Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Boosting Confidence and Mental Health
Written by: Zafra Aswar Ali
When you think of your achievements, do you feel proud of yourself, or do you feel like you just got lucky? If you feel the latter, then you are not alone. This is known as imposter syndrome which makes you feel like a “fraud” for what you have achieved so far and is often present among those with numerous accomplishments. Let us explore in detail what is imposter syndrome, the types of imposters, characteristics, causes, and some ways to overcome this phenomenon.
Defining Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome, also identified by various other terms such as imposter phenomenon, imposterism, and fraud syndrome, is a psychological condition that is experienced by many individuals and has a major impact on mental health and progression in life. This phenomenon makes people self-doubt their achievements as though they are “faking” their achievements as well as develop the feeling that others around them are more knowledgeable.
To find out who is more impacted by imposter syndrome, a famous study on “The Imposter Phenomenon” (that later became the foundation for future research concerning self-worth) was conducted by psychologists named Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. It was revealed that imposter syndrome was common among high-achieving women specifically in environments where men were dominant as well as among ethnic minority groups. However, recent research findings suggest that irrespective of gender and other demographics, imposter syndrome affects everyone similarly although their levels of achievements and recognitions vary from each other. In addition, it has been found that 82% of people can be affected by imposter syndrome.
It is noteworthy that imposter syndrome is not a mental health condition that is clinically diagnosed, but it can lead to high levels of anxiety and depression causing an individual to perform poorly. Apart from this, a common misconception of imposter syndrome is people refuse to accept their success. On the flip side, it is a situation where people find it difficult to acknowledge that their achievements are solely due to their hard work. Another false belief is imposter syndrome is merely a state of mind. But the environment also plays a major role in the development of this syndrome, especially in competitive work settings.
The 5 Types of Imposters
1. The Perfectionist
There is a close connection between perfectionism and imposter syndrome. Perfectionists tend to have a sense of dissatisfaction although they have achieved many of their goals because of the high standards they hold about themselves. Moreover, they may face troubles in accepting their mistakes and may avoid new challenges due to the fear of not being perfect from the beginning
2. The Expert
Expert imposters tend to acquire information by doing the maximum research before beginning to apply for an educational course or employment to prove their level of knowledge. Despite this being an advantage, the longing to have the necessary expertise can keep such imposters from seeking new opportunities until all the requirements are fulfilled thus leading to imposter syndrome.
3. The Soloist
Soloists can be hesitant to seek assistance from others due to the sense of independence they hold as well as the thought that asking for help invalidates their skills or efforts. Such imposters must learn that seeking help is not a sign of weakness and that doing that in the appropriate situations is indeed a benefit. If they fail to understand this, they may have a hard time working in teams.
4. The Natural Genius
Natural geniuses are those who have always achieved success easily since their childhood. Therefore, when these individuals mature, they may find it difficult to acknowledge that success cannot be always achieved effortlessly. This in turn becomes a cause for them to experience imposter syndrome as they develop the notion that their discomfort while progressing towards their goals is because they lack something, specifically when it is challenging.
5. The Superhero
Superheroes or superhumans have the constant urge to prove themselves and overburden themselves with a lot of work. They are always under pressure to be successful in their personal and professional lives and may develop imposter syndrome if there is no balance between both. Such people are identified as workaholics and find it difficult to say no. Thus, they are susceptible to burnout.
Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome
Feelings of self-doubt
Despite the accomplishments of those with imposter syndrome, they may question their worth quite frequently and lack confidence at some point in their lives.
As perfectionism and imposter syndrome go hand in hand, most imposters are perfectionists who set high standards for themselves and get disappointed when they fail to achieve them due to their strong desire to be perfect in all aspects.
Fear of Failure
Imposters have a fear that they would be exposed as frauds which can cause them to procrastinate, be over-prepared, or avoid taking up new challenges. This can result in anxiety and stress.
Downplaying the Achievements
Those with imposter syndrome tend to undervalue their success and think that anyone can achieve them effortlessly. This can also lead to comparison with others who are more successful.
Causes of Imposter Syndrome
Based on the features concerning imposter syndrome, it is crucial to be enlightened about what factors can potentially initiate or aggravate imposter syndrome.
Family – children growing up in a family that is overprotective, or controlling, are likely to develop imposter syndrome.
Cultural and societal expectations – the norms set by society and various cultures about academics, employment, or overall success can cause imposter syndrome in an individual.
Environmental factors – a highly competitive or new environment concerning work or studies can lead to imposter syndrome.
Current mental health status – a person who is already suffering from mental health issues such as anxiety and depression is prone to developing imposter syndrome.
How to Tackle and Overcome Imposter Syndrome?
Dealing with and overcoming imposter syndrome is quite challenging, but the below-mentioned tips can be beneficial in this regard.
Acknowledge what you feel
This is the first step to overcoming imposter syndrome because failing to do so can make the process difficult. This can be achieved by self-reflecting or journaling
Get it off your chest
Opening up to someone trustworthy about your feelings is another effective way of coping with imposter syndrome. Sometimes, even the person with whom you share your feelings may feel the same and make you realise that you are not the only one experiencing this.
Set realistic goals
Establishing goals that are not achievable is not useful in the long run. So, make sure to set goals that align with your capabilities and celebrate your success one at a time.
Change your perspectives on failure
Do not be demotivated by your mistakes and failures. Consider them as an opportunity for learning and growth because mistakes are your best teacher and failure is the stepping stone to success.
In the process of working on your goals, it is important to be kind to yourself. Do not pressure yourself into a specific timeline and allow negative thoughts that question your abilities to conquer your mind.
Seek professional assistance
If talking to a loved one or any other strategy is not very effective for you in overcoming imposter syndrome, then do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional.
Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that can vastly affect your mental health due to feeling of self-doubt that potentially obstructs your path toward success. Hence, it is important to be aware of the causes and features of imposter syndrome as well as various effective strategies that you can follow to overcome it. Keep in mind that you are not the only one who feels this way and embrace this feeling as an opportunity for self-growth and learning.