What is impostor syndrome?

If you’ve ever felt like you’re not good enough for your job, accomplishments, and relationships, then you might be experiencing impostor syndrome - a psychological phenomenon that affects approximately 70% of people at some point in their lives. How does this phenomenon plague even the most accomplished among us? Let’s look at where it stems from and how we can identify and overcome it.

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Impostor syndrome is when you believe you’re not as capable as others perceive you to be. You think that you got to where you are through luck and not your merits, so you’re an impostor pretending to be someone else. People who experience this have trouble with internalizing and owning their success.

Types of impostor syndrome

  • The perfectionists: set unrealistic standards and are never satisfied with their work. They fixate on their flaws which leads to a great deal of self-pressure and anxiety.

  • The superheroes: they work harder than everyone else to excel at all aspects of their lives. They’ll feel stressed when they’re falling short in one area.

  • The experts: They are never satisfied with their expertise despite having learned and done a lot. They’re afraid of being underqualified for the jobs they take on.

  • The natural geniuses: They usually had it easy in the past, and so when they don’t succeed on their first try, they immediately doubt their competence.

  • The soloists: They work alone and reject assistance from others, seeing it as a sign of incompetence.

Where does this come from?

There’s no one explanation that can fit everyone, but some reasons for this syndrome include:

  • Personality traits like perfectionism, neuroticism (disposition to experience negative emotions like irritation, stress, anxiety)

  • Childhood experiences such as being pushed by parents and never feeling good enough, or being compared to and outshined by a sibling

  • Being a minority impacts one’s confidence and sense of belonging and pushes one to overachieve. This is especially true for minority groups affected by stereotypes about competence, such as Asians, international students, or women.

Can it be good?

While impostor syndrome can motivate you to work hard and achieve a lot, it puts a toll on your mental health by creating constant anxiety. This phenomenon is rooted in the belief that to be worthy of love you need to achieve certain things and abide by a certain standard of success. This belief is exhausting to hold in the long run and will take the joy out of your work. It is more sustainable to find intrinsic motivation than to constantly pressure yourself into working.

How can we cope?

To get past impostor syndrome, you need to constantly question your ingrained beliefs about success. Here are some ways in which y0u can do this:

  • Refrain from comparing yourself with others. Limit your social media usage and be selective with the content you consume, the people you follow.

  • Question your negative thoughts: every time you hear your inner critic, use logic to question and refute it. Look at the facts - the things you’ve accomplished and successfully overcome.

  • Realistically assess your abilities: use past achievements, current objective measurements (such as grades), and others’ opinions (especially from those who know you well or are more experienced) to form a realistic picture of your current standing.

  • Break your goals down into smaller steps and celebrate small wins

  • Reframe your thoughts: turn negative thoughts into constructive ones. Label a bump in the road as a learning opportunity instead of a failure, and view getting help as a strategy for expediting your work instead of a weakness.

If you’re experiencing impostor syndrome to any degree, remember to look back on your achievements, big or small, and be grateful for them. Appreciate your efforts as well as other external factors that help you get to where you are, because while you might not be perfect, you are doing your best with what is available to you, and that is enough.




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