What is the imposter syndrome and how to cope with it

imposter syndrome

Have you ever felt your achievements have occurred by chance? That luck has decided to reward you without your effort having had to play any role? Or even that, at some point, your colleagues and environment are going discover that you are actually a fraud? Then, as research indicates, you might be a part of the 7 out of 10 people which will suffer, at some point in their lives, from the imposter syndrome.

The term, used for the first time in 1978 by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, refers to the biased feeling of a person incapable of assuming and recognizing their own accomplishments despite the evidence that shows them to be true. These people feel like they are imposters in one or more areas of their lives, they don’t give value to their effort or work and they consider that their positive outcomes are consequence of a lucky break. They also believe that the discovery from others that they don’t really deserve the recognition they receive is imminent.

The diverse causes and consequences

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders doesn’t consider impostert. Nevertheless, according to the American Psychological Association, imposter syndrome usually goes accompanied by symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Childhood plays, in most cases, an essential role. People that have been raised in a highly perfectionistic, demanding environment, with a large emphasis on achievements, have more possibilities of suffering from imposter syndrome. These people are marked by the idea that to be loved and accepted, they need to accomplish more and more. And that there’s never a point when it is enough.

According to Valerie Young, recognized expert about imposter syndrome, there exist five general patterns of people suffering it.

  • The perfectionists. People that, even if they take most of their projects forward, consider the slightest mistake a complete failure.
  • The experts. If they don’t have all the information available about a topic, they don’t speak about it or decide to be proactive in any way. They believe any detail out of their control could make their sensed ineptitude known for others.
  • The natural geniuses. If a skill is hard for them to gain, or they don’t understand something at their first attempt, they feel incompetent and guilty.
  • The ‘soloists‘. These people think they have to earn everything by themselves. If they would ask for any help it means they are not capable to fulfill the task that lies ahead of them.
  • The ‘supermen/women‘. Their self demands are higher than the ones from their environment and they feel if they don’t succeed in every area of their life, they are a failure.

How to deal with imposter syndrome

Despite being a pretty common issue, there are some guidelines we can follow to avoid the false or exaggerated beliefs becoming a constant block in our work (and personal lives).

  • Acknowledging the signs. Think whether we have beliefs related to the topic. Do we believe that our achievements are due to external factors? And set ourselves unreachable goals? Do we get paralyzed by an exaggerated fear to fail or to be discovered by others as a fraud? Then it’s probable that we suffer imposter syndrome.
  • Practicing self-compassion. Negative messages, besides reaffirming our beliefs, can increase our stress and anxiety levels. Asking ourselves what is and what is not true in the statements that we are imposters and getting to more realistic and compassionate answers will help us see reality with a more objective perspective.
  • Documenting our little victories. In line with the previous step, writing down each of our small accomplishments, and even external recognition, will help us to let our feelings out. Our ‘victory notebook’ will also become the place to consult when negative thoughts assault us.
  • Set realistic goals. People with imposter syndrome tend to search for absolute perfection. When expectations are unachievable, feeling like we are a failure is a guarantee. Asking ourselves what can we accomplish and letting go of everything we cannot control can help us feel successful for our achievements.
  • Saying ‘yes’ to opportunities. It’s pretty common that, if we suffer from imposter syndrome, we are used to rejecting projects or job positions we are qualified for simply because we anticipate possible problems. In other words, we think we won’t be capable, we are not prepared or we will make a fool of ourselves. That’s why it’s crucial to act despite fear and not to let those emotions to paralyze us.

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