How to tell if you’re suffering from imposter syndrome

Telling if you are suffering from imposter syndrome

Many of us have probably noticed the term ‘imposter syndrome’ creep up on our social media feeds or in a conversation between co-workers, friends, and family at some point.

But, what does imposter syndrome mean, and how do you know if you have it?

Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome (sometimes referred to as impostor syndrome) refers to an internal belief that you are not as competent or successful as other people believe you to be.

Types of imposter syndrome

There are many different types of imposter syndrome, which include:

  • Natural genius (a person who sets themselves excessively high goals and feels devastated when they don’t meet them)
  • Superhero (refers to a person who works around the clock to compensate for deep-seated feelings of inadequacy)
  • Perfectionist (a person who is never happy with the work they produce and constantly focus on weaknesses rather than strengths)
  • Soloist (refers to a person who prefers to work alone and doesn’t ask for help from others)

Expert (a person who is never happy with their level of knowledge and understanding and is always striving to learn more)

Negative thoughts

Broadly, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a fraud or a phony – people with this mental health condition often get filled with self-doubt and suffer from low self-esteem despite their outward success.

Those who experience impostor syndrome (or imposter syndrome) feel like they don’t belong and that any successes they have accumulated in life are because of ‘dumb luck’.

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of their background, social status, skill set, or level of specialism or expertise.

Early family dynamics

The concept of imposter syndrome was developed by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanna Imes in the 1970s.

Successful women

Originally, imposter syndrome (IS) was a condition attributed to high-achieving women but has since gotten diversified as a universal experience.

Parenting styles

Research suggests that imposter syndrome may develop because of early family dynamics such as controlling parenting styles.

For instance, a person may come from a family that emphasized high achievement or have caregivers who oscillated between encouraging and critical.

Other studies posit that those who grew up in environments with profound levels of conflict with minimal support may be more likely to develop imposter syndrome later in life.

Other causes

Other causes of imposter syndrome may be down to cultural expectations and the need to compare one’s own success to others.

Starting university/new career path

Starting university

Researchers have also attributed imposter syndrome to transitional life events where people start something new, like a career path or course of study.

For example, someone starting a new job may feel as though they do not deserve such success, are not capable, or do not belong.

Furthermore, transitional periods in one’s life may trigger imposter syndromes, such as starting university or college. The pressure to do well and succeed can be immense, particularly when combined with feelings of inferiority and inadequacy.

Mental disorders such as imposter syndrome can get triggered during transitional phases where new environments, work roles, and responsibilities become overwhelming.

Personality traits

Other implications for developing imposter syndrome may get linked to peoples’ personality characteristics.

Research suggests that certain personality traits or characteristics may put people at higher risk of developing imposter syndrome, such as:

  • Perfectionism – studies illustrate that competent people suffer from imposter syndrome, particularly perfectionists. Perfectionism also gets linked to imposter syndrome. Perfectionists are very mindful of how they come across to others and have trouble asking for help and support, and often procrastinate due to their own high expectations and standards.
  • Neuroticism – neuroticism gets linked to higher levels of anxiety, stress, and worry and is one of social psychology’s big five personality dimensions.
  • Low levels of self-efficacy – according to behavioral science, self-efficacy is attributed to a person’s self-confidence and ability to believe in themselves in any situation. Low levels of self-efficacy have gotten reported in those who suffer or have experienced imposter syndrome.

Mental health resources

Researchers have noted an overlap between social anxiety disorder and imposter syndrome.

According to research from Verywell Mind, those with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) may feel as though they don’t belong in performance or social situations.

For example, a person with imposter syndrome or social anxiety disorder may feel as though others will discover their social incompetence in a social setting.

Or, when giving a speech or presentation, a person with either one of the above mental health conditions may rush through a sermon before others notice their incompetency.

Fuel feelings

Despite the overlap between social anxiety disorder and imposter syndrome, mental health professionals have stated that not everyone who experiences symptoms of social anxiety disorder has imposter syndrome (and vice versa).

One of the marked differences between the disorders is that imposter syndrome arises in particular situations where an ordinarily non-anxious individual experiences feelings of anxiety that are performance or social-related

Identifying imposter syndrome

Identifying imposter syndrome

There are several common signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome to look out for, including:

  • Being fearful that you will get discovered as a fraud
  • Feeling as though you are not worthy of success.
  • Believing that performance-related compliments are phony and that the audience is just being nice
  • Feeling under trained or underqualified.
  • Believing that your success is down to luck and not because of your talents or hard work
  • Feeling depressed or anxious.
  • Being incapable of handling constructive criticism

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of imposter syndrome may include being unable to handle positive feedback without putting a negative spin on your achievements and having the tendency to self-sabotage success by comparing yourself to other successful people or authority figures.

Diagnostic and statistical manual

Imposter syndrome has not yet been recognized by the statistical diagnostic manual (DSM-5) as a mental health disorder, although it is a global mental health condition.

Psychologists have estimated that at least 70% of the population will have at least one episode of imposter syndrome at some stage of their lives.

Therefore, those with imposter syndrome symptoms must seek professional medical advice from a mental health professional sooner rather than later.

Managing imposter syndrome

Living with imposter syndrome can be challenging, but the good news is that there are ways that people can start to feel worthy and learn to build the capacity to stop comparing their successes to others.

A great deal of anguish comes from inadequacy, where high achievers believe they are not good enough or deserving of achievement or success.

People with imposter syndrome get plagued by negative secret thoughts and feel compelled to downplay their successes.

When a family member, friend, or spouse praises them for their achievements, they may distrust this praise or spin a downbeat tale around their accomplishments.

It’s impossible to know why capable people feel uncomfortable in their abilities and why they fear failure to such an exponential degree; however, the condition can get managed.

Self-fulfilling prophecy

People with imposter syndrome often hold negative perceptions and self-fulfilling prophecies about themselves.

According to research, the key to managing imposter syndrome is to explore and challenge these negative self-beliefs and perceptions.

Such exercises may include a person getting curious about their perceived flaws by asking themselves a series of questions such as:

  • How worthy of love do I believe I am?
  • Is it necessary for me to be perfect for others to love and approve of me?
  • What core beliefs do I hold about myself, and how helpful/unhelpful are they?

Overcoming imposter/impostor phenomenon

There are other ways to overcome imposter syndrome, such as:

  • Practicing healthier ways of responding to failure
  • Not relying on external factors for validation.
  • Recognizing your achievements and talents
  • Practicing setting realistic goals
  • Setting boundaries to prevent yourself from overworking
  • Remembering that no one is perfect
  • Staying away from toxic people or competitions
  • Establishing a healthy support system and turning to them when needed

Support and treatment facilities

Even though imposter syndrome is not yet a recognized disorder in the DSM-5, the feelings of depression and anxiety that such a condition can create are often overwhelming. 

Many people may need a helping hand to manage the unpleasant symptoms.

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, you must speak to a mental health professional who can help.

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