TL;DR: A breeder of self-doubt and plummeting self-confidence, imposter syndrome can be a nightmare to overcome. But does it affect everyone? Does it show up the same for everyone? Not always.
Ahh, imposter syndrome—that uncomfortable, persistent voice in my head that falsely reminds me I’m not as qualified as everyone thinks. A reminder that I will fail at anything I attempt.
I could certainly live without that feeling, but being the neurotic perfectionist I am, imposter syndrome is in my DNA. And while it’s a pain to deal with, there are so many ways to combat imposter syndrome, whether you deal with it daily or on a one-off basis.
So, what is imposter syndrome?
Have you ever worn a costume and pretended to be someone you’re not? That’s kind of what imposter syndrome feels like. It varies from person to person, but most people struggling with imposter syndrome feel like a fraud—not nearly as smart or capable as our colleagues, bosses, teachers, or even friends are family think we are. We don’t deserve the praise or achievements because we’re not qualified… or so we think.
Self-doubt and a lack of confidence are the two ways it affects me, but imposter syndrome can also look like:
- Being fearful of not living up to our expectations
- An inability to assess our skills impartially
- Crediting our success to external factors like luck, an extraordinary effort, or significant contributions from others
Does everyone experience imposter syndrome?
Research suggests that between a quarter and 30% of people experience imposter syndrome, with nearly 70% experiencing it at least once. But perhaps the most intriguing fact about imposter syndrome is that men and women suffer equally, but women typically admit it more than men do.
Research from My Confidence Matters shows that nearly 75% of men and women regularly lack confidence in their careers. However, when looking at confidence levels, the disparity between men and women is notable. Nearly 20% more women than men admit to experiencing a lack of confidence—the foundation of imposter syndrome.
Men believe admitting that they’re dealing with imposter syndrome makes them look vulnerable or cowardly. Because of these perceptions, men don’t seek help. Instead, they often experience the symptoms of imposter syndrome even more.
Women, however, rarely attach this stigma to asking for help or disclosing their struggles with imposter syndrome, so they’re more likely to open up about it and get help.
What causes imposter syndrome?
Anyone like me knows about the immense pressure to meet ridiculous, self-imposed expectations. It seems simple enough to eliminate imposter syndrome—just lower expectations. But in reality, it’s hard to get rid of those feelings, especially for people with those signature personality traits that drive them (myself included) toward imposter syndrome.
Psychology Today explains that people who “struggle with self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism” may be driven to imposter syndrome—and competitive environments can worsen it.
Perfectionists, especially, struggle with imposter syndrome because of the pressure they put on themselves to be flawless all the time. When they’re inevitably not perfect, they feel incompetent or less than.
But events can trigger those feelings too. I despise public recognition because I feel like I haven’t earned it and get anxious. If you receive an award or promotion or get called out for great work, your imposter syndrome might remind you that you’re undeserving.
And, of course, if they are very successful and then suddenly fail at even one thing, you can bet they’ll feel triggered too!
Different forms of imposter syndrome
Did you know there are other types of imposter syndrome? Yep!
1. The perfectionist. Perfectionists seek to attain the unattainable—perfection. We’re never satisfied and think we can always do better, so instead of focusing on our strengths, we fixate on mistakes and what could have been better. The result? An insurmountable amount of pressure and high levels of anxiety.
2. The superhero. The superhero goes above and beyond, working as hard as possible to feel deserving. People who deal with this type of imposter syndrome feel inadequate, so they work overtime to regain those feelings of worth, often to no avail.
3. The expert. Like the perfectionist, the expert is never content. But their focus lies in their (lack of) education or level of understanding. They are perpetually learning—which isn’t necessarily bad—but still undervaluing their current expertise. Experts are already very skilled. Yet they still feel incompetent.
4. The natural genius. This type of imposter syndrome is self-sabotage at its finest. Natural geniuses set unattainable or lofty goals and then feel extremely disappointed when they fail to meet them on their first try, further perpetuating imposter syndrome.
5. The soloist. As the name implies, soloists prefer to work alone, so they rarely ask for or accept help from others. They view asking for help as a sign of weakness (remember the men I mentioned earlier?). Soloists get their self-worth from productivity, so the more productive they are, the better. But no one can do it alone, so without help, soloists may struggle to get everything done and fall deeper into imposter syndrome.
Which kind of imposter syndrome do you have to fight? I’m almost every single one of these!
How do I overcome imposter syndrome?
I hate feeling like I’m not good enough or don’t belong, so I proactively combat my daily bouts of imposter syndrome. But there are other reasons to fight it, like:
- It can help us focus on our achievements instead of constantly comparing ourselves to others
- It can help us grow and pursue opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t have the confidence to pursue
- It can force us to acknowledge what we bring to the table
- It can significantly reduce stress levels
Seems worth it, right? Definitely worth it. How you approach it is totally up to you, but here are a few things I do (and a few I researched) to minimize those feelings and reduce the frequency at which I experience those overwhelming feelings of self-doubt.
1. I think long-term. Getting rid of those annoying thoughts doesn’t happen overnight, so I focus on the end goal and what I can do that will have long-term effects. Despite having a college degree, receiving promotions, and being a well-respected writer, I often question if I belong among such brilliant people.
I have slowly started shifting my mindset to focus on my skills and achievements. Again, it’s a longer-term strategy, but baby steps work well. I remind myself that I belong and that facts are facts.
I have written top-performing articles for multiple companies. Fact. I get dozens of requests to write and edit my peers’ work. Fact. I’m a highly sought-after freelancer. Fact. These are all undeniable facts that, despite my worries, can’t be changed. And they’re impressive facts, so I choose to focus on those.
2. I own my feelings. I acknowledge my emotions and recognize imposter syndrome is just that—a feeling, nothing more. There’s no basis for feeling underqualified or like a fraud, so I remind myself that my insecurities are trying to take over and that I am an accomplished writer who can do whatever is thrown my way.
When I simply can’t think logically, I ask others for feedback and what they think my strengths are. For whatever reason, when I hear it from someone else, it clicks!
3. I stop comparing. We all do it. We wish we were as intelligent as her, as confident as him, as stylish as them. But when we regularly compare ourselves to others, we’ll find fault in ourselves that fuels the “I’m not good enough” narrative that’s all too common with imposter syndrome. I focus on my achievements and celebrate those of my peers. I don’t envy them or think about how much better they are than me.
4. I remind myself of my capabilities. I’m smart and capable, and I belong. I remind myself of this often with mantras or by proactively celebrating my wins with my partner. It’s awkward, but I promise, it pays off.
5. I don’t let it hold me back. I’ve got goals to meet, myself to impress, and moves to make. That doesn’t leave much time for imposter syndrome. So, instead of wasting time questioning my abilities, I focus on moving forward. It’s never easy, but neither is letting my goals slip by because of self-doubt. We’ve got this!
Imposter syndrome can be a powerful motivator, but it can also create excessive anxiety and paralyze our progress. Most of us have experienced it at least once, but those who have to deal with imposter syndrome more regularly need to conquer it.
You’ll thank yourself when you ask for that promotion, take on that next-level project, or feel comfortable and excited celebrating your success.