Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon common among women and high-achievers. To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience —you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud— that you’ve only succeeded due to luck

admin's picture
Published on

By Roland Stephen
Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon common among women and high-achievers. To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience —you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud— that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications. It can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise. Even famous women from the Hollywood Superstars such as Charlize Theron and Viola Davis to Business leaders such as Sheryl Sandberg have confessed to experiencing it.

Oscar winner Viola Davis, who has also won an Emmy award and a Tony award, told media that she sometimes feels like she has "impostor syndrome." "It feels like my hard work has paid off, but at the same time I still have the impostor, you know, syndrome," Davis said in an interview.

Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. The impact of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases was categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed.

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.

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.

Types of Imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can appear in a number of different ways. A few different types of imposter syndrome may include:

The perfectionist:

Perfectionists are never satisfied and always feel that their work could be better. Rather than focus on their strengths, they tend to fixate on any flaws or mistakes. This often leads to a great deal of self-pressure and high amounts of anxiety.

The superhero:

Because these individuals feel inadequate, they feel compelled to push themselves to work as hard as possible.

The expert:

These individuals are always trying to learn more and are never satisfied with their level of understanding. Even though they are often highly skilled, they underrate their own expertise.

The natural genius:

These individuals set excessively lofty goals for themselves, and then feel crushed when they don't succeed on their first try.

The soloist:

These people tend to be very individualistic and prefer to work alone. Self-worth often stems from their productivity, so they often reject offers of assistance. They tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence.

Identifying imposter syndrome

While impostor syndrome is not a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is not uncommon. It is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of this phenomenon in their lives.2

If you think you might have imposter syndrome, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you agonize over even the smallest mistakes or flaws in your work?
  • Do you attribute your success to luck or outside factors?
  • Are you very sensitive to even constructive criticism?
  • Do you feel like you will inevitably be found out as a phony?
  • Do you downplay your own expertise, even in areas where you are genuinely more skilled than others?

If you often find yourself feeling like you are a fraud or an imposter, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist. The negative thinking, self-doubt, and self-sabotage that often characterize imposter syndrome can have an effect on many areas of your life. Try instead to turn that feeling into one of gratitude. Look at what you have accomplished in your life and be grateful.