Impostor syndrome is extremely common and is estimated that 70% of people will experience it at least once in their lives. This can look like, feeling like you are a fraud or an imposter, attributing your success to luck or external factors, or downplaying your own expertise. Impostor syndrome can appear in various different ways.
Dr. Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, identified five different types of impostors:
- The Perfectionist: Perfectionists are rarely satisfied and feel that their work or efforts should be better. Rather than celebrating their achievements or strengths, they tend to fixate on their flaws or mistakes. A perfectionist typically experiences high levels of anxiety, doubt, and worry especially when they are unable to achieve their goals.
- The Expert: Experts typically do not feel satisfied when completing a task until they feel that know everything about it or have mastered it. While they are often highly skilled and are always trying to learn more, the expert tends to underrate their own expertise and level of understanding.
- The Superhero: Superheroes can also be called “workaholics” due to their extreme efforts and pushing themselves to work as hard as possible. This often leads to burnout that affects their physical and mental well-being.
- The Natural Genius: Natural geniuses typically master new skills quickly and easily. They also tend to set excessively high goals for themselves and feel weak or crushed when they do not succeed or achieve their goals.
- The Soloist: Soloists tend to be very individualistic, independent, and prefer to work alone. They associate their self-worth with productivity and believe that asking for help is a sign of weakness or incompetence.
Risk Factors + Coping
Anyone can experience impostor syndrome, but there are certain risk factors can increase the likelihood, including:
- New challenges: A new opportunity or recent success such as a promotion may lead to the individual feeling undeserving or that they are unable to perform adequately.
- Family environment: When an individual grows up with what feels like a “better/gifted” sibling or caregivers that flip flopped between offering praise and being critical may internalize feelings of inadequacy or doubt when faced with challenging tasks.
- Being from a marginalized population group: Research shows that individuals from different ethnic groups or experience discrimination may be at a higher risk for experiencing impostor syndrome.
- Having depression or anxiety: This is common among individuals who have experienced impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome can also lead to individuals experiencing a sense of anxiety, negative thinking, self-doubt, and self-sabotage.
While there is no specific treatment for impostor syndrome, there are multiple steps individuals can take to help manage and cope with these feelings related to impostor syndrome.
- Talk about it: Talking about it or sharing your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, colleague, or therapist can help the individual develop a more rational view of themselves. Talking about it can also help with destigmatizing it as well as increasing awareness of symptoms, thoughts, and feelings related to it.
- Questioning or challenging negative thoughts: This is another helpful way to cope with feelings related to impostor syndrome. Talking to others may help you think in a more rational way, but also try asking yourself, “Are my thoughts rational?” Seeking out a therapist who uses cognitive-behavioral therapy and techniques can further help you challenge unhelpful thinking patterns as well as incorporate positive thoughts by recalling and celebrating current and past achievements and recognizing positive traits and strengths about yourself.
- Stop comparing and reduce social media usage: Trying this will help reduce those feelings of not being good enough or feeling inferior. Comparison and social media tend to go hand in hand whether it is comparing yourself to a friend, fitness model, or relationship, or trying to portray an image of yourself that does not match who you really are. These typically increase the feelings of being a fraud or inadequate.
- Accept your feelings: Instead of fighting, try to lean in and accept your feelings related to impostor syndrome. Once you accept both your strengths and weaknesses you can begin the process of unpacking these thoughts and core beliefs that are holding you back. Learning to accept that sometimes things go wrong sometimes can lead to an increase in resilience and mental well-being