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Unraveling What Lies Under the Impostor Syndrome

Individuals who experience Impostor Syndrome may feel that they do not deserve what they have achieved / Photo by PaylessImages 123RF

 

Several successful people and high achievers may often feel that their accomplishments were caused by luck and not attained by their skills or hard work. Underneath all their achievements, they fear that their “real” incompetence will soon be exposed and people will suddenly see that they have been a “fraud” all along.

This is an occurrence known as the Impostor Syndrome, which plagues 70% of the world’s population. It has been shown to be more prevalent among women than men. Examples of famous people who have admitted to feeling this are Maya Angelou and Albert Einstein.

What Is Impostor Syndrome?

The Impostor Syndrome is a condition first recorded by Dr. Pauline Clarence which she described as the “internal experience of intellectual phoniness.” Individuals who experience Impostor Syndrome may feel that they do not deserve what they have achieved and someday, it will be revealed that they are a fraud.

This condition is also by the names Imposter Phenomenon and Fraud Syndrome.

Types of Impostor Syndrome

There are many kinds of people who suffer from Impostor syndrome. The types of people who feel like they are impostors as described by Fast Company are:

The perfectionist

Perfectionists often set extremely high standards for themselves, and when they fail to reach those expectations, they feel doubt in themselves. They are often concerned about measuring up to their own expectations. They may also feel that if they want a task to be done properly, they must be the one to do it themselves.

They often dismiss their success because they may feel like they could have done much more than that. They may also feel that they always have to be perfect and may have a hard time delegating tasks in group projects. When are not able to attain their impossibly high objective, they may feel unworthy of their job and think about it for a long time.

The superwoman/man

This applies to individuals who force themselves to keep working harder so that they can meet their expectations. However, overworking is actually just used to conceal their insecurities. Their work overload may not only be dangerous to their mental health, but also put their relationships at risk.

These people tend to stay in the office past the working hours even though they may have finished the necessary work the rest of their team has left. They may also feel uneasy when they are not working and not feel productive when they are given free time. They have also given up on their hobbies and passions in order to make more time for work.  

These people may also feel as if they do not deserve their title, in spite of the many accomplishments and degrees that they have. As a result, they push themselves to work longer and harder to measure up. The truth is that they are addicted to the approval they get from work and not the work itself.

The natural genius

Similar to the perfectionists, the geniuses also have high expectations of themselves. However, the difference is that they do not measure themselves based on extremely high standards. Rather, they measure themselves by being able to do something properly even on their first attempt.

If they unable to learn how to do something immediately or perform a task well, they start to panic. They are often used to being the best at something without expending much effort. So, if they have to work harder than usual for a skill or a job, they feel that they are horrible at it.

These are individuals who may have had a record of excellent grades at school or used to earning gold medals in competitions they join. They are often praised for being the smart one in their family or among their peers.

When they have to face their disappointments, their confidence sinks because being unable to perform well gives them a sense of shame. The also often refrain from taking on new challenges because they feel uncomfortable to try something they are not good at.

The rugged individualist

This kind of “impostors” get the feeling that if they seek anyone’s assistance, they will be exposed as a fraud. Getting help from others makes them feel worthless. They often feel like they have to do everything on their own and that they do not help from others.

The expert

The expert “impostors” are afraid of being revealed to be inexperienced in a certain field or being unknowledgeable about a certain subject. They may get the feeling that they have deceived their employer into hiring them. They often avoid applying for job postings unless they have all the educational requirements asked.

They also keep looking for training programs or ways to acquire certifications because they feel that for them to be able to succeed, they must also keep enhancing their skills. These people may also feel that although they have been practicing their profession for quite some time, they still do not know enough about it. When another person refers to them as an expert, they internally cringe.

Symptoms

According to Abc.net, the signs that someone is experiencing this are:

Perfectionism

This makes a person unable to acknowledge their successes because they tend to only dwell on their imperfections.

Overworking

This may be linked to perfectionism. This may also a distraction to keep themselves from completing a project or product that will get criticized by others.

Undermining achievements

Before claiming their achievements, they tend to highlight their flaws. They also have the tendency to procrastinate. Often, they may only act at the last minute and cram in finishing a project.

Being afraid of failure

Since they are afraid of failing, they may try to stay away from challenges. They may also be hesitant in asking others to evaluate their work. Lastly, they may also delay in starting a project.

Minimizing praise

They often think that the praise or compliments they receive are either fake or just an exaggeration. They have the tendency to emphasize how other people’s contributions.

How to Cope with Impostor Syndrome

Mindful.org says that there are three steps to take if a person wants to overcome their impostor syndrome:

1. Talk to others about it

To be able to silence one’s inner critic, they have to discuss what they are thinking. People may often be reluctant in telling others about their feelings because the response they get from others may only prove that they are frauds.

Contrarily, when they actually do decide to tell others that they feel out of place, they realize that others have also felt that way before. Being able to learn about how their friend or mentor has undergone a similar experience can help give them relief and clarity.

 

One way to cope with imposter syndrome is by talking to others about it / Photo by Sergey Nivens via 123RF

 

2.  Collect positive experiences

They should be able to accept the praises they receive and listen and contemplate on them. If they keep thinking and listening to these words of encouragement, it will help diminish their anxieties in moments when they doubt themselves.

3. Realize they are not alone

If one is able to open up about feelings of impostorism, they may realize that this is part of people’s common experiences. They may realize that they are not the only one feeling those insecurities, as opposed to what they initially thought.

Being able to gain knowledge about the challenges they will face in school or at work will help a person build up their own confidence.

Other Ways of Coping

In addition to the three ways of overcoming Impostor Syndrome, there are other ways they may try to deal with this condition.

They may try to educate themselves and further get to know about the Impostor. Learning about their personality type might aid in addressing its symptoms. Another way is to try to have a written record of all their accomplishments so that they can truly celebrate their success and determine which skills helped them attain those positive results.

They also have to learn to accept all their mistakes and flaws to be able to develop a healthy self-esteem and self-worth. Being to accept that not everything in their life will happen according to their expectations can help boost their resilience and happiness.

They also have to learn to fight against their negative thoughts. It may be helpful to seek the help of a mental health professional and undergo Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) so that they may learn to change their negative way of thinking.

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