Have you ever felt like a fraud, unworthy or disconnected from your peers in professional settings? Despite your hard work and accomplishments, have you struggled with the sense that your successes were simply a matter of luck rather than a reflection of your true abilities?
Furthermore, do you find it difficult to accept praise, feeling guilty or unworthy of recognition for your achievements?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you might suffer from imposter syndrome and are not alone. Research has shown that at least 70% of the population will experience episodes of imposter syndrome at least once.
Imposter syndrome can be a crippling experience, causing individuals to feel inadequate, doubtful and incompetent, despite possessing significant education, skills, accomplishments, and expertise.
Individuals may place even greater demands on themselves to combat these feelings, striving to exceed even higher standards. This unrelenting pressure can have devastating effects on emotional and mental health, ultimately impacting one’s overall performance.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Dr Valerie Young, an expert on the subject and co-founder of the Imposter Syndrome Institute, categorised people who experience imposter syndrome into five main groups. In her book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive Despite It, she details the types, building on years of personal research
The 5 Types of “Imposters”:
While all individuals who experience imposter syndrome share some common traits, how this phenomenon manifests itself can vary widely, ultimately impacting the most effective approaches to treatment and coping strategies.
In this scenario, the individual sets very high standards for themself, and even if they fall short by a fraction, they begin to self-doubt and question.
This demand for perfection often permeates every aspect of their life. They tend to criticise and doubt their abilities when falling short or making a small mistake. That’s when the issue gets more significant because this can cause a spiral down the imposter rabbit hole instead of acknowledging success and hard work.
Individuals who identify with this imposter syndrome feel a relentless pressure to succeed in every area of their lives, driven by the belief that this is the only way to prove their worth and escape the imposter label.
They adopt a “superhero” mentality, convinced they must accomplish everything single-handedly, without assistance or support. Even minor setbacks or failures reinforce their conviction that they are frauds, compounding feelings of exhaustion and mental strain that can ultimately lead to burnout and severe harm to one’s overall well-being.
Learning and mastering new skills has always come easily for this persona.
It’s when they suddenly encounter a challenge or skills that are harder to master and take a little longer to harness that they start to doubt themselves and feel that they are an imposter.
These particular individuals see asking for help or accepting support as a sign of being an imposter. This type is also known as soloists; unless they achieve their successes alone, it’s a failure, and they are an imposter.
The mere act of asking for help triggers them.
If you fall under this category, you gather and collect as much information as possible to be an expert before you begin a task or job.
Trying to improve and expand skill sets and training is also another sign that you suffer from this condition.
This type of imposter fears that if they don’t know everything about the topic, then they are an imposter. A question they can’t answer will trigger these feelings.
No matter which category you feel you fit into, how to cope with the situation can be covered with generalised tips.
The first step is to acknowledge that you are having these feelings.
Try talking about it with someone you trust or a mentor. They may help you realise your feelings are unfounded by pointing out and praising your strengths and positive aspects.
This opening up allows others to share their experiences or feelings with you and connect, making it seem less lonely and overwhelming. Knowing that others also go through this kind of self-doubt and confidence crisis can be a comfort.
Try to find evidence to support your wild ideas that you are a fraud or an imposter.
Chances are that the feelings and thoughts taken as fact, without even substantiating it, are just that – thoughts and ideas. Similarly, seek evidence that proves the wild ideas are false- the positive approach, proof that you are good at what you are doing. Crush the niggling doubts.
As an imposter, one may often brush off compliments and successes, adding to the problem. Learn to accept praise and celebrate wins. This process will help you feel validated and show that others do not think you are a fraud.
The next time you receive praise and validation, make a mental or even a physical note so that you can refer to these positive words when those old familiar feelings come creeping in.
We’re not telling you to lower your standards, just adjust your expectations and let go of perfectionism.
Focus on your progress as an accomplishment and not perfection, which will help you avoid burnout and see your successes more easily.
While you try and work your way through these imposter feelings and find some kind of peace, remember that there is a possibility that they will rear their ugly heads.
When you change or start a new job, return from maternity leave, or circumstances around you change – they can all lead to feelings of being an imposter.
The key is accepting that and learning to deal with it. Identify your triggers and try to arrest them before they take over.
There is a high possibility that you will have experienced or will experience these feelings at some point in your life. Just remember to be kind to yourself and offer yourself the same grace you do others.
If you feel these feelings are taking over your life or are too overwhelming, a trusted and skilled therapist can offer much-needed support.