Psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance developed the concept of imposter syndrome, originally called the “imposter phenomenon.” Their study in 1978 focused on high-achieving women who, despite their accomplishments, believed that they weren’t as bright as everyone thought.
While the condition, now called imposter syndrome, is not officially in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), it can still be mentally and emotionally draining. Imposter syndrome causes people to have self-perceived feelings of fraud or self-doubt. As a result, they often have difficulty accepting success and feel their success is attributed to luck, rather than their actual accomplishments.
Are you experiencing these imposter feelings? If you have feelings of self-doubt or you’ve ever felt like a fraud, you should know that your feelings are valid, and that you’re not alone. A recent study shows that up to 80% of capable people have experienced imposter syndrome.
You should also know that this condition is not permanent. It’s highly treatable and can be overcome with various strategies and exercises. Read on to learn more.
Signs of Imposter Syndrome
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), imposter syndrome includes:
- Chronic feelings that include a sense of self-doubt
- Intense fear that you’ll be discovered as an intellectual fraud
- A belief you’ll be perceived as less competent or intelligent than those around you
- An inability to see yourself as competent or internalize yourself as a high-achieving individual
Most people with imposter syndrome experience or believe some or all of the following feelings:
- Their success is based on luck rather than accomplishments or hard work
- They don’t know what they’re doing and have their coworkers fooled
- They don’t offer anything special to the team, company, etc.
- They don’t deserve praise
- They feel like they have to work harder to keep people fooled
- They work to minimize their accomplishments
Another imposter symptom is downplaying. For example, someone with imposter syndrome may downplay a significant achievement, like a promotion even after all the hard work they did to achieve it. Instead of accepting praise, these capable people may say, “Oh, I just lucked out,” or “Anyone could’ve gotten the new role.” They aren’t being polite — they genuinely believe these things.
In addition, if someone with imposter syndrome figures out a solution to a complicated problem, rather than take the compliment, they’re likely to say, “It wasn’t all me. My team did most of the work.”
“Two of the key indicators of imposter syndrome are that the individual genuinely believes that 1) if success happens, it’s because of external factors (unrelated to their abilities) and 2) they are never good enough.”Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC
The 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome
Dr. Valerie Young researched imposter syndrome after Imes and Clance did their study in 1978, leading Young to categorize imposter syndrome into these 5 subgroups.
Someone in the “perfectionist” subgroup has little to no tolerance for failure of any kind and may set such high expectations that even one tiny mistake can make them feel let down. So much so that their perfectionism can affect other aspects of their life.
The “superwoman/man” or “superhuman” gets satisfaction from juggling many items. The more roles that this person can be involved in, the better. However, any minor slip-up with any of the positions makes the “superhuman” feel inadequate because they expect that they should be able to do it all. These high achievers also need these accomplishments for validation.
The natural genius
The “natural genius” wants to learn and master things immediately. Any compromise to that expectation will make the genius feel unworthy. Therefore, competence for the “natural genius” is based on how quickly they can accomplish things.
Someone in the “soloist” subgroup likes to work independently. Even if they have questions, they traditionally won’t ask for help. If they have to ask for help, they feel like a fraud.
Like the “perfectionist,” the “expert” feels like they have to know everything about a specific topic. Therefore, any missing knowledge on a topic will make the “expert” feel like a fraud.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
While there’s no one cause for imposter syndrome, many things can contribute to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.
Parenting style during childhood
Imposter syndrome is likely linked to the parenting style during one’s upbringing. For example, were you constantly praised or, on the contrary, never praised by your parents?
Both extremes have negative long-term consequences for children, as excessive and unwarranted praise can cause feelings of self-doubt as an adult. In addition, a lack of recognition from caregivers, especially when deserved, can make adults feel the constant need to exceed expectations.
Significant life transitions like going away to college, starting a new job, receiving a promotion, getting married, or having a baby can make anyone feel like they aren’t smart enough or capable enough of handling change.
Imposter syndrome and anxiety have overlapping symptoms, so if you already have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or social anxiety, it’s not uncommon to feel self-doubt and entertain negative thoughts.
How to Cope with & Overcome Imposter Syndrome
It’s normal for low self esteem to manifest as imposter syndrome. There are several ways to overcome imposter syndrome. Understanding the different techniques can help you heal faster and become more confident and feeling worthy of the successes you’ve worked hard to achieve.
Accept positive feedback
While it’s a difficult concept for those with imposter syndrome, try to accept praise. If someone congratulates you on a job promotion or any other accomplishment, resist the urge to deflect or avoid credit. Instead, say “Thank you! I worked hard to get here.” There’s also nothing wrong with recognizing yourself as a successful person.
You may not believe it at first, but the more you accept praise, the easier it’ll become to internalize it.
Quality over quantity
Another thing that can be hard for people with imposter syndrome is accepting the concept of quality over quantity. Unfortunately, many think quality and quantity are both important, so they are constantly overworked and expect too much of themselves.
If you can accept quality over quantity, that’s the next step toward overcoming imposter experience. Like receiving praise, this may be challenging at first, but hopefully with time you’ll be more satisfied by the quality of your work, rather than the amount you complete.
Focus on what you do well
It’s a good idea to list your strengths and potential areas of improvement. Pinpointing your strong points, especially in writing, may help you realize how much you know and give you self-confidence in those areas.
Recognize that no one is perfect
While it may be difficult to accept, the reality is: no one is perfect. This understanding and realization can be vital to overcoming your struggles. Accepting the fact that you’re setting yourself up for failure by expecting perfection can be a game-changer.
“One of the best ways to cope with imposter syndrome is to seek out professional help. With a therapist, the belief structure, perspective, and regular self-talk can be challenged so that the individual can develop more internal value.”Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice PsyD., LPC
Overcome Imposter Syndrome with Talkspace
If you’re wondering, “what is imposter syndrome and how can I overcome it,” the tips here should help. It’s important to know that if you have feelings of self-doubt or perceived self-fraudulence, your emotions are valid. Imposter syndrome is real, despite the lack of a formal diagnosis in the DSM-5.
Being able to answer the question what is imposter syndrome, and determining the possible root cause of your belief system is an essential first step. Working with a behavioral therapist can get you to a place where you’re ready to address your feelings of inadequacy.
Learning how to overcome imposter syndrome takes work, but it is possible. If you think you could benefit from the help of a therapist, you might consider online therapy. Talkspace is an online therapy platform that makes therapy convenient, accessible, and affordable. With a Talkspace therapist, you can learn effective techniques to conquer imposter syndrome.
Reviewed On: August 24, 2022