Imposter syndrome, also called perceived fraudulence, entails feelings of personal incompetence and self-doubt that perseveres despite your experience, education, and accomplishments.
If you’ve ever felt like an imposter, you’re not alone. A review of 62 studies found that from 9% to 80% of individuals report having imposter syndrome at some point.
Another study focused on accomplished, successful women found that imposter syndrome can affect anyone in any field of profession, from graduates to top executives.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
To beat imposter syndrome, it’s essential to know where it comes from.
There’s no single cause of imposter syndrome; instead, it’s due to a combination of several risk factors, including:
- Parenting and childhood environment. Like pressure from parents to do well in school, overprotection sharply criticized mistakes and comparison to your other siblings.
- Personality traits. Scientists link specific personality traits to imposter syndrome, including perfectionist tendencies, low self-efficacy, low scores on conscientiousness measures, and high scores on neuroticism measures.
- Existing mental health issues. Underlying mental health issues like anxiety and depression can trigger feelings of low self-confidence, self-doubt, and fear of how others see you.
- New responsibilities. It’s common to have a fear of a career or academic opportunity you earned. You might worry that your abilities won’t be much of those of coworkers, or you won’t measure up to the job’s expectations.
- Role of bias. Institutionalized racism and gender bias can also play a part in imposter feelings. Research suggests that while anyone can get these feelings, they often occur in women and people of color.
The good news is that you can overcome imposter syndrome with the proper techniques. But before we dive into these techniques, it’s good to understand that “the only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter.”
How To Deal with Imposter Syndrome
If you have self-doubt or feel like a fraud in your career, working harder to do better may not impact your self-image.
The following strategies will help you resolve imposter feelings productively.
Be A Healthy Perfectionist
A study by Belgian psychologists involving over 200 staff in three different companies suggests that imposter syndrome feelings went hand in hand with low scores of adaptive perfectionism. A regular and healthy type of perfectionism that derives satisfaction from hard work and tolerates imperfections without harsh self-criticism — and high scores of maladaptive perfectionism — having high personal performance standards and tendencies of extreme self-critics in self-evaluations.
In short, these staff members disagreed on questionnaire items like “I set higher goals for myself than others” and agreed to things like “I should be upset when I make a mistake.”
People with unhealthy perfectionism are afraid of failure, criticism, hate mistakes, and worry about disappointing others. You can overcome this by learning to develop a healthy perfectionist approach, strive to do your best for yourself, not for people’s approval and try not to worry about your setbacks or mistakes. We learn from our mistakes, cherish them and make improvements from them.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Identify and acknowledge these imposter feelings and bring them out. This can help you cope with these feelings and achieve several goals.
Seeing that imposter feelings are triggered by anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression, acknowledging these feelings by coming out to friends, family and coworkers create a supportive environment that helps counter these feelings.
Sharing your feelings with trusted mentors or friends helps you get external context or feedback on the situation. It also helps imposter feelings feel less overwhelming.
Also, opening up to peers about your imposter feelings helps them do the same, helping you know that you’re not alone in the situation.
Some research suggests that a supportive work environment helped reduce the link between workers’ imposter syndrome and their lack of job commitment and satisfaction to the organization.
Avoid Self-handicapping and Defensive Pessimism
People with imposter syndrome are often prone to anxiety and shame when things go awry. They assume it portrays their lack of talent and ability. To avoid these feelings, these individuals frequently find themselves adopting either or both of these two psychological habits when faced with a new challenge.
The first is self-handicapping which involves people engaging in behaviors that might undermine their performance—for instance, procrastinating, taking drugs, or staying out late in the night before a job interview, thus giving themselves a ready excuse when things go wrong.
The other is defensive pessimism which entails people fearing the worst and trying to avoid it from happening or setting low expectations for their performance despite how well they’ve done it in the past.
If not avoided, these two approaches can turn light feelings of impostorism into a chronic and debilitating state of mind.
The solution is to revisit your motives and change your mindset. Break the imposter spiral and believe in yourself by putting in the effort and work you feel a particular project requires and deserves based on the difficulty level.
Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
Everyone has unique abilities. You’re probably where you’re because somebody noticed your potential and talent.
No one can do it all. You may not succeed in every task you attempt, and you don’t have to; it’s practically expected.
Even when someone may seem to have everything under control, you may not know the whole story. Learn something new at your own pace, even if others grasp the skill immediately.
Don’t let others’ success highlight your weaknesses, instead find ways to explore abilities that interest you.
Write the Rules
If you’ve been working under misguided rules like “never ask for help” or “I should always know the answer,” then start upholding your rights.
Know you have as much right as others to be wrong, ask for assistance, or have a day off. Strive to develop a healthy response to making mistakes and failure.
Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome – The Bottom Line
It’s practically impossible to be truly perfect, so failure doesn’t make you a fraud.
Learning to show yourself compassion and kindness instead of self-doubt and judgment can help motivate you to pursue healthy self-growth.
If your imposter feelings persist, you may seek help from a therapist.