I used to score good marks during school & college consistently.
I would always be in the Top 2 in my class.
But I secretly hoped all the time my teachers wouldn’t ask me questions in front of the whole class.
I was always afraid of getting caught out or EXPOSED!
I wished to tell everyone, “I may score well in the exam, but I am NOT really clever.”
However, I never had a moment where I failed to live up to my scores.
But then, the fear wouldn’t leave me. “Am I being a fraud?” I would think.
Years later, I realized there was NOTHING wrong with me.
And that the feeling I experienced is common among almost 70% of people.
And that the feeling had a psychological term — Imposter Syndrome.
Do you feel like you're not as good at something as people think you are…
even though you've done well at your work?
If yes, you have come to the right place.
This is a complete guide to Imposter Syndrome.
In this post, you’ll learn how imposter syndrome hurts your life and why you need to get rid of it.You’ll have proven strategies to beat your imposter syndrome by the end. (And find out the unexpected benefits of your imposter syndrome too).
Get ready to shed your doubts, and let’s dive in:
- Why You Should Know If You Have Imposter Syndrome?
- How To Know If You Have Imposter Syndrome? (Common Signs)
- Different Types of Imposter Syndrome and Their Causes.
- Impact of Imposter Syndrome on Your Life.
- How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome? (Proven strategies)
- Unexpected Benefits of Imposter Syndrome.
Why You Should Know If You Have Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome is the sneaky little voice inside your head that tells you
- that you're a fraud,
- that you don't deserve your success,
- that you fooled everyone into thinking you're smarter than you are.
And this phenomenon is not limited to age, gender, or profession.
Imagine you BELIEVING every word your inner voice is telling you.
And you are accepting every negative feedback as the truth.
Just because you are not aware of the highly common Imposter Syndrome.
Here’s why you should identify if you have imposter syndrome:
- To protect professional growth:
- If you believe you don’t have any real talent or if you doubt your abilities,
- you will avoid taking up any new opportunities at work.
- This will limit your overall professional growth.
- To protect relationships:
- Your self-doubts will find REAL to you if you are unaware of Imposter Syndrome.
- In short, you will be low on your self-confidence. It will reflect in your social interactions while forming new connections.
- Thinking others will find you uninteresting; you’ll end up isolating yourself.
- This will worsen your feelings of being inadequate.
- To protect mental health:
- Not knowing imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon,
- you’ll think something is wrong with your personality.
- This will lead to depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
- To avoid Self-sabotage:
- The more you find yourself (falsely) inadequate, the harder you’ll try to better yourself.
- No amount of effort will be sufficient for your brain.
- You’ll try to compensate for your self-doubts with perfectionism. Perfection is impossible — you will never be able to achieve it.
- So, you’ll keep procrastinating your work until you think it can be perfected (which means forever).
- This will further feed your self-doubt (”I can’t perfect it means I am not good.”),
- and you’ll get caught in a vicious cycle.
By recognizing imposter syndrome, you can break free from self-sabotaging patterns.
And achieve greater success in your personal and professional life.
Let’s understand how to detect your imposter syndrome:
How To Know If You Have Imposter Syndrome? (Common Signs)
Noticing you have imposter syndrome can be hard.
Simply because it is not a diagnosable mental health condition.
As common as it may be, there’s still limited research on imposter syndrome.
The phenomenon is yet to satisfy the criteria of the American Psychiatric Association to recognize it as a mental health condition or disorder.
Moreover, imposter syndrome involves internal thoughts not always visible to others.
You may not know the feeling has a name. (I did not)
And you may be experiencing its symptoms without realizing it.
Though it’s not a formal mental condition, imposter syndrome is REAL.
If you get any of the below thoughts, you could be experiencing imposter syndrome.
Take a look if you find these signs familiar:
- You constantly question your abilities.
- You may be second-guessing your opinions and decisions. You feel like you are not good enough.
- “I don't think I can do this.”
- “I'm not smart or skilled enough to succeed.”
- “I'm not sure if I'm qualified to make this decision.”
Fear of failure:
- You have an intense fear of failure. You feel like you will be exposed as a fraud if you fail. You may avoid taking risks or trying new things.
- “I can't take that risk. What if I fail and everyone finds out I'm not good enough?”
- “I will be made fun of. It would be too embarrassing.”
- “What if I lose everything I've worked for? It might be too much to bear.”
- First, you set impossibly high standards for yourself.
- And then, you feel like a failure if you don’t meet them.
- Just to make your work look perfect, you over-prepare for everything. You don’t want people to think you don’t know your stuff.
- So, you often feel burnout from overworking.
- “If I don't work harder than everyone else, I'll never be successful”
- “I have to put in more effort than anyone else to prove myself.”
- “I have to do everything perfectly, or else I'm a failure.”
- When you receive praise or reward for your hard work, you think you don’t deserve it.
- You often credit your success to your luck.
- “I don’t deserve this promotion. It was just luck”
- “What’s the big deal? Anyone could have gotten this award.”
- “Thank God I got saved this time and didn’t fail.”
- “I am not worthy of these compliments. People are just being nice.”
Comparing yourself to others:
- You constantly compare yourself with others. You think you are way behind people in your circle in terms of professional and personal growth.
- You consider everyone more talented or successful than you.
- “Look at him; he’s so dedicated towards his goal. I am not even 1% of him.”
- “I wish I had natural talent like her. She’s so effortless in decision-making.”
- “People of my age are so well settled. Look at me.”
Once again, it's important to remember that
experiencing Imposter Syndrome is common and normal.
You need to know your feelings are a mere psychological pattern.
However, feelings don’t occur out of nowhere. There are always causes behind your feelings.
How would you know their root causes?
You will need to identify the type of imposter syndrome.
Let’s do that:
Different Types of Imposter Syndrome (and Their Causes).
By understanding the various types of imposter syndrome,
you will gain insight into your own thought patterns.
Here are 5 forms of imposter syndrome and their potential triggers:
In Perfectionist imposter syndrome, you believe you are a fraud or not good enough due to internal pressure to be perfect.
You may be experiencing perfectionist imposter syndrome
if you have the below characteristics.
- Constantly striving for perfection — You may spend excessive time and effort to make everything perfect. For example, checking and rechecking your work to ensure there’s not a single error.
- Overthinking and over-analyzing every decision — You may find it hard to make decisions due to fear of making mistakes. Even asking for help from someone takes a lot of convincing.
- Setting unachievable goals — You may put immense pressure to achieve perfect performance reviews. You may feel a sense of failure or anxiety when you don't achieve your goals.
Here are some possible causes:
Unrealistic expectations from family while growing up:
- If your parents focused too much on your grades or achievements while growing up,
- you may feel pressured to perform.
- If your parent praised you only when you were perfect,
- you may have internalized that mindset.
- You feel being perfect is the only way to be loved or accepted.
- And it’s a way to avoid negative feedback.
Past negative experiences with criticism or failure:
- If you were criticized harshly for your work in the past, you may strive for perfection.
- A huge loss or failure may have made you doubtful of your decisions.
- Experiences like bullying or abuse also compel a person to overwork themselves to be perfect.
- So that any similar traumas could be avoided.
- If you are surrounded by high-achievers, it’s natural to compare yourself with them.
- This comparison may then lead to self-doubt, pushing you to work harder.
- You may get obsessed with perfect performance.
- So that you could belong to the group of peers.
📌 Renowned tennis player Serena Williams has talked about her perfectionist tendencies, saying that she sets high expectations for herself and is hard on herself when she doesn't meet them.
In Expert imposter syndrome, you believe you are a fraud or not good enough due to a belief that you're not really an expert in your field.
You may be experiencing Expert imposter syndrome
if you have the below characteristics:
- You feel like they need to know everything before starting a project.
- You feel hesitant to ask for help, even when you need it.
- You struggle to accept compliments because you think you don’t deserve them.
Here are some possible causes:
- As you gain more knowledge in your area of expertise,
- you come to know how much more there is to know
- and how little you actually know.
- So, you always feel inadequate in terms of your learning.
- Also, you may assume everyone else is equally knowledgeable.
- And you discount your own expertise. (What’s the big deal? Everyone knows this.)
Overidentification with their work:
- If you strongly identify with your work,
- you may feel like criticism of your work is a criticism of you as a person.
- You may feel like your worth as a person is tied to your success in your field.
- And so you want your work to be the best in the field.
- This can create a sense of pressure to constantly excel and to always know the right answer.
Comparison to others:
- Comparing yourself with other experts in the field may lead to feelings of inadequacy.
- It’s very common in competitive fields with high visibility, such as medicine, media, law, academia, entertainment, literature, etc.
- You may overestimate the success of others and dismiss yours.
- And you may feel pressure to constantly achieve and excel.
📌 Maya Angelou, an accomplished author, poet, and civil rights activist, has spoken about her expert imposter syndrome. She once said, "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'Uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.”
In Soloist imposter syndrome, you believe you must work alone and refuse to take help from others to achieve success. You think asking for help is a sign of weakness. You fear people would find out you are incompetent if you ask for help.
You may be experiencing Soloist imposter syndrome
if you have the below characteristics:
- You struggle to ask for help or delegate tasks to others.
- You feel you must handle everything on your own.
- You take on too much responsibility to maintain a perfect image of competence.
- You find it difficult to work in teams or collaborate with others.
- You struggle to admit mistakes to project yourself as flawless.
- You believe you are solely responsible for your success while downplaying the contributions of others.
Here are some possible causes:
- If you have a perfectionist mindset, you would want to control every aspect of your work. You will not allow others to get involved, fearing they would ruin the work.
- Asking for help from someone also hurts your perfectionist image.
- Because it suggests you are not capable of achieving perfection on your own.
Lack of Trust in others:
- If your friend or colleague has compromised the quality of your work in the past,
- you are less likely to put trust in others.
- Maybe you were blamed for the mistake of your team member or
- your project failed because someone you relied on didn’t contribute seriously.
- All such reasons could make you cynical about asking for help. You will rather do everything on your own because you believe others can’t match your energy.
- If you have previously achieved tremendous success with just individual efforts,
- you’ll believe you don’t need anyone’s help in your work.
- You are enough for your success.
- You will tend not to collaborate with others or dismiss team efforts in a project.
- You believe asking for help would just prove your past success was a fluke. And you will get exposed as an undeserving.
📌 American singer-songwriter Prince was known for his intense work ethic and control over his creative output. He famously played most of the instruments on his albums himself and was involved in every aspect of the recording process. "When you do it yourself, you can control every aspect of the recording and of the music.”
In Superhuman imposter syndrome, you believe that you must excel in every area of your life and achieve unattainable. This type is different from the perfectionist type.
In this syndrome, you are not just trying to make a specific project perfect.
You aim to excel not just in your career but also in your personal life, relationships, hobbies, and other areas of your life.
It's like you want to be like a superhero or a god who has no flaws.
You may be experiencing Superhuman imposter syndrome
if you have the below characteristics:
- You feel you need to excel at everything and work 24x7.
- You feel you have to juggle multiple roles without being tired.
- You strive to accomplish everything on your own and are afraid to ask for help
- You get anxious when sitting idol; you constantly want to be in action.
Here are some possible causes:
- The internet and pop culture depicts individuals with extraordinary success as having the super-heroic ability for hard work.
- It often discounts other factors, such as upbringing, connections, support, personal traits, luck, etc., that may have led to their success.
- Moreover, society often glorifies working relentlessly to pursue your goals.
- So, you feel that success is only achieved if you work like a superhero (without stopping).
- This social conditioning with constant visual cues may develop superhuman belief.
Lack of validation for intrinsic qualities:
- When you are encouraged to achieve more than being content,
- you may value external success very highly.
- When you are not appreciated for your intrinsic qualities, such as being kind, caring, or creative,
- you feel the only way you are important is
- if you perform well, score good grades, or get awards.
- And you feel you have to be like a superhero and always do amazing things,
- even if it's really hard.
- When you're in a really competitive environment like an academic or professional setting,
- you may feel you are not good enough.
- When everyone around you is performing exceptionally & getting rewarded,
- you might feel you have to be like a superhero to keep up.
📌 Sheryl Sandberg - the Facebook COO and author, has spoken about feeling like she needs to be perfect and work harder than everyone else, saying, "I never want to let anyone down. I'm always pushing myself to do more, to be better. It's like I have to be a superhero all the time."
5. Natural Genius:
In Natural Genius imposter syndrome, you believe you should be able to perform tasks perfectly and without any effort.
You feel your success is due to the inherent, innate talent that you are born with.
And that any mistakes indicate that you are not truly talented.
You may be experiencing Natural Genius imposter syndrome
if you have the below characteristics:
- You believe success should come naturally without any effort.
- You want to get things right on the first try
- You feel frustrated when a task requires effort
- You give up quickly if you don’t excel immediately
- You can’t accept constructive criticism or feedback
Here are some possible causes:
Early Success or Achievement
- When you experience early success without much effort,
- you believe that your abilities are natural rather than the result of hard work.
- For example, if you win a competition without much practice, you might start to think that you're just naturally good at it.
- You might feel you don't need to work hard since you're already naturally talented.
- If you were praised for being smart or talented from a young age,
- you might believe that your abilities are innate and effortless.
- This can lead to a fixed mindset.
- You may internalize the belief that your abilities are predetermined
- and cannot be improved through hard work and practice.
Lack of exposure to failure or struggle
- If you haven't experienced many failures in a particular area,
- you might believe you have natural skills.
- For example, if you have only ever played basketball against weaker opponents and won,
- you might assume you have a natural gift for basketball.
- You won’t recognize the importance of practice and hard work.
📌 Bobby Fischer - Fischer was an American chess prodigy who became the youngest player to win the United States Championship at the age of 14. He believed in natural genius and had a disdain for formal training or practice. This belief may have contributed to his downfall as he became increasingly reclusive and erratic.
It's important to note that you may experience a combination of these types
or different variations altogether.
Some people may exhibit certain traits more strongly than others.
Additionally, the characteristics listed may not apply to everyone.
Imposter syndrome can manifest differently for everyone.
Impact of Imposter Syndrome on Your life
Imposter Syndrome can have significant effects on your personal, professional, and social life.
- Low self-esteem: Doubting your abilities causes feelings of worthlessness.
- Anxiety and stress: The constant fear of being exposed as a fraud causes anxiety and stress.
- Negative self-talk: You may constantly criticize yourself and focus on your perceived flaws. This can further reinforce your feelings of inadequacy.
- Procrastination: You may feel the need to be perfect to avoid being exposed. This leads to unrealistic expectations and, ultimately, procrastination to avoid failure.
- Limited career growth: Doubt your skills can cause you to avoid risks and new opportunities for career advancement.
- Increased workload: Fear of failure can cause you to take on more work than you can handle. This could lead to burnout and decreased productivity.
- Self-sabotage: You may engage in self-sabotaging behavior, such as not speaking up in meetings or not applying for promotions. This will hinder your career progress.
- Micromanagement: You may feel you need to excessively scrutinize your own work or that of others. This micromanagement can frustrate your colleagues.
- Difficulty in delegating: Relatedly, the fear of being exposed as a fraud may cause you to have difficulty in delegating tasks to others. And you may miss opportunities for collaboration and growth.
- Social isolation: Fear of being exposed as a fraud causes you to avoid social situations. This leads to loneliness and social isolation. You will fail to make new friends and build meaningful relationships.
- Strained relationships: You may constantly compare yourself to others and feel jealous. This resentment may strain your social equations.
- Additionally, Imposter Syndrome can make you feel like you are not worthy of love or respect. This insecurity will cause you to cling to unhealthy relationships or sabotage healthy ones.
By understanding the various effects of Imposter Syndrome,
you can take steps to overcome it and live a more fulfilling life.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome? (7 Proven strategies)
Here are some proven strategies to overcome imposter syndrome:
1. Acknowledge and Reframe Negative Thoughts:
- Recognize negative thoughts related to Imposter Syndrome as they arise.
- For example, if you think, "I don't deserve this promotion," acknowledge that this thought is a symptom of Imposter Syndrome.
- Reframe negative thoughts into positive ones.
- Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations.
- For example, challenge the thought "I'm not good enough" with the affirmation "I am capable and competent.”
- Practice positive self-talk regularly to reinforce positive beliefs about yourself.
- For example, say "I am worthy and deserving of success" to yourself each day.
2. Seek Support:
- Identify trusted individuals in your life whom you can talk to about your Imposter Syndrome. For example, a close friend, family member, or mentor.
- Be honest and vulnerable when sharing your feelings with these individuals.
- For example, share specific situations where you felt like a fraud or experienced self-doubt.
- Consider seeking professional help from a mental health professional.
- Sharing your thoughts with others helps to normalize the experience. You will realize that many people struggle with similar feelings of inadequacy.
- Seeking support can help you to gain perspective and encouragement from those who care about you.
3. Keep a Record of Accomplishments:
- Create a list of your accomplishments, skills, and positive feedback from others. For example, write down a compliment you received from a coworker.
- It provides a tangible reminder of your achievements.
- Update the list each week and read through it regularly. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments before a big presentation.
- Use this list to counter negative self-talk and reinforce positive beliefs.
- Take time to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem.
- For example, treat yourself to your favorite meal after a successful presentation.
- Use your successes as motivation to continue pursuing your goals.
4. Challenge Your Perfectionism:
- Recognize when your perfectionism is getting in the way of progress.
- For example, acknowledge when you're spending too much time perfecting a project and not moving on to the next task.
- Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself.
- For example, aim to complete a project to the best of your ability within a certain timeframe.
- Focus on progress over perfection. Remind yourself to celebrate small milestones along the way.
- This will help you to achieve your goals in a more realistic way. You will boost your confidence and reduce feelings of inadequacy.
5. Visualize Success:
- Visualize yourself achieving your goals. Imagine yourself giving a successful presentation or receiving a promotion.
- Use positive affirmations to reinforce your visualization.
- For example, say, "I am capable and deserving of success," while visualizing yourself achieving your goals.
- Spend a few minutes each day visualizing yourself achieving your daily goals like speaking up in a meeting, talking to a stranger, or posting something online, etc.
- When you imagine the scenario in detail, you mentally rehearse it. So, when you actually perform the task, your brain will be better equipped to do it well
6. Focus on Your Values:
- Identify your core values. Write them down and stick them on you desk.
- Figure out how they relate to your personal and professional life.
- For example, if one of your core values is creativity, think about how you can incorporate this value into your work.
- Prioritize tasks and decisions that align with your values.
- For example, if your core value is honesty, prioritize telling the truth even if it's difficult in a professional setting.
- Regularly reflect on your values. Take 10 minutes time at the end of each day.
- Ask yourself how you can live them more fully.
- Focusing on your values shifts your focus away from external validation. Such as praise or recognition from others.
- This helps to reduce the pressure to meet others' expectations (which is a major trigger for Imposter Syndrome.)
- Focusing on your values makes you feel more grounded in who you are. You are less likely to feel like a fraud or imposter.
7. Practice Mindfulness:
- Mindfulness is paying attention to your thoughts and physical sensations in the present moment without judgment.
- Take time each day to pause and focus on the present moment. Observe negative thoughts and feelings without attachment.
- Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine.
- For example, take a few minutes each day to mindfully savor your meals.
- When you are fully present and engaged in the task at hand, you are less likely to be distracted by self-doubt or worries about your abilities.
Remember, overcoming Imposter Syndrome is a journey, not a destination.
With consistent effort and self-awareness, you will manage these feelings.
And meanwhile, you can benefit from your imposter syndrome too.
Let’s see how:
Unexpected Benefits of Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is often viewed as a negative experience.
But there are unexpected benefits that come from grappling with this phenomenon.
Here’s how imposter syndrome can have a positive impact:
Motivation to improve yourself:
- Feeling like an imposter may be overwhelming, but it can be a powerful motivator to improve yourself.
- It can inspire you to work harder. You strive for new opportunities to develop your skills.
- By pushing yourself to improve, you'll gain a greater sense of confidence and self-assurance.
- If you feel like an imposter at work, use that feeling as motivation to learn new skills and seek out feedback from your colleagues.
- You'll soon find yourself growing and developing in ways you never thought possible.
Attention to detail:
- In imposter syndrome, you often feel like you need to work harder than others to prove your worth.
- This can lead to heightened attention to detail and a drive to excel in your work.
- You may become more detail-oriented and thorough in your approach to tasks.
- Imposter syndrome can spark creativity and innovative thinking.
- When you feel like you don't know everything, you may be more likely to consider unconventional solutions and think outside the box.
Humility and empathy:
- By recognizing that you're not perfect, you'll be more humble and modest. You’ll be open to feedback and constructive criticism.
- You'll also develop a greater sense of empathy for others who may be struggling with their own feelings of inadequacy.
- Use your imposter syndrome as an opportunity to connect with others who may be going through the same thing.
- By being honest with yourself and others, you'll build more meaningful relationships.
Resilience and perseverance:
- Resilience means being able to bounce back from difficult situations and keep going even when things get tough.
- By embracing failure and using it as a learning opportunity,
- you'll be better equipped to handle setbacks and challenges.
- Instead of giving up when things get hard,
- you can use imposter syndrome as motivation to work even harder.
- And this way you will be more confident in your abilities.
Appreciation of accomplishments
- By taking the time to reflect on your successes and appreciating your achievements,
- you'll gain a greater sense of pride and self-worth.
- When examining your accomplishments more closely and recognizing the hard work,
- you also get a deeper understanding of your strengths and abilities.
Seeking out support:
- Imposter syndrome teaches you the importance of seeking out support from others.
- By recognizing that self-doubt is a common experience,
- you'll be more likely to reach out to others for help and advice.
- You'll also be more likely to build a strong support network that can help you achieve your personal and professional goals.
If you're struggling with imposter syndrome, don't suffer in silence!
Recognize that there are benefits to this experience, and use them to your advantage.
By embracing your imposter syndrome and using it as motivation to grow and learn, you can achieve great things.
Remember, seeking out support is crucial, whether it be from friends, mentors, or mental health professionals.
For working professionals, poor English communication is a common reason for triggering a feeling of fraud or failure.
If poor English communication is adding to your imposter syndrome at work,
consider signing up for BBR English.
BBR English offers personalized 1:1 sessions with a personal mentor.
Private sessions with a mentor will help you build your confidence at the workplace and feel more comfortable expressing your ideas and opinions.
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Here are some key takeaways from our post:
💡Imposter Syndrome is a significant barrier to achieving personal and professional success.
💡Recognize imposter syndrome to break free from self-sabotaging patterns.
💡Imposter Syndrome can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or profession.
💡Imposter Syndrome is characterized by self-doubt, fear of failure, and dismissing success.
💡Five Types of Imposter Syndrome: Perfectionist, Expert, Superhuman, Soloist, Natural Genius.
💡Imposter Syndrome negatively impacts your personal, professional, and social life.
💡It causes low self-esteem, anxiety, self-sabotage, social isolation, and strained relationships
💡Overcome imposter syndrome by acknowledging your achievements, seeking support, focusing on your values, and practicing mindfulness.
💡Imposter syndrome has unexpected benefits such as motivation, attention to detail, creativity, humility, resilience, etc.
Are you having any experiences related to Imposter Syndrome?
Share your concerns and doubts in the comment section.
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