Imposter Syndrome - What Is It, Different Types and How to Deal With
08 Apr 2021 • 8 min read
Are you often feeling like a fraud?
While the question might seem harsh, research. shows that throughout their lives, approximately 70% of individuals will feel like a fraud at least once.
So, if your answer to the question was yes, know that you’re not alone and that there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Indeed, despite striving for the best, many of us happen to experience this nagging feeling that we haven’t earned our accomplishments and our skills aren’t worthy of others. As time goes, doubt creeps in, leaving us wondering whether we deserve our success or the recognition of our pairs.
This common phenomenon is called imposter syndrome.
In this article, we’ll detail what imposter syndrome is and list the different types of imposter syndrome. We’ll also explain how it can affect your life in the workplace. And finally, we’ll give you some tools to overcome imposter syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is the belief that you’re not worthy of your success and you’re not as skilled as others perceive you to be. By constantly making you doubt your abilities, skills, and accomplishments, imposter syndrome raises fears of being exposed. It is also often referred to as impostorism, impostor phenomenon, and fraud syndrome.
While it can affect anyone at any stage of their lives, this is a common psychological pattern among college students, graduates, and people starting a new or more challenging job. Note that this pervasive and unwarranted sense of insecurity can manifest itself in a few different ways as there are different types of imposter syndrome.
Different Types of Imposter Syndrome
In 1982, Dr. Valerie Young, an acclaimed and leading expert on the subject, identified five different types of imposter syndrome.
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome are often linked.
By definition, perfectionists are always striving for perfection, setting excessively high personal standards for themselves. Therefore, they are never satisfied.
They’re overly critical of themselves, always want to do better, and tend to focus on their mistakes. They often wonder how they can improve rather than appreciating their strengths and accomplishments. Now, we’re all about improvement and self-development. However, consistently focusing on your weaknesses rather than your strengths can severely affect your mental health leading to anxiety and depression.
Indeed, this self-critical thinking reinforces an unwarranted negative perception of their abilities and enhances their fear of inferiority, explaining the impact on their mental health.
These individuals always want to learn more and are rarely satisfied with their level of knowledge or understanding. They’re often experts in their field and possess a great depth of knowledge but frequently undermine their expertise. They’re consistently concerned with how much they know.
A minor lack of knowledge can tip them over the edge, leaving them feeling ashamed and fearing others will deem them to be inexperienced or unknowledgeable.
The soloist typically mistakes asking for help for amateurism. Therefore, they thrive better in an environment where they can be independent, rejecting any assistance others can offer.
They don’t like to rely on others to perform their job and believe their self-worth lies in their productivity. If they have to ask for help, they feel crushed, weak, and incompetent.
The Natural Genius
The natural genius is similar to the perfectionist because they set their internal bar extremely high. However, they also feel compelled to get everything right the first time around. Not only do they judge their performances based on their impossibly high expectations, but they also need to be fast and find the task easy enough to perform, hence the name ‘’natural genius’’.
Believing you should be able to accomplish any tasks proficiently the first time around is dangerous. It can create high levels of pressure and anxiety, especially as you fear being exposed, and lead to depression.
The Superwoman or Superman
The superwoman or superman feel like they don’t belong and don’t measure up to their colleagues. As a result, to face their insecurities, they always feel compelled to work harder. They often tend to overload themselves in the process and feel ashamed if they can’t handle the millions of tasks they’ve taken on.
An unmanageable workload coupled with the fear others will see them as being inadequate can end up harming their mental health and sometimes work relationships.
The Imposter Syndrome Test
Have you ever been told you micromanage? Do you find it difficult to delegate tasks? Do you find downtime unnecessary and feel at your best when you’re working? Do you like to excel without much effort? Do you feel like you don’t need anyone’s help?
If the answer to some of these questions is yes, you might have imposter syndrome.
If you believe you suffer from imposter syndrome, you can do the impostor syndrome test.
This test was created by Pauline Rose Clance, Ph.D. and professor of psychology, to help individuals assess whether they have imposter syndrome.
How Can Imposter Syndrome Affect Your Work
The lingering feeling of being a fraud can lead to destructive working habits.
Imposter Syndrome and a New Job
Imposter syndrome can manifest itself when you’re starting a new job.
Let’s describe a very common scenario:
You just passed an interview for a new job with flying colors. You felt very confident when you signed your contract. Yet, as you fill these new shoes, you have this nagging feeling in the pit of your stomach. You suddenly believe that you’re not good enough for the role and that they made a mistake when they decided to hire you. Worse, they’re going to find out soon. How embarrassing and what a failure you are!
Whether you have experienced this scenario before or not, this is a very common psychological pattern for people with imposter syndrome who are starting a new job.
The issue is this persistent feeling can negatively impact your productivity and your ability to perform the tasks you’re otherwise perfectly capable of handling. Indeed, the severe mental effects of imposter syndrome, including depression, are not conducive to productivity and efficiency.
Additionally, imposter syndrome can prevent highly qualified individuals from applying to a job they would excel at!
Imposter Syndrome and Work Relationships
Self-esteem and self-worth are paramount to healthy relationships. Unfortunately, the feeling of being a fraud and the fear of being discovered can lead you to trigger arguments unnecessarily. As you feel judged or rejected at work, you might push colleagues away. You might even refuse your manager’s assistance for fear of being found out.
Besides, the guilt that you’re feeling for thinking that you’re making the situation difficult for those around you may lead you to believe that you don't deserve to be there.
This negative attitude and mindset can put a strain on your relationship with your team or superiors as they struggle to understand your behavior.
Imposter Syndrome and Leadership
Imposter syndrome is particularly rampant in managerial and executive-level circles. Indeed, people with higher-level responsibilities often doubt their abilities and deservedness.
As you become a manager, your actions are more visible, and as a leader, you might believe that others expect you to be perfect. This can, in turn, lead to self-sabotaging or procrastination, impacting your performance and the organization’s efficiency.
Imposter syndrome can also prevent you, as a natural leader, from going after the promotion you deserve and seize incredible opportunities. And this mindset will negatively impact your career, your salary, and your self-esteem.
Imposter Syndrome and Personal Relationships
While imposter syndrome can affect you in the workplace, it can also affect relationships outside of work. And experiencing imposter syndrome when you’re with your friends or your partner can have damaging consequences on your personal life too.
For instance, you might feel like your friends don’t really like you and that you don’t belong or aren’t worthy of their friendship. You might also sometimes play an act only because you feel like this is what you need to do to fit in or please them.
Unfortunately, self-doubt in your personal relationships can lead to social withdrawal, isolation, and even severe depression.
How to Get over Imposter Syndrome?
Now that we've established that imposter syndrome can have destructive consequences on your personal and professional life, let’s look at some tips to overcome imposter syndrome.
Reach Out to Others
Most high achievers feel the same as you do but never dare to admit it.
While this might seem counterintuitive, sharing your feelings of shame with others can prove helpful. Not only will others relate to you better but admitting your fraudulent feeling can be extremely freeing.
Besides, make sure to reach out to supportive friends or family members as their encouragement and support can help boost your self-confidence and overcome imposter syndrome.
Remember your Past Achievements
Another great way to improve your self-confidence and self-esteem is to remind yourself of what you’ve achieved so far and how far you’ve come. Once you start listing all the things you’ve achieved until now, big and small, you’ll quickly realize you didn’t get this far because of luck but thanks to your persistence, hard work, and dedication.
Acknowledge that You’re Not Perfect
You’re not perfect, and that’s ok. Nobody is! Whatever your idea of perfection is, acknowledge that it is an unrealistic idea.
You’re a perfectionist and a high achiever; we get it. You like to deliver projects before deadlines and never ask for help; we understand.
Yet, recognizing you’re not perfect will help release the immense pressure you’re putting on yourself. For instance, you can accept assistance when someone offers, and you feel like you could use it. You could also choose to deliver a project before you "think" it is ready to be delivered. After all, if you listened to yourself, you’d always find things to improve!
Implementing these little tips will help you slowly let go of your need to be perfect and relieve the anxiety.
Try to remember that you're enough and the hard work you’re putting in is enough. Nobody but you set these unrealistic expectations, so give yourself a break by acknowledging there is no such thing as being perfect ;)
How Common is Imposter Syndrome?
As mentioned in the introduction, imposter syndrome is a common psychological pattern affecting approximately 70% of the population. Can Imposter Syndrome Lead to Depression?
Guilt, shame, fear of being exposed are all factors that can contribute to high levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, several studies have highlighted a clear link between imposter syndrome and depression. Indeed, as the person feels hopeless, unable to reach the level of knowledge or competence they want to have and never worthy, they can experience the desire to isolate themselves from the rest of their colleagues and friends, quickly spiraling into depression.
How Does Imposter Syndrome Develop?
The cause of imposter syndrome is often related to setting your internal bar excessively high and having unrealistic expectations for yourself.
Note that a new job, a promotion, or changing careers are all situations that can trigger imposter syndrome. How Does Imposter Syndrome Affect Relationships?
A study from Langford and Clance revealed that people experiencing imposter syndrome have more difficulties trusting others at a level allowing them to show their weaknesses. In fact, they struggle to trust others enough to risk their criticism. However, trust is the foundation of any thriving and healthy relationship, meaning the lack of trust combined with the fear of being judged can negatively impact personal and professional relationships.
Can Imposter Syndrome be a Good Thing?
Imposter syndrome can be a good thing as it can give you cues that you’re out of your comfort zone and you’re being challenged. This can, in some instances, provide the motivation you need to work harder, push yourself, and achieve your goal as you want to do better. It can even lead to real breakthroughs.
Besides, feeling fraudulent at work can spur people to improve their interpersonal skills to make up for what they perceive as a lack of competence or knowledge.
Finally, it can also be a sign you’re growing and expanding your knowledge. After all, as Aristotle once said, “The more you know, the more you know you don't know."
Imposter syndrome is the flip side of being successful, talented, or appreciated. Many successful people across the board have experienced imposter syndrome in their lives. Some famous examples include acclaimed celebrities such as Tom Hanks or successful CEOs like Howard Schultz.
So, if you ever doubt yourself, your capacities, your qualities, or your talent, remember you’re not alone and use the tools we provided above to combat this negative feeling. After all, if you’ve read this article, it means you’re willing to overcome it. That’s already half of the work done! Now onto the other half ;)