Imposter syndrome (“IS”), also known as imposter phenomenon (or impostor phenomenon), describes individuals who can not acknowledge their successes as being a result of their hard work and abilities.
People with imposter syndrome attribute their successes to luck or other external circumstances and feel that they have fooled everyone else.
They feel like a fraud, or imposter, and live in fear of being found out.
Imposter syndrome was first discovered by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s (source) when they noticed its prevalence in high achieving women.
Subsequent studies have shown that men and women suffer more or less equally.
While imposter syndrome is most widely understood in the context of work, especially in people who are newly promoted to a management position, but it is possible to suffer imposter syndrome in all areas of life, for example, within a romantic relationship.
Imposter syndrome is not a medically recognised condition.
However, it can lead to, or exacerbate, medical health conditions like anxiety, stress and depression.
Research varies widely on the exact proportion of the population that will suffer from imposter syndrome.
Most studies show that more than 50% of the population will suffer from it at some point in their lives, but there is little agreement on the exact figure.
A recent review of the research into imposter syndrome found that studies have shown that between 9% and 82% of the population suffer from imposter syndrome!
Sufferers of imposter syndrome are very critical of themselves and have feelings of inadequacy.
They are unable to objectively assess their own level of competence as their views are clouded by feeling like a fraud, and their persistent fear of failure.
Sufferers of imposter syndrome are more likely to suffer from burn out and that it can reduce job performance.
From a career perspective, sufferers of imposter syndrome will often fail to advocate for themselves or put themselves forward for promotions, leading to slower progression in their career.
A single cause of imposter syndrome has not been discovered.
It seems most likely that it is caused by a combination of your personality, your family and your work circumstances.
Anecdotally, psychologists find that people who are perfectionists or who suffer from anxiety disorders are much more likely to experience imposter syndrome.
The difference between self-doubt and imposter syndrome is how often and how severely feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt are felt.
It is normal to suffer from occasional bouts of self-doubt, especially in new or challenging situations.
Imposter syndrome is far more persistent. It is the continuing feelings of not being good enough that damage people’s mental health and self-confidence.
If you’re not sure if you’ve got imposter syndrome or not, let’s look at some of the typical ways that it manifests itself.
If you are a perfectionist, you may well be suffering from imposter syndrome.
Your drive to get things exactly right is probably driven by self-doubt and being overly critical of yourself.
People who consistently overwork often do so because they don’t believe that they deserve their position or fear that they will be ‘found out’, the exact same feelings that imposter syndrome generates.
Working in teams is difficult for people who experience imposter syndrome, as they see asking for help as a negative.
They fear that doing so will mean that others will think that they can’t do their job as opposed to being a normal part of life.
If you struggle to delegate, this can also be a sign of potential imposter syndrome.
The two typical reasons people struggle to delegate are:
Both of these point to perfectionism or lack of confidence.
Imposter syndrome suffers don’t ever believe that their work is good enough.
If you struggle to accept praise and if people compliment you either minimise or brush off the praise that is a strong signal you may have imposter syndrome.
Finally, if you always feel that it looks like everyone else finds things so much easier, then that is a sign of possible imposter syndrome.
Logically we all know that everyone has struggles and that things are probably more chaotic for them than they look from the outside but if you get this feeling frequently this may be a sign that you need to be careful.
If you spot the traits above frequently in your thinking, then you may well be suffering imposter syndrome.
Luckily, there are lots of effective ways to deal with it:
Typically, IS suffers don’t speak to anyone else about it, by doing this you are already breaking the mould.
The mere act of speaking to someone will help greatly.
If you don’t know what the goal is, it is easy to fool yourself that you haven’t reached it.
If you have clear goals you have an objective standard for success.
If you have success, be sure to reward yourself and celebrate.
This helps break the habit of seeking external validation to try to alleviate your feeling like a fraud and then dismissing the validation.
The most important conversation is the one you have with yourself!
Make a habit of reviewing your thoughts when you feel your IS getting worse and then changing the script.
If you do this repeatedly, it will help to change the way you think.
Nobody likes failing, but you need to learn to accept that it’s part of life and to take the lessons from it and then move on.
Ruminating on problems and mistakes only makes things worse.
Focus on the positive and fighting your perfectionist streak.
By reminding yourself about the things that are going well, you’ll balance up how you view things.
Let’s bring Imposter Syndrome out of the shadows and deal with it.
Doubting yourself is a natural part of growing and developing.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy or pleasant, but by speaking about it and asking for help it can be made so much less difficult.
Next time you catch yourself doubting yourself, make sure that you speak to someone about it.