The Impostor Syndrome, also known as the Good Impostor Syndrome and the Fraud Syndrome, is a concept that describes people who are not able to internalize their achievements and feel a persistent fear of appearing to others as a “fraud.”
Origin of the term
What is the imposter syndrome? This syndrome, which was initially called the “impostor phenomenon,” was coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes.
Clance was working at a women’s college at the time and noted that many of the students she interacted with seemed to have an irrational concern of being discovered as frauds and not deserving of the success they had achieved, despite external evidence that demonstrated their competition.
While early research focused on the prevalence among high achievers, imposter syndrome was found to affect both men and women, in roughly equal numbers. It can also take on various profiles, depending on a person’s background, personality, and circumstances.
How Impostor Syndrome Presents
Imposter syndrome tends to be understood as a reaction to certain stimuli and events, but it is not diagnosed as a mental disorder. Regardless, it has been a research topic for many psychologists over the years. Although initially perceived as an ingrained personality trait, it has recently been classified as a reaction to certain situations. Under this interpretation, the symptomatology is presented as a response to situations that provoke these feelings and internal experiences of little merit.
Like everything, some people more than others are more likely to feel like “impostors”, and their symptoms can be identified through the use of personality scales, although the impostor syndrome is not in itself qualified as a distinctive personality trait.
Signs and symptoms
Impostor Syndrome can show different symptoms, but some signs are quite common such as:
- Fear of failure
- Overworking (to compensate for the alleged “fraud”)
- Undermine one’s own achievements
- Minimize praise
The most common thoughts of these people tend to be of the type:
- “I must not fail”
- “I feel like a fraud”
- “I just got lucky”
The Deceiver experience can be accompanied by anxiety, stress, or depression.
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Who is more likely to have impostor syndrome
Imposter syndrome is particularly common among high achievers. Another demographic that often suffers from this phenomenon are African Americans and other ethnic minorities. Apparently, belonging to a minority makes some people question whether their success is due to the fact that they have been favored after positive discrimination against that group.
A study by Queena Hoang suggested that people of color may experience imposter syndrome as a result of suspecting that they were given their position through affirmative action. Research suggests that groups that excel in areas that were not always easily accessible to them tend to experience imposter syndrome more than others. Likewise, students who have not always had access to higher education institutions are another source that can create feelings of fraud.
Regarding high achievers, Imes and Clance’s theory suggests that there are several common behaviors in high-ability women with imposter syndrome.
Interestingly, gifted women often work much harder than men to prevent others from discovering that they are “impostors,” depending on their point of view. But this hard work is often rewarded with more praise and success, perpetuating feelings of fraud and fears of being “discovered.” Thus, the “impostor” person may feel that he needs to work two or three times more, so he ends up obsessing over the details. This can lead to exhaustion and sleep deprivation.
Another paradoxical way that a person can perpetuate their feelings of imposture is by avoiding showing confidence in their abilities. The person who deals with feelings of fraud may believe that if he truly trusts his intelligence and abilities, he could be rejected by others. Therefore, you will convince yourself that you are not smart or deserve success to avoid this.
Research conducted in the early 1980s estimated that two out of five successful people consider themselves frauds and other studies have found that 70% of people feel like imposters at one point or another.
Famous people who have allegedly experienced imposter syndrome include award-winning writer Maya Angelou, Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks, actresses Emma Watson and Michelle Pfeiffer, screenwriter Chuck Lorre, best-selling writers Neil Gaiman and John Green, American comedian Tommy Cooper, business leader Sheryl Sandberg, and the United States Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, among others.
Imposter syndrome and work
Imposter syndrome makes us feel very uncomfortable in the workplace, but it can also have negative effects beyond the emotional area, as it can affect the way we approach work.
People who experience this phenomenon often tend towards perfectionism. Obsessive perfectionism leads to unrealistic expectations that cannot always be met, as well as a constant fear of failure. The idea of trying to get everything done perfectly can also lead to procrastination, due to a concern of not meeting those unrealistic expectations or a struggle to stop working on something that is already good enough, while other pending work accumulates.
The impostor phenomenon can also be correlated with worse job outcomes, perhaps due to these unhealthy work habits. A study of more than 200 professionals from the University of Salzburg found that those who experience this syndrome tended to be less paid, were less likely to be promoted, and felt less engaged and satisfied at work.
On the other hand, some scholars have argued that feelings of fraud are potentially healthy and beneficial for some people. This belief stems from the idea that we all have a comfort zone and personal and/or professional growth is likely to occur when we must get out of it.
In any case, since impostor syndrome is fundamentally harmful and extremely common, we offer you some of the ways to overcome it.
How to overcome impostor syndrome
Recognize insane perfectionism
If you are extremely fearful of failure and criticism, constantly worry about making mistakes or disappointing people, or tend to mull over past mistakes, these are signs of insane or obsessive perfectionism.
Learning to do a task well enough rather than perfectly is important in overcoming these concerns. We must learn to celebrate our progress and the rewards for success, to help us recognize our efforts.
It is important to start small as we work to rethink our understanding of achievement. Small steps can help us slowly change our thinking over time.
Learn to evaluate yourself realistically
It is important to focus on our self-assessments, which are probably not realistic if we experience this phenomenon. Most of the achievers are very smart people, but some of the really smart people want to be geniuses. We all have areas where we are quite smart and areas where we are not so smart, we must accept this.
We can write down the areas that we are really good at and the areas that we might need to work on more. This can help us recognize areas where we can improve and areas where we may have overlooked our success or abilities.
Talk to other people
Although we can enjoy spending time with other successful people, the truth is that the more successful we are, the more like us our peers will be. This can make it harder to stand out and feel worthy of our peer group, which encourages the phenomenon of fraud to emerge.
Talking to other people about our problems can help show that others are not perfect and make mistakes like everyone else. When we struggle to accept our achievements without thinking that it was luck that got us where we are, we can see how others have overcome their setbacks as well, or even struggled with imposter syndrome themselves.
While it can be difficult to overcome deep-seated fears about our abilities and accomplishments, it can be comforting to know that most people feel this way at some point.