerful first step in combating the thought pattern that you are not enough or are a fraud. You will never overcome imposter syndrome, so stop trying. You need to separate feelings from facts, distinguish been humility and fear, act like you belong, boost your confidence, track your success, and last but certainty not least be kind to yourself! We’re all human, and humans are far from perfect, remember that.

“The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter” - source

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