Do you ever wonder how everyone else seems to have it all figured out, except you? Do you believe that if others could hear your self doubt they would no longer hold you in a high regard? Or, have you ever had fears that your boss and co-workers will find out that you aren’t that talented or worthy of your position?
It’s estimated that 70% of people will experience feelings of being an imposter at some point in their life. Although the imposter syndrome phenomenon isn’t a formal mental health diagnosis, it is very real. As a therapist, I know that everyone can experience fleeting thoughts like this from time to time. These thoughts may occur when we are growing into a new role or taking on a new challenge. But for some individuals, this is a recurring thought loop that prevents them from believing they are deserving of their successes or that their achievements are due to their own efforts and skills. These individuals may become paranoid that their successes are due to external forces, or luck, and fear that they will eventually be “found out”. This can become debilitating, causing an individual to feel disconnected from themselves and eventually lead to struggles with anxiety and/or depression.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that often occurs amongst high achieving individuals. Experts have found that individuals who experience imposter syndrome do not all view competence in the same way. Rather, there are five competence types, which are internal rules individuals tend to follow within each imposter type.
Valerie Young, a lead expert in imposter syndrome, has educated women on the phenomen for decades. She is the author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It”. Read along to understand your imposter type and ways to overcome limiting beliefs so you can trust your abilities, celebrate your successes, and thrive in your endeavors.
You never seem to be satisfied and always feel that your work could have been better. You expect 110%. You often get fixated on perceived flaws or mistakes, rather than focusing on your strengths or what went well. You put a lot of pressure on yourself and feel high amounts of anxiety.
Aim for “good enough”. Check in with your true feelings to set realistic goals and standards for yourself and know when it is “good enough” for the day. Let yourself experience the power and relief from this.
The Natural Genius
You believe you should be good at whatever you do right away. You look at others who are masters of their craft and think they were born that way. Because of these beliefs, you set excessively lofty goals for yourself and feel crushed when you don’t succeed on your first try. Disappointed and frustrated in yourself, you may jump from hobby to hobby, never giving yourself enough time to be a learner. You see setbacks as personal failures and question your competency.
Cultivate a growth mindset where you can watch your abilities and skills increase with the amount of effort you put in. Focus on enjoying the process of learning.
You’re known to step up to the task, have no problem taking on extra responsibility, and doing things for others. You seem to work harder than your peers and always juggle many tasks at once. You frequently feel inadequate, which drives you to push yourself as hard as possible, often denying your true feelings and needs.
Recognize the feelings underneath the habit of people-pleasing. Learn to validate your feelings and needs before prioritizing others.
You consider yourself a lifelong learner and never seem satisfied with your level of understanding. You tend to delay starting things (e.g. projects or work tasks) because you need to prepare more. On paper you are highly skilled, although you seem to underrate your own expertise. It just never feels like enough. You always have to be doing more, or you fear you’re underachieving.
Accept there is never an end to learning and you could always be doing more. Learn to differentiate when it is necessary to gain more knowledge and when the urge is driven by fear.
You prefer to work alone and are very individualistic. You feel better about yourself when you’re productive and worse when you perceive yourself to be unproductive. You tend to reject any assistance or help from others and believe asking for or accepting help is a sign of incompetence or weakness.
Practice asking for help and learn to recognize when additional help or assistance would benefit you more than going about it alone. Identify your support group, meaning, the individuals who you can trust and know will have your back.
An important note is to refrain from labeling or diagnosing yourself here - this is simply to bring awareness to your own beliefs and behavior patterns that may not be serving you. The phenomenon of imposter syndrome affects all kinds of people from all walks of life. We can believe that these feelings are abnormal and that because we are experiencing them it means we are not worthy or are not doing well. As a therapist, I actually see the opposite - it’s usually when one is succeeding in life that one feels this way, and the more one achieves the more opportunities they have to feel like an imposter.
We need to validate to ourselves that these are normal feelings to have when we are doing or learning something new. When we stop fighting the feeling, we dissipate its hold over us. When imposter feelings come up, try validating yourself by repeating how “these feelings make sense because I am still learning and doing something new. I give myself grace in not knowing everything, or being perfect.”
Erica Basso is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist practicing statewide in California. She helps guide women in overcoming anxiety, perfectionism, and imposter syndrome. Learn more at: www.ericabassotherapy.com
Young V. The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. Crown Business:2011.