Definition of imposter syndrome

Imposter Syndrome | Psychology Today

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People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.

  • Understanding Imposter Syndrome
  • Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Why do people with imposter syndrome feel like frauds even though there is abundant evidence of their success? Instead of acknowledging their capabilities as well as their efforts, they often attribute their accomplishments to external or transient causes, such as luck, good timing, or effort that they cannot regularly expend. Whether in the areas of academic achievement or career success, a person can struggle with pressure and personal expectations.

What causes imposter syndrome?

Personality traits largely drive imposter syndrome: Those who experience it struggle with self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism. Competitive environments can also lay the groundwork. For example, many people who go on to develop feelings of impostorism faced intense pressure about academic achievement from their parents in childhood.

How common is imposter syndrome?

Around 25 to 30 percent of high achievers may suffer from imposter syndrome. And around 70 percent of adults may experience impostorism at least once in their lifetime, research suggests.

What triggers imposter syndrome?

Calling attention to one’s success, ironically, can unleash feelings of imposter syndrome. This could occur when receiving an award, passing an exam, or being promoted. Failure after a string of successes can also cause someone to critique and question their overall aptitude.

Can you be diagnosed with imposter syndrome?

No, imposter syndrome is not an official psychiatric diagnosis in the DSM. People with imposter syndrome may struggle with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety or depression, but an individual couldn’t be diagnosed as having imposter syndrome.

Are women more likely to experience imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome was first documented in high-achieving women in the 1970s. While imposter syndrome is still more prevalent among women, and specifically women of color, men are also susceptible to developing this mindset.

How does perfectionism influence imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can be closely related to perfectionism, in which people feel pressure to perform at their absolute best 100 percent of the time, and when they don’t, they feel incompetent and anxious. It’s helpful, although difficult, for people to change the way they view perfection to combat imposter syndrome.

Why do I fear success?

Being caught between the desire to flourish and fear of achieving success can be painful and paralyzing. That fear may be indicative of specific fears such as the fear of responsibility, making a mistake, uncertainty, or an identity shift. Learning to tolerate discomfort and accept imperfection can help overcome the fears that prevent people from striving for success.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome involves changing a person's mindset about their own abilities. Imposters feel like they don’t belong, so acknowledging their expertise and accomplishments is key, as is reminding themselves that they earned their place in their academic or professional environment.

People should stay focused on measuring their own achievements, instead of comparing themselves to others. Similar to perfectionists, people with impostorism often put a lot of pressure on themselves to complete every task flawlessly; they fear that any mistake will reveal to others that they aren’t good or smart enough for the job.

They perpetuate this excessive pressure because they believe that without the discipline they won't succeed and, instead of rewarding themselves, they only worry about the next task ahead. This cycle can be hard to break, but part of doing so involves reminders that no one is perfect and that a person can only do their personal best.

Why is it important to fight imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can stifle the potential for growth and meaning, by preventing people from pursuing new opportunities for growth at work, in relationships, or around their hobbies. Confronting imposter syndrome can help people continue to grow and thrive.

How do you overcome imposter syndrome?

Reflecting on your concrete achievements, sharing your feelings with a loved one (preferably outside of the setting in which you feel impostorism), expecting to make mistakes at the beginning of a new experience, and seeking out a mentor who has charted a similar path are a few of the concrete steps that can fight imposter syndrome.

Who should people with imposter syndrome turn to for support?

In certain situations, turning to a colleague or mentor who understands one's feeling of insecurity can be advantageous. But research suggests that reaching out to people outside of one's academic or professional circle may be a better tool to combat impostorism. Those individuals can put the person's concerns into context, recalibrate their perspective, and offer support and love.

How can you prevent your child from developing imposter syndrome?

Two types of messages can spark imposter syndrome in children: constant criticism, which makes them feel like they’ll never be good enough, and universal, superlative praise (“You’re the smartest kid in the world!”), which instills high expectations and pressure. Parents can prevent imposter syndrome by praising effort not outcome, and by helping children realistically understand their strengths and weaknesses.

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What Is Imposter Syndrome?

Mental Health and Wellbeing

For starters, it is a real thing. And, if you’ve ever said or thought the words, "I'm fooling everyone. I feel like a fraud," you already have some experience with it.

Alexandra Owens

Medical ReviewerFarah Fazel, PsyS

And you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome during their lifetime.

Despite its ubiquity, little is known about the phenomenon. First brought to light in 1978, imposter syndrome isn’t recognized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

So, what is it exactly?

“I would describe it as a series of experiences,” says Audrey Ervin, psychologist and academic director of the graduate program in counseling psychology at Delaware Valley University. “It’s characterized by chronic feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fraudulence despite objective success. It’s hard to internalize success and genuinely hold the belief that you’re competent and capable.”

While entering a new role might trigger an episode, imposter syndrome has been shown to affect everyone, from the most successful CEO to a college freshman. In fact, actual ability and achievements have no bearing. Driven personalities and those at the top of the ladder are just as vulnerable to imposter phenomenon–if not more.

Even Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has struggled with imposter syndrome, writing, “Every time I was called on in class, I was sure that I was about to embarrass myself. Every time I took a test, I was sure that it had gone badly. And every time I didn’t embarrass myself—or even excelled—I believed that I had fooled everyone yet again. One day soon, the jig would be up.”

Difference Between Imposter Syndrome and Self-Doubt

There’s nothing wrong with occasional self-doubt. The key, most experts agree, is frequency. Most people feel like an imposter at some point in their lives, especially in intimidating scenarios, whether they’re on a blind date, at a new job, or speaking in front of a large crowd.

“Adolescence, for example, is a time characterized by self-doubt,” says Ervin. “The important questions to ask yourself are: Is your self-doubt developmentally appropriate? Is it a persistent, nagging, ongoing experience? Or is it a temporary, situational experience?”

Imposter Syndrome Symptoms

So how do you know you have imposter syndrome? While there’s no official diagnosis, here’s a checklist of common indicators.

  • Imposter syndrome is frequently associated with trait anxiety, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and social anxiety disorder. “Clinically, I don’t see a lot of people with imposter syndrome who don’t have anxiety,” says Ervin.

  • Pervasive self-doubt characterizes your past, current, and future experiences.

  • You experience a persistent fear that you’re going to be “found out” or discovered as a fraud, in spite of objective successes.

  • When you achieve success, you attribute it to luck or describe it as a fluke. You might feel relief or even distress in place of happiness and pride.

  • You look for validation in authority figures—such as a boss or family member—and give them the power to dictate whether you are successful or not.

What Causes Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is likely the result of multiple factors, including personality traits (such as perfectionism) and family background. One theory is that imposter syndrome is rooted in families that value achievement above all else. Another research article says that it begins when families are characterized by low support and high conflict.

Ervin also suggests that we might look to our culture as a whole for answers.

“While I’m painting in huge strokes, the United States tends to have a more individualistic, as opposed to collectivist, culture," she says. "There's often pressure to be successful and to achieve, as opposed to just be. I think this can facilitate a pressure cooker for people. You certainly can’t extract people from the culture that they live in and the expectations that it creates.”

Who Is Susceptible To Imposter Syndrome?

Just about everyone. We may associate women with imposter syndrome (many high-achieving women including Tina Fey and Michelle Obama have spoken out on the topic), but studies suggest that the phenomenon is experienced equally by both genders.

“Originally, the thought was that women experience it disproportionately,” says Ervin. “But the limited research we have does not substantiate that. Men experience imposter syndrome, but their expression of it may appear differently.” Due to gender norms and fear of backlash, men are possibly less likely to externalize their feelings.

While research is still very sparse, one group that does appear especially vulnerable to imposter syndrome are minorities.

“Minority stress [chronically high levels of stress faced by members of stigmatized minority groups] can contribute to imposter syndrome,” says Ervin.

Coupled with a lack of representation and discrimination, the effects of imposter syndrome can feel nearly insurmountable. After all, how do you wrestle with your own self-doubt when society is also telling you that you don’t belong?

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

There’s no one easy treatment plan for imposter syndrome. Rather, moving past such continual feelings of inadequacy requires similarly persistent mindfulness and cognitive behavior strategies.

“The focus should be on encouraging folks to sit, self-reflect, and be mindful of their thinking,” says Ervin. A number of different tactics can be involved in this approach.

Question Yourself

Every time you have a negative thought about your abilities or wonder if you’re qualified for a job, pause and ask yourself: Is the thought actually (truly) accurate? Is this emotional experience real or am I responding based on other outside variables? Does this thought help or hinder me?

Reframe Your Thinking

Ervin says it helps to be mindful of antecedents, beliefs, and emotions. You can use these categories to put your thoughts in perspective. For example, you might receive a raise, so you feel distress or guilt because you believe you didn’t deserve it. Go back and examine why you have this belief and examine if it’s valid.

Embrace Success

If you have imposter syndrome, it can be tempting to invalidate even the smallest win. Resist that urge by listing every success and allowing them to resonate emotionally. Over time, this practice will give you a realistic picture of your accomplishments and help affirm your self-worth.

Talk It Out

Whether it’s a mentor, friend, or therapist, talk to someone else about how you’re feeling. Getting an outside perspective can shake irrational beliefs and ground you in reality.

Show Self-Compassion

Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)—which helps people reflect on their feelings and foster more compassionate, constructive ways of relating to themselves—has become a popular approach to overcoming imposter syndrome.

A clinical take on imposter syndrome: International Journal of Behavioral Science (2011). “The Impostor Phenomenon.”

How family values play into imposter syndrome: Psychotherapy (1993). “The Impostor Phenomenon: Recent Research Findings Regarding Dynamics, Personality And Family Patterns And Their Implications For Treatment.”

Men, not women are more susceptible: Personality and Individual Differences (2018). “Are All Impostors Created Equal? Exploring Gender Differences In The Impostor Phenomenon-Performance Link.”

Imposter syndrome and minorities: Journal of Counseling Psychology (2017). “Impostor Feelings As A Moderator And Mediator Of The Relationship Between Perceived Discrimination And Mental Health Among Racial/Ethnic Minority College Students.”

Notes: This article was originally published December 6, 2021 and most recently updated December 22, 2021.

Alexandra Owens

Alexandra has covered everything from wellness to wine for a variety of publications and websites, including Allure, The Economist, and Quartz. When she's not reporting on the latest in tech, fashion, and art worlds, she's traveling (Egypt, Spain, and France just in the past few months), taking in concerts, checking out the latest restaurants, and of course, spending QT with her pup Luca.

Imposter syndrome - what is it and how to get rid of it

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In the last month alone, users have searched for the phrase "Imposter Syndrome" more than 30,000 times. Psychologist, Gestalt therapist and YouTalk consultant Valentin Oskin talks about the causes, signs and popularity of this phenomenon, as well as how to get rid of it.0018

Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon that is not listed in any manual of mental illness and is not considered a mental disorder. In many ways, this is a mixture of anxiety, cognitive attitudes based on deep human beliefs, perfectionism, low self-esteem and self-worth. The first mention of impostor syndrome in psychology appeared in 1978 in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, in the article "The Impostor Phenomenon in Successful Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" written by Paulina Klance and Suzanne Imes.

In general terms, the syndrome can be described as a combination of thinking patterns, emotional and behavioral reactions, which causes a person to doubt his achievements, success, intelligence. He also makes you attribute it to other people or external circumstances and at the same time experience the fear of exposing your own incompetence. An important symptom of the impostor syndrome: most often, the vast majority of these doubts are the opposite of reality.

Very often, the "imposter" paradoxically manifests itself precisely in bright, interesting, enthusiastic people

Studies show that men and women are equally affected by this condition (although early studies indicated that it was more common in women). Very often, the "imposter" paradoxically manifests itself just in bright, interesting, enthusiastic people, in those who have achieved high success in various areas of human life - science, business, politics, art.

Why the impostor syndrome occurs

The reasons for such a feeling usually lie in childhood: in what ideas and attitudes about achievements and work the child absorbed, how the environment reacted to his successes and failures. From my own experience, I can say that in almost every story of my clients with similar feelings, it turns out that the parents or significant environment were more focused primarily on what other people think of the child, and not on his concrete successes, scolded a lot and often for mistakes, even the smallest ones. At the same time, success, both big and small, was taken for granted and unworthy of praise (remember this the next time your child shows you a well-done exercise). As a result of this behavior of adults, the child focuses on what people think of him, on achievements for the sake of achievements, on the fear of being rejected and trying to avoid it.

"The Pretender" can often be found among C students who have made their way into the world of excellent students, as well as among those who are accustomed to achieve their goal in detours: to cheat, write off, cheat. Fear begins to manifest itself at the moment when it is no longer possible to achieve your goal in the usual way due to objective circumstances - there is no one to write off from, because you yourself are now at the forefront of humanity. Then the thought arises: “Maybe I accidentally got here? I was just lucky, ”a person devalues ​​the whole path that has passed.

Related material

Career advancement, promotion to a higher position, invitation to a new job, moving to another country can provoke symptoms of impostor syndrome. The same applies to studies - for example, a person enters a very prestigious university for a prestigious specialty, but believes that he is not worthy of this place. In recent years, one can even talk about a certain popularity of the impostor syndrome, which consists of several factors.

  • People's growing interest in psychology, psychotherapy, self-knowledge and reflection, which provoke the discovery of the impostor syndrome.
  • The pursuit of constant success. The focus on high achievement makes you feel constantly “under” — not fast enough, not smart enough, not significant enough, not competent enough.
  • Striving for continuous improvement and self-change. Many people, without noticing it themselves, perceive themselves not at all as a subject with their own will, values, freedom and responsibility, which actively acts and influences life. Rather, they treat themselves as an object that should correspond, be convenient, meaningful, valuable in the eyes of others. And if others value such an object, then the person also values ​​himself, otherwise he is always bad, insufficient, not good.
  • Social networks actively help in cultivating the “impostor”: people see posts about high results, but often they do not see the path to such success behind them. A beautiful picture, motivation for constant success through the depreciation of what is now - all this only increases internal tension and conflict.

How to recognize the imposter syndrome

First of all, this condition is characterized by the fact that a person cannot accept and recognize his own achievements within himself, success in an area that is important to him, despite the fact that there are external confirmations of these achievements. He does not see and does not recognize his competencies, knowledge, skills, experience, feeling like a deceiver who does not deserve the success he has achieved in his work, position in society, quality of life, money. And what he already has, a person explains by ordinary luck, coincidence and inattention of others, the ability to hide his alleged incompetence well.

At the same time, there is an attitude associated with failures: the "imposter" considers only himself to be guilty that something did not work out, even if he did not have the opportunity to influence it (he will also blame himself for this). For example, a person might say to themselves: “They just didn’t know that I did this project in a couple of days, literally on my knee, without investing. If they had known, they would never have given me a grant,” or “If they had known that there were C’s in my diploma, they would not have paid me that much / would not have hired me for this position. ” What is paradoxical is that most often the impostor syndrome is experienced by people whose success is obvious to others, who are in high and leading positions or positions, people who are engaged in highly intellectual activities. Attempts to dissuade them usually have no effect.

Do you often think that your achievements are not such an important event, or even just luck?

At the same time, people with impostor syndrome have a fear of being exposed. It is spurred on by the fact that usually such a person already has a high position, a large salary, significant projects, often he is a public figure, a unique professional. And if everyone finds out that in fact he is not so competent and good, they will immediately reject him.

There are many tests that allow you to determine if you have impostor syndrome. But they all consist of a list of fairly similar questions. I will cite just a few.

  • Do you find it hard to accept praise for your accomplishments or for helping others?
  • Do you often think that your achievements are not such an important event, or even just luck?
  • Have you noticed that you are more likely to attribute success to other people if you succeed?
  • Do you prefer not to voice your opinion, afraid that others will consider or call you stupid, incompetent?
  • How often do you think that you are actually deceiving people?
  • Are you afraid that your lack of skills, talent or ability will be discovered?

If you answered “yes” to at least two questions, it might be worth taking a closer look at yourself, your life, successes and achievements. Which brings us to the main request of those who have already discovered the impostor syndrome.

How to get rid of the impostor syndrome

I must say that the impostor syndrome itself is hardly dangerous - rather, it significantly reduces the quality of life. Emotional stress, lack of joy for oneself, the inability to enjoy success and goals achieved can become a catalyst for burnout. And burnout is a direct road to depression.

Simultaneously, the signs of the impostor syndrome can be confused with similar signs of various disorders and diseases, such as depression or anxiety disorders, which can occur as a result of poor-quality psychodiagnostics or self-diagnosis. And this can be really dangerous. Therefore, it is definitely not worth neglecting the help.

Related material

The strategy for dealing with people who are struggling with impostor syndrome involves two main approaches. The first is working with cognitive errors, automatic thoughts that provoke the symptoms of the “imposter”. The main goal here is to help a person learn to recognize his achievements, treat himself with healthy criticism, gain confidence in his skills and knowledge, become more loyal to himself and build realistic expectations both from himself and from others. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or Schema Therapy, is most effective at this stage.

If a person, having learned to cope with the strong manifestations of the syndrome, notices that there are still situations where he can feel like an impostor, you can try to understand the underlying causes of the origin of this syndrome by exploring and working through childhood experiences, traumas, and completely cope with it. Shown here is long-term psychotherapy, no longer as straightforward as CBT, such as Gestalt.

Things you can do yourself

  • Recognizing a problem is already the first step towards a solution. Instead of powerlessness, this gives rise to the question “what to do?”.
  • Learn to recognize personal responsibility for your life, including actions, successes and failures. Learn to separate the concepts of "responsibility" and "guilt".
  • Fight the urge to leave achievements to chance or luck.
  • Try not to compare yourself with others, instead compare yourself with your past self: yesterday you didn't know how, today you learned, yesterday you didn't know, today you learned.
  • Try to treat yourself with sound criticism, that is, do not scold yourself, but objectively evaluate the possibilities, limitations, abilities, knowledge and actions. Do the same for others.

What is impostor syndrome and how can I overcome it?

Sometimes you can hear from a successful person that all his achievements are just luck. Specialists do not always establish links between the work process and the resulting result, as a result, this leads to the impostor syndrome. In the article we will tell you what this term means, how to identify and prevent the syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is a phenomenon in which a person does not believe in his own strength and attributes his achievements to coincidences and luck, he develops a feeling of incompetence. The syndrome occurs situationally in certain cases and areas of activity. However, this phenomenon can have a negative impact on personal development, cause anxiety and depression.

Causes of impostor syndrome

Perfectionism. Such people are critical of themselves and always strive to complete tasks perfectly. Just a good result is not suitable for them. They constantly compare their achievements with others, as a result of which they place unreasonably high demands on themselves. When perfectionists achieve great results but see flaws in their work, they cannot fully enjoy success.

Childhood trauma. If in childhood parents took the success of the child for granted, and rarely praised him, then this attitude can become habitual for a person. Achieving a great result, he will think that he has not done anything special in life.

Fear of success. Achieving a certain level, you can often face opposition in society. Behind him, rumors begin to spread, relations with people around him deteriorate due to envy. To prevent such situations, a person deliberately downplays his achievements.

Signs of Imposter Syndrome

  • Do you feel uncomfortable when you are praised for a result that you have striven for long and hard?
  • Have you ever felt afraid that you might be exposed and found out that you are in fact an incompetent specialist?
  • Do you often respond to compliments with “thank you, but I just got lucky”?

If you answered yes to these questions, you may be prone to impostor syndrome. To prevent negative consequences, it is important to understand yourself. The following recommendations can help you with this:

  • Allow yourself to be wrong. Criticism and failures are not an obstacle, but an opportunity to become stronger and better. All famous people make mistakes before they succeed.
  • Get an objective assessment. Ask experts who work with you in the same field to evaluate your skills and provide feedback.
  • Improve your weaknesses. Analyze what knowledge you lack, find online courses, take training and fill in the gaps.
  • Engage in self-development. To always feel confident, follow the changes and trends in the field in which you work. Learn something new and upgrade your skills.
  • Don't compare yourself to others. Think about how you can improve your life and what you really want to achieve.
  • Overcome your fears. Challenge yourself, take on tasks that you are afraid of failing. You will become stronger and more confident in yourself.
  • Keep a diary of achievements. Write down all the useful things that you did during the day, even the most insignificant things.

Another effective way to combat the impostor syndrome is to take the online courses “Russia is a Land of Opportunities”: “The Competence Development Course: Result Orientation, Stress Resilience, Adaptability” will teach you how to manage yourself, achieve complex goals and try new approaches. The Competency Development Course: Information Analysis, Planning and Organization, Strategic Thinking will help develop managerial skills, improve thinking and make new decisions quickly.

We asked Alena Geidt, HR Director of ANO NTI Platform and ANO Universitet 20.35, to share her personal experience and give recommendations on how to deal with the impostor syndrome.

“Imposter syndrome occurs not only in those people who really need to upgrade their competencies in order to be effective in a particular role. Often people with obvious talents are also subject to it, and they suffer from this syndrome precisely because of these talents.

I often talk with such super-efficient "imposters" and here's what I observe: often the strengths, due to which a person is an undeniable star in the eyes of others, are perceived by the specialist himself as skills that he got too easily. Instead of giving their strength and skill to the world, people are engaged in self-digging and justifying their strengths.

Another reason is that in our culture it is not customary to give thanks and give positive feedback. Ever since high school, we receive detailed reports for poor grades, and for achievements - modest praise or nothing at all. So it turns out that the very strengths and achievements that are obvious to others are not obvious to the person himself, and he perceives himself as an “imposter”.

How to work with a syndrome if the cause is in the strengths (and not in the weaknesses)?
  1. Authorize results. Reflection is a great habit with which you can build logical connections between your actions and the result, not to assume that everything turned out only due to luck or luck.

  2. Learn to give and receive positive feedback.

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