What is imposter syndrome and how to beat it?

Do you ever have thoughts that maybe one day your boss or your colleagues will find out that you’re not actually good at your job? Maybe you are afraid that one day people will notice that you don’t have the intelligence or the skills to do your job, even though you are consistently performing well. Do you ever feel like all the praise and accolades you have received are undeserved, or that people are just “being nice”? Well, it may surprise you that this is a common problem that affects many people, particularly in the workplace. It’s a phenomenon called imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome manifests differently in different people, but commonly leaves someone with the unshakeable belief they are an intellectual fraud, despite all evidence to the contrary. You may be suffering with imposter syndrome if you doubt your own intelligence and talents, and if you think that anyone who believes otherwise is either only “being nice” or you’ve somehow managed to fool them.

You may be wondering who might suffer with imposter syndrome and the answer is it can affect anyone. Howevwr, studies do indicate that high achievers, people in minority groups, and people who have ADHD may be more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome has been broken down into 5 common types:

The perfectionist needs to meet exceedingly high standards, that may be impossible to achieve. The need for perfection fuels this type of imposter syndrome, as the individual keeps setting higher and higher standards that eventually they are unable to achieve. Having high standards can be motivating, but a fixation on perfection can be negative in the long run. Those suffering with this type of imposter syndrome often are excessively self-critical, have anxiety, and experience burnout.

Some signs to look out for include micromanaging, an inability to delegate, obsessing over minute details, inability to make decisions, unrealistic expectations, and an unreasonable fear of failure or making a mistake.

The superhuman is constantly wanting to do more and more. They are high achievers who want to excel in all areas in their life. They are often called workaholics and have a constant need to work harder than others. They often feel that no matter how much they do it is never enough, and they are often very self-critical. Signs of this type of imposter syndrome include an inability to handle constructive criticism, feeling stressed when not working, extreme guilt for taking breaks, and a constant pressure to perform at their best.  
The natural genius is someone who believes they are successful based only on their natural talents or their intelligence. Often for this person success has always come easily with little effort. Because of this, they often set impossibly high standards for themselves. Often this becomes a problem in highly competitive environments when they must challenge themselves, perhaps for the first time. Some signs a person is suffering from this type of imposter syndrome include success has come easily to them in the past, self-confidence suffers greatly when there is a setback, a belief that success comes from inherent ability not hard work, high standards for self, and critical of perceived obstacles.

The soloist imposter syndrome type is usually characterised by a deep feeling of independence and the need to do things entirely on their own. People who have this type feel that success must be achieved by the individual and asking for help is a sign of weakness. The soloist may feel isolated and overwhelmed, which can lead to self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. People who strongly value autonomy and independence are more likely to experience this imposter syndrome type. Some signs of a soloist are feeling the need to accomplish everything by themself, feeling incompetent if they need to ask for help, they struggle to network and connect with others, and a difficulty accepting criticism.

The Expert is the most common amongst people with specialised knowledge and skills. These individuals often have advanced degrees and have often invested a lot of time, effort, and money into their education and training. Because of this, they feel like they should know everything there is to know about their specialisation. These individuals often feel doubt in their abilities and experience anxiety that they are not able to handle their job. Some signs to watch out for are a need to master everything very quickly, a constant drive to pursue more education, training, and certifications, feeling like a fraud, and struggling with procrastination due to overwhelm.

You may be wondering if imposter syndrome is the same thing as self-doubt and if it’s just a normal part of life. The truth is imposter syndrome is more than self-doubt and it isn’t just something you should accept, although it is relatively common. There are steps you can take to prevent and challenge this type of thinking. It is important for both employers and employees to know that imposter syndrome is tightly linked with poor job satisfaction, poor job performance, and burnout. People dealing with imposter syndrome often have symptoms of anxiety and depression, and they can also have higher levels of stress hormones like cortisol, that can impact not only their work performance and productivity but also their overall health.

The good news is that there are several things you can do to challenge imposter syndrome some of the things you can do are:

Remember your achievements - a big problem with imposter syndrome is that you minimize what you’ve accomplished. A good way to combat that is remember what you have achieved. When you start minimising what you’ve done, making a list of things you’ve accomplished can really help. Another thing you can do is keep a list of positive feedback you’ve received so you can go back and reread when you start to doubt your abilities.

Share how you feel - sometimes imposter syndrome can be very isolating, so sharing how you feel with your coworkers so you can refocus and get fresh perspectives from your colleagues is a good way to help you realize you’re not alone in this.

Stop comparing yourself to others - comparing yourself to others is almost always a bad idea, but especially in the workplace. It is easy to focus on other people’s talents and successes while ignoring your own. It is important to remember you do not know the full circumstances of other people.

Celebrate your success - don’t be afraid to be proud of yourself and not to minimize your accomplishments when they occur. Take the time to celebrate when you achieve something you’ve been working towards.

Challenge perfectionism - you may be dealing with feelings ofbeing a fraud due to imposter syndrome because you’re comparing yourself to a perfect standard. And you feel you fall short even though it would be impossible to achieve that level of success. Focus rather on what is good enough and try and make your standards based on good enough not perfection.

Focus on self-compassion - change the way you talk to yourself. Often imposter syndrome makes you feel like you are not enough. This negative self-talk can increase your stress andanxiety levels. A good way to combat this is to be kind to yourself and start practicing positive self-talk. It is important to remember that if you are dealing with imposter syndrome though you may feel like you are the only one, you are not alone. 

If you are dealing with imposter syndrome and the stress, anxiety and burnout associated with it there are steps and strategies to tackle this problem. Imposter syndrome may never fully disappear, but you can manage and reduce the impact of imposter syndrome on your daily and professional life. 

Author: Kellen Olivia Kiisler

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