Many of us are concerned about not doing well enough in our professions, not earning adequate grades, or lacking the necessary knowledge and expertise to compete with our peers. We are concerned about what others think of us and whether we blend in or stick out among our friends or coworkers. While this is typical and to some extent normal. Well, some of us worry in illogical ways. When we have proof to the contrary, we worry about not being good enough. We logically disregard that evidence and continue to believe we are slipping behind the competition. These unfounded worries are all part of what is often referred to as “imposter syndrome.”
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome (IS) is a psychological state in which you believe you are not as capable as others. While this term is frequently applied strictly to intelligence and success, it also has associations with perfectionism and the social setting.
Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, both psychologists, coined the phrase in the 1970s. When the notion of IS was first established, it was assumed to apply mostly to high-achieving females. It has since been recognized as a more widespread experience.
History of Imposter Syndrome
The imposter phenomenon was first recognized in the United States in the 1970s when two psychologists frequently saw it in high-achieving professional women. Around 1978, Drs. Clance and Imes noticed that women in high-achieving jobs expressed greater self-doubt, ineptitude, and dread of future failure than their male colleagues. They observed that impostor syndrome affected both males and females over time.
What are the Signs of Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome manifests itself through a variety of emotions, thoughts, and physical symptoms. Typical thoughts and emotions include the following:
- Fearful of being exposed as a fake
- Believing that praises and accolades are given as a result of the audience being kind, rather than because they were earned
- Sensing an inadequacy for success
- Sensing that their success is due to chance rather than ability
- Anxiety or depression
- Feeling inadequately trained
Along with these internalized thoughts and feelings, there are outward indicators that you or others may notice.
These include the following:
- Positive feedback minimization
- Excessive Preparation
- Fear of failure prevents you from attempting.
- Others’ mistrust
As you can see, the phenomenon manifests itself in various ways and can significantly impact one’s decisions and behaviors. Clance and Imes discovered that women experience anxiety and sadness in addition to impostor syndrome in their investigations.
What are the Causes of Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is more prevalent when one is trying something new and under pressure to succeed. Clance and Imes thought that the impostor mindset develops due to variables such as gender stereotypes, early family dynamics, culture, and attribution style in their pioneering research of imposter syndrome. Since the first study, Imposter syndrome has been identified in persons of different ages, genders, and origins. Additionally, the list of contributory factors has expanded.
The primary reasons for Imposer Syndrome are as follows:
- Dynamic family relationships: Childhood expectations and the emphasis placed on success and perfection may stick with individuals for the rest of their lives.
- Cultural expectations: Varied cultures place a different premium on education, careers, and success.
- Personality characteristics: Imposter syndrome can develop as a result of perfectionism.
- Comparison: Comparing yourself to others might leave you feeling sad or insufficient if you are not attaining the same successes at the same rate.
Clance and Imes identified impostor syndrome via their study of women, but further research indicates that imposter syndrome is equally prevalent in men and women. Occasionally, women’s impostor syndrome may be traced back to their underrepresentation in corporate America. Women of color, in particular, are significantly underrepresented. Lack of role models can result in low self-esteem, a lack of peer support, and a sense of alienation—all of which can contribute to impostor syndrome.
What Symptoms Indicate Imposter Syndrome?
How can you tell if you suffer from impostor syndrome? While no formal diagnosis exists, the following is a checklist of frequent indications. Imposter syndrome is commonly related to trait anxiety, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). “Clinically, I don’t meet many patients with impostor syndrome who are not anxious,” Ervin adds.
Self-doubt pervades your past, present, and future experiences.
You have a constant dread of being “found out” or exposed as a phony, notwithstanding objective achievement. When you succeed, you credit it to good fortune or refer to it as a fluke. In place of delight and pride, you may experience relief or even sadness.
Factors at Risk during Imposter Syndrome
While anybody can develop imposter syndrome, several risk factors might enhance the chance, including the following:
- New difficulties: A fresh opportunity or recent accomplishment, such as a promotion, may cause an individual to feel unworthy or incapable of performing effectively.
- When an individual grows up with what appears to be a “better/gifted” brother or caretakers who alternate between praise and criticism, the individual may internalize feelings of inadequacy or uncertainty when confronted with difficult tasks.
- Being a member of a marginalized demographic group: Research indicates that persons who belong to distinct ethnic groups or face discrimination may be more susceptible to imposter syndrome.
- Suffering from sadness or anxiety: This is a frequent symptom of imposter syndrome. Additionally, impostor syndrome can result in feelings of worry, negative thinking, self-doubt, and self-sabotage.
5 Signs of Imposter Syndrome in Your Body
Impostor syndrome is usually characterized by certain fundamental characteristics, including an inclination to underestimate oneself, emotions of fraudulence, and dread of being found.
While these fundamental inclinations stay constant, underlying beliefs might alter how imposter syndrome emerges. Dr. Valerie Young asserts that individuals suffering from imposter syndrome assess their competence in five unique ways:
- The Exaggerator
The perfectionist is obsessed with how things are done and refers to an individual with unreasonably high standards of oneself and an unfathomably low tolerance for errors. Impostor syndrome is triggered in perfectionists when perceived errors, faults, or inconsistencies in their work are discovered. These triggers often arise as a result of perfectionists’ hypercritical tendencies.
- The Natural Genius
Natural genius is concerned with how tasks are completed, assuming that they should be completed swiftly and effortlessly. Natural geniuses anticipate becoming good at things without studying, preparing, or practicing. Their imposter syndrome manifests itself when they are required to work diligently to acquire knowledge, master abilities, or finish assignments.
- The Superman or Superwoman
Superman or superwoman is concerned with the number of tasks they can accomplish concurrently. They overcommit and expect to juggle all of their jobs and obligations effortlessly. Their imposter syndrome is triggered when they fall short of meeting their responsibilities or struggle to handle all of their responsibilities.
- The Expert
The expert defines success in what and how much they know, anticipating that they would possess significant knowledge in certain areas. The expert’s imposter syndrome is triggered when they encounter something novel or unfamiliar to them or when they meet someone they believe knows more than they do.
- The Soloist
The soloist is a term that refers to someone who is too preoccupied with who completes a task. They only feel accomplished when they do an assignment totally on their own. Receiving guidance, comments, assistance, or assistance from outside sources results in impostor syndrome in the soloist.
Effects of Impostor Syndrome on Mental Health
Individuals who suffer from imposter syndrome are more prone to mental health disorders such as anxiety and sadness. Additionally, they are more likely to have low self-esteem and low self-efficacy—defined as confidence in their performance and capacity to succeed—and are more prone to condition their self-worth on academic or professional achievement. Impostor syndrome can also have a detrimental influence on one’s physical and social well-being.
Adolescents who reported imposter syndrome were more likely to express suicidal thoughts or attempts, indicating that it may be particularly harmful in adolescents. Impostor syndrome is associated with pathological types of perfectionism, in which individuals create unreasonable expectations for themselves and feel angered, self-critical, and humiliated when they fall short of these self-imposed norms.
Additionally, individuals with impostor syndrome are more prone to exhibit neurotic characteristics, making them more sensitive to stress and unpleasant emotions such as wrath, anxiety, and shame. Impostor syndrome has also been associated with greater levels of professional discontent, professional burnout, and job stress.
Individuals suffering from imposter syndrome frequently exhibit bad work habits, either overworking themselves or delaying chores, which both hasten burnout and raise stress. They have emotions of fraudulence and may maintain a low profile at work or school since any acknowledgment, even good praise, can seem dangerous.
This inclination may force individuals to pass up promotion chances, therefore restricting their professional development. Individuals suffering from imposter syndrome may also self-sabotage, deliberately passing up opportunities, destroying their prospects, or leaving just before achieving their ambitions.
How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome?
Overcoming impostor syndrome requires acknowledging your potential and accepting responsibility for your accomplishments. Dr. Albers makes the following recommendations:
- Distinguish emotions from facts:
You will likely experience impostor syndrome at some time in your life. “Be prepared for those feelings,” Dr. Albers says. “Observe them, be conscious of them, and be prepared with a reaction.” Recognize that simply believing these ideas does not make them true. “If your mind replies, ‘I don’t understand what I’m saying,’ remind yourself that you know more than you believe and are capable of learning.”
- Keep a journal of your accomplishments:
It might be beneficial to have a concrete reminder of your accomplishments when you feel less than others. Store it in a separate folder when your manager sends you an email commending you on your outstanding work on a project. If your child crafts you a card expressing how wonderful a parent you are, hang it on the refrigerator where you’ll see it on days when nothing seems to be going right.
- Put an end to your comparisons:
Concentrate on evaluating your accomplishments rather than comparing them to those of others. Comparing your own life to the neatly manicured social media feed of an influencer, for example, is a certain way to feel inadequate.
- Invert impostor syndrome:
Bear in mind that intelligent, high-achieving individuals frequently suffer from impostor syndrome. Therefore, the fact that you identify it in yourself reveals a great deal about yourself. “True imposters lack this sensation,” Dr. Albers asserts. Allow that to serve as inspiration to go forward.
- Communicate with others:
Occasionally, a good conversation with someone familiar with and supportive of you might help you recognize that your impostor’s emotions are both natural and illogical.
- Consult a therapist:
A therapist can assist you in identifying impostor syndrome-related symptoms and developing new actions to overcome them. “Action is critical in overcoming this,” Dr. Albers explains. “It’s about not becoming paralyzed by the idea ‘I can’t do this,’ but rather taking action and moving forward.”
5 Fascinating Research Findings of Imposter Syndrome Psychology
- The self-perpetuating loop of impostor syndrome
Imposter syndrome can be difficult to overcome because individuals might become trapped in a vicious cycle. Fear of failing and of being discovered are the worst possible outcomes for someone suffering from impostor syndrome. This may result in substantial anxiety, and to avoid this, individuals create a variety of counterproductive coping methods, such as perfectionism and procrastination (Chandra et al., 2019).
These methods may result in success and positive reinforcement from others. This praise, however, is not absorbed since perfectionists credit their achievement to their diligence and high standards, whereas procrastinators attribute their success to chance at the last minute. This reinforces their conviction that they are an impostor, and a vicious cycle ensues, in which they become nervous about being discovered and resort to coping mechanisms to escape failing at all costs (Rakestraw, 2017).
- Imposter syndrome stifles success
Ironically, the vicious cycle of impostor syndrome might eventually lead to a great deal of success in one’s profession. However, increased achievement may not always result in a transformation in an individual’s internal perceptions about their ability. Rather than that, they may question how they came to be in such powerful positions, leaving them feeling like an even bigger phony.
They may delay seeking out or seizing new chances, preventing them from reaching their full potential (Chandra et al., 2019). By exaggerating their abilities and downplaying their accomplishments, individuals may unwittingly sabotage their professional advancement (Vergauwe et al., 2014; Mullangi & Jagsi, 2019).
- The impostor syndrome’s concealment
Imposter syndrome is associated with a sensation of extreme secrecy (Harvey, 1985) and humiliation. The fear of being discovered intensifies the need to conceal the ‘ugly truth’ due to the possibility that people would not accept and may reject it. As a result, many people suffer silently and alone (Chandra et al., 2019). (Matthews & Clance, 1985).
This has significant implications for how physicians and leaders may assist individuals with impostor syndrome management. Acknowledging and naming impostor syndrome enables individuals to speak more openly about it (Chandra et al., 2019). Doing so in a group setting may be useful and therapeutic (Bravata et al., 2019).
- The impostor syndrome’s etymology
The research that casts doubt on the validity of the term ‘imposter syndrome’ reveals discrepancies in the literature.
Clance and Imes (1978) coined the term ‘imposter phenomena,’ although popular literature and scientific study increasingly refer to it as ‘imposter syndrome‘ (Feenstra et al., 2020).
The term ‘syndrome’ may inadvertently induce customers to diagnose themselves and others with a disease (Feenstra et al., 2020). A probable result is that individuals may come to identify more strongly with having this syndrome,’ despite impostor syndrome not being a recognized psychiatric illness.
Doctors must be mindful of terminology’s influence on individuals and develop useful language.
- Imposter syndrome: Psychological and social therapy
Due to the lack of recognition of impostor syndrome as a mental disease, there is a shortage of research on evidence-based psychological therapies to treat it. Because impostor syndrome is associated with a high incidence of anxiety and despair, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is frequently utilized as a treatment strategy.
Although Bravata et al. (2019) assert the need for more research on both individual and group treatments.
Feenstra et al. (2020) argue that research should prioritize treatments at the social, interpersonal, and organizational levels. They advocate for larger efforts to combat social prejudices to enable and provide equitable opportunities and positions for all people, regardless of their age, gender, or ethnic origin.
What is the Best Treatment for Imposter Syndrome?
The individual’s circumstances determine the appropriate course of action. It may begin with addressing any medical or mental health issues that may be contributing to impostor syndrome. Certain dementia medications, such as donepezil (Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne), or rivastigmine (Exelon), have been shown to alleviate symptoms. Antipsychotic medicines such as aripiprazole (Abilify), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and pimozide (Orap) may provide relief from delusions and agitation. In certain situations, antidepressants known as SSRIs have been beneficial.
Some specialists recommend starting with treatment to assist the patient and their loved ones in managing the disease. With habilitation therapy, loved ones attempt to put themselves in the sufferer’s shoes to have a better understanding of how they feel. If the patient is fearful that the impostor may harm them, validation treatment provides a sense of security. Family counseling may also be beneficial. Attempting to convince someone who suffers from imposter syndrome that they are mistaken is futile and may bring further misery for everyone.
Family members should always attempt to demonstrate sympathy. Bear in mind that the situation is the source of the incorrect notion. You might attempt to divert imposter syndrome people’s attention with a favorite pastime. A soothing voice and gentle touch will demonstrate your support and assist them in adjusting to their new situation.