These feelings of being a fraud or having one's shortcomings exposed, accompanied by anxiety, insecurity, and dread, are all part of a psychological phenomenon known as impostor syndrome. Unlike humility, impostor syndrome can have detrimental effects, including anxiety, an inability to celebrate one's successes, and even a belief that one cannot continue in their career.
This article will define impostor syndrome, explore its various manifestations, and provide suggestions for coping with it.
Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon in which an individual doubts their own abilities, talents, or accomplishments, and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud or impostor. The following are some common characteristics of impostor syndrome:
Self-doubt: People with impostor syndrome tend to doubt their own abilities and constantly question whether they are good enough.
Perfectionism: Individuals with impostor syndrome often set very high standards for themselves and believe that anything less than perfection is a failure.
Overachievement: People with impostor syndrome tend to overwork themselves in order to compensate for their perceived lack of ability or worth.
Fear of failure: Individuals with impostor syndrome often have a deep-seated fear of failure, which can prevent them from taking risks or trying new things.
Comparison to others: People with impostor syndrome often compare themselves to others and feel inferior, despite evidence to the contrary.
Discounting success: Individuals with impostor syndrome may discount their successes, believing that they were simply lucky or that others could have achieved the same thing.
Anxiety and stress: People with impostor syndrome often experience high levels of anxiety and stress, which can affect their performance and overall well-being.
It's important to note that while these characteristics are common among those who experience impostor syndrome, they are not definitive or exhaustive. Impostor syndrome can manifest differently in different people, and its effects can vary in intensity and duration.
What triggers imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a distortion in thinking that causes individuals to question their abilities and achievements, as well as doubt the recognition they receive from others. It may not be recognized as a formal psychological condition, yet it has various underlying reasons. Several studies reveal that imposter syndrome results from a combination of factors.
Firstly, family upbringing plays a crucial role in shaping one's personality. Individuals who grew up in an environment where success was highly valued and where parents or relatives were overly critical of their achievements are more likely to develop imposter syndrome. For example, Sam's parents always focused on her academic achievements, and even though she received a 98% score, they asked why she didn't get 100%.
Secondly, social pressure from a group or circle that associates recognition and value with achievement can contribute to imposter syndrome. For instance, Everett felt like a hero in his sales team when he exceeded his sales record, but when his numbers dropped, he lost his invitation to the monthly executive dinner and felt excluded.
Thirdly, the fear of being discovered as an imposter and subsequently ostracized from a group or community can intensify imposter syndrome. This feeling of exclusion can arise from any past circumstance that made individuals feel different or isolated, such as their ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, or physical or learning differences. Tyler, for example, felt excluded during a staff meeting because his manager did not acknowledge him and his colleagues ignored his insights.
Lastly, personality traits such as internalizing pressure, doubts, and failures can also lead to imposter syndrome. Introverted individuals, for instance, tend to ruminate on their negative feelings and engage in negative self-talk that diminishes their achievements, similar to Campbell.
The negative impact of imposter syndrome can be profound. It may discourage individuals from pursuing opportunities that would allow them to grow, build meaningful relationships, and advance their careers. Left unchecked, imposter syndrome can lead to negative emotions such as frustration, shame, depression, and reduced self-confidence. This is especially true for underrepresented groups, and women, who may experience worse effects from imposter syndrome.