Imposter syndrome (IS) involves the belief that your success is due to luck or other external factors and not your competencies and qualifications. People who experience imposter syndrome struggle with chronic feelings of incompetence and inadequacy, thinking that they are not as skilled as other people see them.
The term “imposter syndrome” was introduced by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in 1978 to describe the internal struggles of high-achieving women. However, it has been recognized as a universal human experience since then. It is believed that about 70 percent of people will experience at least one episode of IS sometime in their lives.
Imposter syndrome involves a person’s inability to internalize success and see themselves as capable and competent. So, even if you perform at high levels and achieve success, you cannot internalize that success and start attributing it to your skills, qualifications, or expertise. In other words, your beliefs of own incompetence are so strong that they don’t change despite the evidence to the opposite.
While there is nothing wrong with the occasional self-doubt, imposter syndrome can have adverse effects on your performance, mental health, relationships, and well-being in general.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome most likely results from various factors such as specific personality traits (perfectionism), upbringing, and culture. It is believed that imposter syndrome stems from a family background with rigid parents who valued achievement above everything else. Also, a cultural pressure to achieve, compete, and be successful can trigger imposter syndrome regardless of age, gender, social status, skill level, or expertise.
Signs of Imposter Syndrome
People with imposter syndrome tend to feel like they don’t belong where they are, setting unreasonably high goals and beating themselves up when they fail short. They tend to downplay their abilities, expertise, and knowledge.
People who struggle with imposter syndrome also tend to be very sensitive to criticism, even if it is a constructive one. They lack confidence in their abilities, fearing that others will find them out as phony regarding their skill level, expertise, social status, etc.
The most common signs of imposter syndrome involve:
- Constant self-doubt
- Accrediting your achievement to luck, fluke, or other external factors
- Feeling like a fraud
- Fear that you are going to be found out as a con
- Minimizing own success
- Feeling extremely disappointed when you fail
- Looking for validation in authority figures (a parent, teacher, or boss)
Although, for some people, beliefs that fuel imposter syndrome can be motivation to perform better, they usually generate anxiety, stress, depression, and self-esteem issues.
Imposter Syndrome and Anxiety
Anxiety is often deep-rooted in our false beliefs and negative self-perception. Imposter syndrome is frequently associated with generalized anxiety disorder and social anxiety as it stems from pervasive self-doubt and negative beliefs about own competence, skills, and knowledge.
Persons with social anxiety often feel inadequate and as though they don’t belong in social situations, always fearing that people with discover their social incompetence.
Eventually, perpetual feelings of anxiety can lead to low self-esteem and depression.
Coping with Imposter Syndrome
While there is no one-size-fits-all treatment plan for IS, there are some strategies to help you challenge your negative thoughts and manage imposter syndrome.
1. Question and Reframe Your Thoughts
Every time you experience negative thoughts about your abilities, mindfully observe your thoughts. Ask yourself are your thoughts accurate and whether they help or hold you back.
When you mindfully identify self-negative talk, ask yourself how accurate are such thoughts. This will allow you to be compassionate and forgiving of yourself when you make a mistake.
2. Journal Your Thoughts
Journaling or expressive writing can be a helpful strategy in tracking down your thoughts and emotions. It can help you identify thinking patterns that provoke anxiety and depression and become more aware of your negative thoughts.
3. Practice Affirmations
Affirmations or positive statements about yourself can help recognize your skills and internalize success. Positive affirmations can help reframe your thoughts, so instead of thinking, “I am not good/smart/skilled enough,” you say to yourself, “I am enough, and my insecurity doesn’t change that.”
4. Nurture Self-Compassion
Developing more compassionate ways to relate to yourself can be an excellent way to overcoming imposter syndrome.
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding rooted in the knowledge that you deserve the same compassion and forgiveness you would give to a friend.
It can help you understand a universal human experience of imperfection and become less judgmental to yourself.
Self-criticism often triggers anxiety and depression that prevent you from accomplishing goals and happiness in life.
Learning to treat yourself with self-compassion can improve your stress resilience, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Self-love can help you take responsibility for yourself and overcome imposter syndrome.