Feeling Like A Fraud: Imposter Syndrome

When The Praises You Get Do Not Resonate With How You View Yourself

  • Do you ever think that you succeeded on something due to pure luck?
  • Do you ever think you do not/did not deserve all the accomplishments and praise?
  • Do you ever worry that people might actually find out that you are not deserving of it all?
  • Do you ever think that people think that you are actually not that smart?
  • Do you constantly doubt yourself and your abilities?
  • Do you ever find yourself downplaying your achievements?
  • Do you have a hard time accepting compliments?
  • Do you feel uncomfortable with praise?
  • Do you tend to compare yourself to others?
  • Do you find yourself seeking validation from authority figures in your life (parent, employer, etc.) to ascertain if you are successful or not?

If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, or all of them, chances are you might have be suffering from what is known as “Imposter Syndrome“. It also goes by other names: Imposter Phenomenon or Perceived Fraudulence.

Even though, it is not an official mental disorder, it’s effects can lead to one or help reinforce a pre-existing one (e.g. anxiety and/or depression).

Imposter Syndrome involves having feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persists despite one’s personal education, experience and accomplishments. Therefore, one finds themselves doubting their abilities and feeling like a fraud, and thus finding it difficult to embrace their achievements, questioning if one is even deserving of the accolades.

Essentially, it expresses that there is a conflict between one’s own self-perception and the way others perceive them. It can affect anyone in any profession with any educational level, including graduate students and top executives. It is more common than we think. A lot of us have felt like we were not deserving of merits, even when everyone around us sings our praises. One’s sense of competency is a big question to self.

Types of Imposter Syndromes

Imposter syndrome may manifest itself differently on different people. There are 5 main ways the imposter syndrome may manifest itself, and with some people, it might be a combination of the different types or ways.

1.The Perfectionist:

  • One primarily focuses on how things should be done, pressuring self to be perfect in every aspect.
  • At times, instead of acknowledging one’s hard work after completing a task, one might criticise themselves for small mistakes and feel ashamed of their “failure”
  • One might avoid trying new things in the fear that they might not do it perfectly at the first try.

2.The Natural Genius:

  • As one has spent most of their lives picking up new skills with little effort, they might begin to believe that they should understand new material and processes with ease right away.
  • That belief that one should handle everything with ease, or little difficulty, can lead to one feeling like a fraud when having a hard time.
  • Not succeeding at the first try might leave one feeling ashamed and embarrassed.

3.The Individualist/Soloist:

  • One believes that they should deal with everything alone.
  • Therefore, when success is achieved with others, one begins to consider themselves as unworthy of the success.
  • Asking for help or accepting help/support when it is offered can leave one feeling like a failure, and for one, means admitting their inadequacies and embracing the failure.

4.The Expert:

  • One is more inclined to learning everything there is to know about a particular task or topic before considering their work as a success.
  • One tends to spend more time pursuing the quest for more information that they might lose time to complete the task itself.
  • Due to one always having the need to have all the answers, one might consider themselves a fraud or a failure when they cannot answer or encounter some knowledge they preciously missed.

5.The Superhero:

  • The superhero links their competency to their ability to succeed in every role they hold (e.g friend, student, parent, employee, etc.)
  • Therefore, failing to successfully navigate the demands of those roles, to the superhero, simply proves their inadequacy.
  • Hence, to succeed, one pushes themselves to the limit, expending as much energy as possible in every role, but with this maximum effort not resolving the self-doubt.

The Cause of Imposter Syndrome:

There is no single clear cause, but rather a number of factors that could contribute to its development or progression.

Parenting or Childhood Environment:

The type of environment one grows up in has a great impact on how they perceive themselves and how they think other people might perceive them. Depending on the conditions one is exposed to growing up, one can grow up to be a confident, self-sufficient, validated and self-compassionate individual, or the opposite of that.

Conditions That Might Lead to Imposter Syndrome Later in Life:

  • Pressure from parents/guardians to do well in school
  • Constantly being compared to one’s siblings, cousins, friends, etc.
  • Having parents that were overly protective or controlling
  • Having one’s natural intelligence praised and emphasised
  • Having one’s mistakes constantly and sharply criticised
  • Having constant academic success

Individual Factors:

Even though one’s environment might contribute to the development and/or exacerbation of one’s Imposter Syndrome, individual factors also might have a hand.

Personality Traits:

Some personality traits are linked to imposter syndromes, including:

  • Perfectionism tendencies
  • Low self-efficacy
  • High neuroticism (more likely to experience “negative” emotions)
  • Low conscientiousness (more likely to want things structured and organised, planned out, and efficient)

Existing Mental Health Symptoms/Disorders:

Anxiety and Depressive Disorders are linked to feelings of self-doubt. If one has a pre-existing anxiety and/or depressive disorder, or is presenting with some symptoms, it can lead to imposter syndrome or help reinforce it; leaving one feeling like they are stuck in this unhealthy cycle.

New Responsibilities:

Having to start playing or holding a new role comes with a lot of responsibilities and expectations, which might be anxiety-provoking, especially if one is not familiar with the role or environment (e.g. new job, parent, etc.). Within that new environment, or new role, if there is a lack of support, validation and encouragement, imposter syndrome may surface or worsen.

Ways Of Coping With Imposter Syndrome

  • Acknowledging your feelings and talking to someone who can encourage and validate you.
  • Building connections as a way to gain and give support, strength validation and encouragement.
  • Challenging your thoughts/doubts by asking yourself: “Do actual facts support my beliefs?”
  • Acknowledging that receiving encouragement and recognition are a sign that you are doing well and deserve the praise.
  • Avoiding self-comparison to others and realising that everyone has their own unique abilities and it is ok to struggle with new activities here and there.
  • Embracing your success.
  • Practicing some self-compassion.

Reflect On This:

  1. Which of your successes are you not taking ownership of?
  2. Which of your beliefs about success are holding you back?
  3. Which of your strengths are you overlooking?
  4. Who are you talking to about your self-doubt and feelings of incompetence?
  5. What are you to lose if you think of yourself as confident, efficient, adequate, worthy, smart and deserving of success?
  6. What are you to benefit if you think of yourself as confident, efficient, adequate, worthy, smart and deserving of success?

Who are you not to be deserving of success?!

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