According to research, it is estimated that around 70% of adults will experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime.

The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was first used in the 1970’s by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Clance. It was originally thought to only apply to high achieving women, but it is now recognised as more widely experienced by both men and women, regardless of their social status, work background or skill level.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome refers to when someone feels that they are not as competent or intelligent as others perceive them to be. People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements, they attribute their accomplishments to ‘luck’, and fear that they will eventually be discovered as a fraud.

While it's normal to feel this way occasionally, if you're constantly anxious and your feelings of insecurity get in the way of your personal and professional development, it can become a big problem.

What are the different types?

Dr. Valerie Young, an expert in imposter syndrome, has identified five different types of “imposters.”

The expert is always trying to learn more and is never satisfied with their level of understanding. This can become problematic because the time spent searching for information can make it difficult to complete tasks.

The perfectionist is never satisfied and will often focus on areas where they could have done better, rather than celebrate their achievements. This leads to high levels of anxiety and doubt in their abilities.  

Natural geniuses master new skills quickly and easily. However, they often feel annoyed when they are faced with something that is too difficult.

The soloist prefers to work alone, fearing that asking for help will reveal incompetence or weakness. Soloists will often turn down help in an attempt to prove their self-worth.

Superheroes often feel inadequate and therefore push themselves to work as hard as possible. However, this will often lead to burnout, affecting the physical and mental wellbeing of the individual.

Ways to prevent burnout

How to overcome imposter syndrome

Overcoming imposter syndrome involves changing a person's mindset about their own abilities. However, when adopting different solutions, a person’s mindset is often one of the last things to change. Some of the ways people can overcome imposter syndrome includes;

1. Talk about it

Talking to a friend about how someone is feeling can help to rationalise their thoughts and get a realistic perspective of their abilities and competence.

Many people who experience imposter syndrome believe that they are the only person to have these feelings, therefore group therapy is highly recommended. NatWest launched the campaign #OwnYourImposter in a bid to highlight imposter syndrome and encourage more people to share their experiences and support one another.

2. Be aware of your negative thoughts

Swapping negative thoughts for positive thoughts is a key step towards overcoming imposter syndrome. Try and take a step back and become more consciously aware of your thought process and reframe what you think. Cognitive behavioural therapy is a good way to achieve this by helping to combat negative thinking patterns.

3. Don’t compare yourself to others

People should stay focused on measuring their own achievements, instead of comparing themselves to others. Comparing yourself to others who you perceive to be better or more successful will only make you feel worse.

4. Learn to accept criticism

People who experience imposter syndrome find it extremely difficult to take criticism on board and will often become defensive. A way to overcome this is to be prepared for the next time you may receive criticism and think of what response you would give. 

5. Reward yourself

It is important to remind yourself of everything that you have achieved and celebrate these achievements.

Acknowledging your expertise and accomplishments is key to reducing/eliminating the feeling that you do not belong in your environment. However, research published in Frontiers in Psychology found that for people with imposter syndrome, success can lead to an increase in their sense of fraudulence, negative feelings and dissatisfaction.

No matter how much you feel like you are not as competent or intelligent as others, or that you are underserving of your achievements, don’t let imposter syndrome have an impact in pursuing your goals.

Written by Michelle Young


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