How to tell if you have Impostor Syndrome
Almost all of us have experienced a fear that our successes are due to a fluke, luck or other people, rather than our own hard work or skills. It’s not an issue if it's just a minor, temporary dip in your confidence levels, but if it is frequent, long-lasting or overwhelming, it might be what’s sometimes referred to as ‘Impostor Syndrome’. This has been mentioned briefly in previous blog entries, but I thought it was worth looking at now in a bit more detail.
It’s worth making the point that (despite the name) Impostor Syndrome is not a diagnosable medical or psychological syndrome at all, simply a convenient name for a recognised pattern of thinking. It can be associated with depression and anxiety or low self-esteem, though, which are mental health issues.
Many things have been found to contribute to the likelihood of developing Impostor Syndrome; over-demanding or over-protective parents, tendencies to perfectionism, social background, and the attitudes ('microaggressions') of those surrounding us (e.g. women, women of colour and the LGBTQ community are particularly at risk. Issues like prejudice and racism are thought to play a part in explaining this last point - see this link).
Someone with Impostor Syndrome will, no matter what obvious evidence exists of their talent and effort, be convinced that they only succeeded through luck or by somehow duping other people, and they do not deserve their success.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome was first described by Drs Clance and Imes in 1978. It was thought to primarily affect high-achieving women and be linked to the issues around battling negative gender stereotypes. We now know that it affects people of all demographics, with up to 85% of all surveyed people having suffered these fears at some point. Several celebrities have come forward with their own experiences with Impostor Syndrome, including Michelle Obama, Neil Armstrong, Neil Gaiman, and Maya Angelou.
Those with Impostor Syndrome will often hold themselves to unrealistic standards, feeling they should know everything about their subject to be deemed truly competent, whilst not applying those same standards to others. They fear being ‘found out’ as unqualified, and struggle to accept compliments. There are five main types of impostor syndrome:
- Perfectionist; focus on avoiding mistakes. The Perfectionist ignores the amount of effort they put into something and focuses on small errors even if these didn’t prevent success, or thinks that not reaching an unrealistically high goal means whatever they did achieve is worthless.
- Expert; focus on knowing everything. The Expert tries to gain as much knowledge and as many skills as possible ‘just in case’ rather than learning by doing when a task comes up.
- Soloist; focus on doing everything oneself. The Soloist feels that asking for any help at all shows them to be unsuited for the task.
- Natural Genius; focus on learning quickly and getting it right the first time. The Natural Genius feels that having to work at something means they can’t really be any good at it, and will avoid trying new things. This type is often found in adults who were gifted as children.
- Super Student; focus on handling as many tasks at once as possible. The Super Student takes on more work than they can handle and spends more time on it than anyone else, losing valuable rest and recreation time, and reducing their ability to perform any one task to the maximum standard.
What can you do if you have Impostor Syndrome?
- You can start by looking elsewhere on this blog for tips to improve your confidence in yourself.
- Celebrate your achievements instead of worrying over small imperfections. There is absolutely nothing wrong with aiming for excellence, but accept that perfection is rarely required or possible.
- Try applying the standards you apply to others to yourself, instead of impossibly high ones.
- Challenge the negative thoughts, again there are ways to do this on this blog
- Look out for words like 'must' and 'should' in your thinking These indicate rules you are making for yourself which may not be reasonable or possible to live up to Try to reword them, for example 'I must get everything right' becomes 'It would be nice to get everything right' or 'I will try my best to get everything right'.
- Learn to see 'failures' as feedback that helps you do better next time.
- Consider contacting me for help if this doesn’t improve things. We can look at ways to think more positively about yourself and your achievements, and perhaps find out where those doubts come from, and deal with them.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and The Hypnotherapist's Companion, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.