What is it?
Imposter Syndrome, or the Imposter Phenomenon, is typically thought of as a feeling of being lost while everyone else knows what they are doing. These feelings can bring about a fear that people around you will find out you don’t know what you’re doing and expose you as a fraud, incompetent, or unable to replicate past successes, as explained by Audrey Ervin, Ph.D.
Imposter syndrome is usually centered on self-worth, achievement, acceptance, and lovability. This means it can manifest in many ways, such as at work, at home, at school, and in relationships.
The imposter phenomenon can present itself through numerous “symptoms” or effects in your life. A few of these include:
You downplay your achievements and write off your successes as luck or timing because you don’t believe you earned them from your own talent. Rather than feeling pride after your accomplishments, you often feel relief, which can cause you to keep pushing while neglecting to take care of yourself. Any further accomplishments usually do not reassure you and minor errors you make reinforce your belief in your lack of intelligence and ability, and can cause you to feel guilty or worthless, as stated by Crystal Raypole and Medically reviewed by Vara Saripalli, Psy.D.
You feel unworthy of attention or affection and have a hard time connecting with people because you fear being ‘found out.’ This may lead to difficulty finding and maintaining relationships as these feelings tend to be draining.
You believe that overworking is the only way you can meet expectations and you pressure yourself to work harder in order to prevent people from recognizing your failures, become worthy of the role you have, and think you don’t deserve and make up for your ‘lack of intelligence.’
Constantly living with these feelings and/or the fear of being discovered can have a negative impact on your life. Studies suggest that the imposter phenomenon can lead to feelings of anxiety, depression, and being overwhelmed with your unceasing efforts, as well as a drop in job performance and job satisfaction, an increase in burnout, and less risk-taking in careers. The effect on performance can cause you to remain stuck in imposter feelings and can become a self-fulfilling prophecy, as explained by Salazar-Nuñez and Lincoln Hill, Ph.D.
A systematic review found that feelings from imposter syndrome can result in people believing that they are the “only one” who has these feelings. But according to Bravata, D. M., et al., in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, “Up to 82% of people face feelings of imposter phenomenon, struggling with the sense they haven’t earned what they’ve achieved and are a fraud.” So if you think you may be experiencing imposter syndrome, you are not alone.
What are the Types?
Imposter syndrome can be different for each person depending on their background, personality, situation, etc. According to Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on the subject, there are five core types of imposter syndrome to describe the different ways it tends to appear.
1. The Perfectionist
This type of person demands perfection of themselves, 100% of the time, in every aspect of their life. They may set impossibly high standards for themselves and rarely are happy or satisfied because they usually believe they could’ve done better. They will criticize themselves for small mistakes and believe their entire attempt is a failure if they make a minor mistake, leading them to feel ashamed.
2. The Natural Genius
A natural genius has most likely spent their entire life being able to effortlessly pick up new skills. This may have led them to believe that competent people should be able to understand new material and processes right away, with little difficulty. Natural geniuses will not only measure success and judge themselves based on exceedingly high expectations, but also on how quickly and easily they can complete a task or project. If something does not come easily to them or they cannot succeed on the first try, they will feel ashamed, embarrassed, and like a failure.
3. The Rugged Individualist or Soloist
Rugged individualists believe they should be able to handle everything by themselves without asking for help. They believe that asking for or accepting help is a sign of weakness and unworthiness, as well as admitting to their inadequacies and failures. This type of person will also likely prefer solo tasks over group projects.
4. The Expert
Experts believe that they should have all of the answers, but believe they will never know enough despite being extremely knowledgeable. They measure their competence and success based on “what” and “how much” they know or can do.
They might have to dedicate more time to the main task than necessary due to spending too much time pursuing more information. Experts will not typically put themselves forward for a task or to answer a question that is not in their comfort level to prevent being exposed as inexperienced or knowledgeable. If they cannot answer a question or come across previously missed information or knowledge they will consider themself a fraud.
5. The Superhero
Superheros link their competence and success to their ability to thrive in every role they hold. They believe that they should be able to handle everything. In order to do this and prove they are not an imposter, they expend as much energy as they can in every role, pushing themselves to their limit. Failing to succeed in these roles proves to themselves that their beliefs of inadequacy are correct.
These people tend to be thought of as workaholics but in reality, they are addicted to the validation and feelings of success as they help to relieve imposter feelings.