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Imposter Syndrome

To start, imposter syndrome is a very real phenomenon. Like a lot of mental health terms, you might have heard of imposter syndrome, but might not be familiar with it enough to understand how it can apply to you. If you have found yourself thinking, “I am a phony, what if they find out that I am a fraud?” or silently doubting your capabilities despite success that indicates otherwise, you most likely have experienced this internal psychological experience at some point in your life.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is characterized by the following:

  • Persistent feelings of inadequacy and incompetency
  • Difficulty internalizing success and accomplishment
  • Negative self-talk
  • Extreme self-doubt in areas of objective success 
  • Fear of being exposed as a fraud or phony
  • Feel unworthy of success 
  • Self-sabotage and setting unrealistic goals
  • Accrediting external factors as the source of achievement such as luck 
  • Predicting or manifesting embarrassment
  • Hypersensitivity to criticism
  • Downplaying talent, skills, or expertise 
  • Preoccupation with minor mistakes

Is it just self-doubt?

It is important to note that imposter syndrome can often be confused with self-doubt; a little self-doubt can go a long way when it helps us to adapt, produces more intention about the skills we need to complete a task, and motivates us to do better. The imposter phenomenon distorts self-doubt until it is not developmentally appropriate and is pervasive to the extent of causing anxiety, depression, and burnout. Dr. Young, an expert on imposter syndrome and the co-founder of Imposter Syndrome Institute, distinguishes it further, “By over-identifying with [failure], under-identifying with [success], feeling entitled to neither and fearing both, [people] are denied an accurate, internalized picture of their own abilities which, ultimately renders them unable to learn from failures, embrace their successes, and exorcise the erroneous and crippling view of themselves as intellectual imposters.” (1) She coined five types of imposter syndrome (2):

The Five Types of Imposter Syndrome

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The Expert

This type relies on knowledge, where the focus is on what and how much of it you have. One might find that they feel like a fraud because they haven’t achieved mastery in a particular area, they don’t meet every single education requirement for a job, or consuming certificate after certificate, training after training, with no end in sight to feel qualified and competent enough.

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The Superhuman

This type pertains to the roles one plays or the amount of ‘hats’ they put on. One might find that they constantly seek and prioritize external validation over internal self-worth or experience shame/guilt if they fall short in any role.

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The Perfectionist

This type focuses on how something turns out. One might find that they hyper fixate on a minor flaw or the 2% off a perfect score or hold themselves to impossible standards.

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The Soloist

This type focuses on accomplishing tasks alone, not trusting others to help or trusting that others have the competency. One might find they fit into this type if you struggle delegating tasks, asking for help, or avoiding team work. You might be scared to ask for help because this is interpreted as weakness.

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The Natural Genius

This type relies on the feeling that you are intrinsically competent and intelligent. It can breed frustration when tasks or ideas are not completed or understood with ease and speed. You might find that you self-deprecatingly compare yourself to others who you deem intelligent, become easily stressed and/or frustrated if something does not come right away to you, or failure at the first try means you are a failure.

Strategies for success

One or all of these types might resonate with you. If so, here are some strategies to help address your imposter syndrome, allowing you to accept you are worthy of success:

Blue Transparent Circle Label and verbalize it! Imposter syndrome often breeds shame, which acts as a barrier to opening up about what they are experiencing. While it can be difficult to do so, enlist others to help you, whether it is a therapist, a friend, a mentor, talking it through can reduce feelings of loneliness and gather a more accurate, objective picture of your success and accomplishments. Use others as a sounding board and be open-minded as they share their perception of who you are. 

 

Blue Transparent Circle Be Kind to Yourself! Practice self-compassion and mindfulness. Find more helpful and constructive ways to focus on your internal self-worth vs the external need for validation. Learn to recognize and accept the feelings accompanied with this experience. Identify intrinsic value rather than tying your value to external success and accomplishment. Detach yourself from negative core beliefs that limit you. 

 

Blue Transparent Circle Rewrite Your Narrative! Reframe the negative, unhelpful thinking patterns into more self-affirming, healthy thought processes. Ask yourself: Is this narrative helpful? Is it valid? Does it make sense that you are a phony given your accomplishments? Identify the internal dialogue that triggers the imposter phenomenon and write a narrative that focuses on your strengths, not your perceived deficits. 

 

Blue Transparent Circle Accept Progress Over Perfection! Recognize the beauty in the fact that you have the capacity for both growth and failure. Developing more knowledge and growing means more than getting it right the first time. Learn to embrace success on a spectrum not as an absolute. Recognize that mistakes are a normal, human concept; this is a ubiquitous issue that has been present since the dawn of humankind. Live in the present, not in regret. Perfection shows you care, but don’t’ care so much that it costs you your mental and emotional well-being. 

 

Blue Transparent Circle Learn to Be Comfortable With Both Failure and Success! Share your failures with others in order to experience a more realistic view of success. Let constructive criticism fuel you to do better and recognize proper boundaries and expectations, but do not let it weigh you down with a blanket of shame and self-loathing. Recognize value in failure; failure drives change and empowers us to stay the course. Learn to celebrate success and give yourself credit for even the smallest wins. It was Winston Churchill who said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”.

 

Blue Transparent Circle Compliment, Not Compare and Criticize! While it will take some getting used to, learn to compliment others instead of comparing yourself to them; stop at the compliment to them before it is an insult to you. For example, instead of, “they are so good at their job, I could never measure up”, lose the self-deprecating language and merely say, “they are good at what they do!”. Accept positive feedback and learn to give yourself some too. Instead of, “I cannot do anything right”, think, “I am learning in the best ways I can”. 

References:

1. valerie@impostorsyndrome.com. (2023, March 20). My Cure for Impostor Syndrome – Impostor Syndrome Institute. Impostor Syndrome Institute. https://impostorsyndrome.com/articles/my-cure-for-impostor-syndrome-in-1958-and-now/ 

2. valerie@impostorsyndrome.com. (2023a, March 20). 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome – Impostor Syndrome Institute. Impostor Syndrome Institute. https://impostorsyndrome.com/articles/5-types-of-impostors/

Meet The Author

Michaela Quinley, Clinical Therapist at Sea Glass Mental Health

MICHAELA QUINLEY

MC, LAC

Meet The Author

Michaela is a Clinical Counselor at Sea Glass Mental Health. She works with teen, couples, and adult populations. Michaela specializes in treating anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

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