Have you ever felt like a fraud, undeserving of your success or accomplishments?
Have you ever feared that others will discover you are not as competent as they believe you to be?
When things don’t go to plan, does self-criticism consume you?
If you have experienced these feelings, you might be suffering from imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is a situation where individuals doubt their abilities and accomplishments, fearing that they are not as competent as others perceive them to be.
It is a persistent feeling of inadequacy despite evidence of success, often leading to anxiety, stress, and self-doubt.
Whilst it can affect people of all ages, backgrounds, and professions, reports have shown however that it does disproportionality affect more women than men - with a recent Indeed survey showing that women were twice more likely than men to suffer symptoms.
The same report also showed that a massive 94% of people who have suffered from imposter syndrome haven’t discussed this at work – reasons being that they would be embarrassed to do so, feelings that it wouldn’t be taken seriously or concerns about their managers telling other employees.
As well as the impact on the individual, there are also impacts on the wider company with some of the impact showing through areas such as:
- Higher staff turnover
- Loss in productivity
- Employees avoiding applying for internal promotions.
Dr Valerie Young, an expert in imposter syndrome, uncovered five ‘competence types’, which she identified as the internal rules that people with the syndrome tend to follow:
- Perfectionists set excessively high standards for themselves, which they expect to obtain 100% of the time, thereby creating a cycle where even their best efforts aren’t good enough.
- They believe there is a right and wrong way to do things, with no room for a different outcome.
- They tend to believe that ‘if you want something doing right, you must do it yourself’.
The Natural Genius:
- Like the Perfectionist, they set their standards impossibly high, but also judge themselves on whether they get something right first time.
- They aim to master any new skills quickly, with minimal effort - and therefore if they need to work hard at something, view themselves as a failure.
- The Soloist defines competence as being able to do something unassisted. They care mainly about who has completed the task and believe that to achieve, they must turn down help.
- As they are unwilling to ask for help, they can struggle with volume of their workload.
- Experts need to know it all and believe competence is knowing everything. They believe that before they even start a task, that they need a comprehensive understanding of the subject and where they don’t know the answer to every single question, they blame themselves for being incompetent.
- They are likely to have a lot of formal and informal qualifications as there is always the drive to learn more, with the feeling no training is ever enough.
- This can manifest in ways such as not applying for a role unless they fit every single requirement in a job description.
The Superman / woman:
- The ‘Super’ pushes themselves harder than everyone else, measuring competence by things such as how many tasks they can juggle and excel in at once. If they fall short, they feel incompetent as they feel they should be able to handle everything.
- They set unrealistic standards and work on hypercharge – and whilst they often succeed in all areas, this leads to them over-working / over-committing, both in and out of work, judging themselves on the validation of working, rather than the work itself. This can often lead to burnout.
Some of the common symptoms across all five competence types are:
- Perfectionism and a fear of failure
- Ignoring or belittling of personal achievements
- Anxiety and stress
- Comparison to others and a difficulty accepting praise.
If the above is resonating with you, whilst we appreciate that imposter syndrome can be hard to overcome, some useful strategies can be:
- Recognise your achievements: Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, focus on your accomplishments and the skills that helped you achieve them. Celebrate your successes, no matter how small.
- Embrace imperfection: Recognise that nobody is perfect and that making mistakes is a part of the learning process. Instead of striving for perfection, strive for progress.
- Avoid comparisons: Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on your own progress and growth. Remember that everyone's journey is different, and you are on your own unique path.
- Seek support: Talk to friends, family, or seek external support about your feelings of self-doubt. Surround yourself with people who uplift and encourage you.
- Reframe negative thoughts: Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations. Instead of saying, "I'm not good enough," say, "I am capable, and I will continue to grow and learn."
Imposter syndrome is a relatively common experience that can lead to self-doubt and anxiety. However, by recognising our achievements, embracing imperfection, and avoiding comparisons, we can overcome it, and regain our confidence.