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What is Imposter Syndrome and How Can You Cope With It?

Impostor syndrome (IS) is the internal experience of thinking that you are not as competent as others see you.

Impostor syndrome (IS) is the internal experience of thinking that you are not as competent as others see you. Simply put, impostor syndrome is when you feel like a fraud and that you could be found out about it at any moment. It can be feelings such as not belonging where you are and getting there only by luck. It can impact any person no matter their background, skill level, or expertise.

What Are Some Signs of Impostor Syndrome?

Some of the most well-known characteristics of impostor syndrome include:

  • Doubting oneself 
  • Being unable to assess skill and competence levels realistically
  • Thinking that your success is only due to external factors
  • Criticizing your performance and being too hard on yourself
  • Being afraid that you won’t meet or exceed expectations
  • Being an overachiever 
  • Getting in the way of your success
  • Setting goals that are too difficult and then feeling disappointed when you can’t meet them 

Some people can also experience impostor syndrome by feeling anxious regularly and being over-prepared so that nobody thinks they’re a fraud.

Where Did the Term Impostor Syndrome Come From?

The term first came into play in the 1970s from psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance. When this concept was first introduced, it was thought to only apply to high-achieving women. Now, it is recognized as something that is experienced by a broader range of people. 

What Are the Types of Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor syndrome can manifest in many ways. Here are some of the most common types:

The Superhero

People who identify with the superhero type tend to feel inadequate. Since these feelings come up for them, they will push themselves to work too hard and get burnt out. The expert types are always trying to learn new information and are never happy with their current level of understanding. Even though they are experts in their field and have a high level of knowledge, it never feels like enough, and they underestimate their expertise. 

The Perfectionist

Perfectionists struggle to be satisfied and always believe that they could be doing better. Instead of focusing on what they do well, they will focus on their flaws or any mistakes they make. As a result, anxiety can increase due to all the pressure that they put on themselves. 

The Soloist

Soloists are people who would prefer to work alone. Their self-worth comes from how productive they can be, and they will reject any help from others. Many of these types of people feel like asking for help is a sign of weakness. 

The Natural Genius

These types of people set goals that are too high for themselves. When they can’t meet those unrealistic goals, they then feel defeated when they fail right away. 

How Can You Cope With Impostor Syndrome?

To better cope with impostor syndrome, you can first ask yourself questions like:

  • “What core beliefs do I think about myself?”
  • “Do I believe that I am worthy of love?”
  • “Do I have to be perfect to get approvals from others?”

Asking these challenging questions can lead to a breakthrough on where the impostor syndrome stems from. 

Perfectionism can play a crucial part in impostor syndrome. To cope with feelings of perfectionism, it’s essential to confront deeply ingrained thoughts you have about yourself. Doing this step can be difficult because some of these thoughts may be unconscious.

Here Are Some Helpful Techniques for Uncovering These Thoughts: 

  • Talk about your feelings. You can share your feelings with others. False beliefs about oneself can boil up if they are kept hidden and locked up inside. 
  • Concentrate on other people. Even though this may seem like the opposite of what you should do, helping others going through a similar situation can really be beneficial to your well-being.
  • Evaluate your abilities. If you have always thought that you are not competent socially or at work, make an actual assessment of your abilities. You can then write down your achievements, projects you’ve completed, what you except at, and cross-reference it with your self-assessment.
  • Challenge your thought process. Ask yourself how likely it is that what you’re saying about yourself is true. By questioning your thoughts, you will likely determine that your thoughts do not always equal the reality of the situation. 
  • The comparison game is a dangerous one. When you compare yourself to others in any setting, you can make yourself feel worse. Instead, you can focus on what someone else is saying in a conversation and develop a curiosity for that person. By being interested and wanting to learn more about someone, you can forget about making comparisons and support them instead. 
  • Watch your social media intake. When you use social media too much, it can also be a way to compare yourself to others and may make you feel “less than.” Social media is not always reality anyways and can lead to worsening your feelings of being a fraud.  
  • Acknowledge your feelings. Recognizing your feelings in any given situation is essential. With feelings of rejection or not belonging, you can explore those feelings and discover what is holding you back.
  • Don’t let fear get in the way. No matter how strong your intrusive thoughts are, allowing them to interfere with your life can lead to negative consequences. Be sure not to let your feelings stop you from pursuing any dreams or goals.

Related: How to Regulate Your Emotions and Improve Your Mood

In Summary 

If you think you may be suffering from impostor syndrome, try to see what you have accomplished thus far in your life, and then practice gratitude. 

The fear of being “found out” can weigh on many people. Instead, you can try to understand these feelings and get to the root of them. If these feelings impact your daily functioning, you can always speak to a mental health professional about your concerns. 

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Billie Olsen

MODEL: Billie Olsen

Billie Olsen (she/they) is a lifestyle writer, disability justice advocate, and cozy femme located in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Their works have appeared in Metro News, Discorder, Sophomore Magazine, the Post-Feminist Post, DINE Magazine, and NerdReader.