The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome and How to Beat Them
Have you ever felt unworthy of receiving praise for a job well done at your place of work? Or; Do you ever think that your accomplishments were only as a result of sheer luck? Then, you have Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome simply makes you feel undeserving of praises or awards for your hard work and make you feel like a total fraud after working so hard on a particular task.
Sadly, studies have shown that it is not limited to the corporate world alone, as 70% of people from all walks of life have experienced it at some point in their lives.
Also, this syndrome was first described by Psychologists in 1978, and this syndrome has further undergone researches and studies in a bid to come up with a workable solution.
However, before you can successfully know how to overcome this syndrome, it is best to know exactly what it is and its various types. So here goes:
WHAT IS IMPOSTOR SYNDROME?
Impostor syndrome is the feeling of being inadequate and not measuring up, hence, making you feel undeserving of compliments that are directed at your accomplishments.
Joy Harden Bradford says,
“People struggling with impostor syndrome often feel like a fraud and often live with the fear that at any moment, others will find out that their success is unearned.”
One would think that this syndrome is only peculiar to the working-class population; however, job seekers are also affected, hence, creating self-imposed restrictions on different job opportunities available to them.
Consequently, this has led to many people settling for less than they deserve, thus, regretting their decisions in the future.
TELLTALE SIGNS OF IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
Self-doubt is sometimes beneficial as it could lead to one continuously assessing themselves in terms of their competence, achievements, and validity.
However, when self-doubt gets to a toxic level, where you can no longer see your capabilities, then it becomes difficult to own your successes.
Eventually, this can graduate to impostor syndrome, which will undoubtedly affect productivity on all fronts. Asides self-doubt, other significant symptoms can characterize Impostor syndrome. They are:
Fear of Failed Expectations
When you begin to worry excessively about not living up to the expectations of bosses and colleagues, then you may be experiencing impostor syndrome.
Additionally, if you set goals for yourself, and you continuously beat yourself up for not getting what you expected, you may be experiencing impostorism.
If you have impostor syndrome, it becomes a norm to be self-sabotaging.
Consequently, you will develop a fear of failure that is beyond normal, thus birthing a constant clash between avoiding being discovered as a fraud and achieving your goals. As a result of this clash, you will become limited and have difficulty reaching your potentials.
Individuals that have impostor syndrome always attribute their success to either luck, influence, or other people, instead of accepting that they are competent, and their hard work paid off. Thus, they believe that they will have to work harder than others to prove themselves.
Small and big successes achieved by people with impostor syndrome will trigger an impostor cycle. They will become bothered that their abilities will be scrutinized to reveal a level of incompetence.
Attachment to the Comfort Zone
If you find yourself always avoiding extra responsibilities that could hone your skills while opting for a familiar duty that you have developed, then you may have impostor syndrome.
This is in line with the research conducted and published by the Journal of Business and Psychology in 2014.
Additionally, individuals with impostor syndrome are guarded about their work and dislike volunteering because they are concerned that the quality of their job may be compromised.
As a result of the need to be the best and not fail, people with impostor syndrome end up setting challenging goals for themselves.
This may be a good move as it may maximize productivity; however, the study conducted in 2011 by the Behavioral Science Research Institute shows that the inability to achieve these set goals will lead to disappointment.
WHAT CAUSES IMPOSTOR SYNDROME?
There was a general misconception when this syndrome was first recognized that it only affected women, especially those in leadership roles, and even more so, women of color.
According to Suzanne Mercier, impostor syndrome is caused by two significant factors:
Nature: Nature is a huge cause of this syndrome as these individuals can hardly lay a finger on what triggered this feeling. Such people become more reactive emotionally and focus on themselves for no apparent reason. It’s not uncommon for you to experience this syndrome naturally as people act differently based on their natural temperaments and personalities.
Nurture: If while growing up, you had parents that were perfectionists – they had an extreme perception of what a game or a performance should be like, and if you eventually fell below their standard, you experienced criticisms that were meant to be constructive. Although it was meant to motivate you into improving, it ultimately led to a mindset of not been enough for any task given.
These two factors are only preliminary because impostor syndrome is usually dormant if these are the only factors involved.
However, it can be triggered by other situations and happenings around you that leave you feeling like a total fraud.
EFFECTS OF IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
Impostor syndrome is believed to have both positive and negative impacts on individuals.
Positive; in the sense that it can motivate you to work harder and better to achieve your set goals.
However, this comes at the cost of your peace of mind – you are always anxious that you may not deliver while working extremely hard to hide the fact that you are a fraud.
This syndrome will make you attribute your success to factors that surround you.
For instance, you only aced that class presentation because you prepared all night.
Or, you find a way to expose your flaws when you are complimented for a task well executed.
Impostor syndrome does not let you change your belief about yourself – not being good enough – even when you have significant achievements and reach the peak of your career. You will still feel a complex for having a small win, and achieving more will only further increase the fraudulent feeling.
Additionally, if you get bad feedback on a completed task, it will only serve to increase your feelings about yourself, even though you get an apparent contradiction to your thought process. You will keep feeling that you only achieved by luck and not competence.
Furthermore, chronic impostor syndrome could develop into depression. This is only encouraged by the fact that you find it impossible to talk about your feelings with people to avoid being awkward.
TYPES OF IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
- The Perfectionist
- The Superman/woman
- The Natural Genius
- The Soloist
- The Expert
Before we get down to it, here is a self-assessment questionnaire to ascertain if you are a perfectionist.
- Do you exhibit signs of being a micromanager?
- Have you ever accused yourself of being incompetent and unfit for your job when you fail to achieve an extreme goal you set for yourself? Do you dwell on it for days?
- When you are unable to do a particular assignment, or do you find it challenging to delegate duties to someone else? And if you do, are you always dissatisfied with the results?
- Lastly, do you continuously expect a 100% perfect mark on projects you are working on?
Now, if your answer to two out of the above questions is yes, then you may have the impostor syndrome exhibited in the form of a perfectionist. So who are perfectionists?
Perfectionists are individuals who set goals for themselves that are a bit hard-to-reach, even for them, and if they do not achieve this goal, they could start doubting their capabilities and worrying if they are cut out for the job at all.
In a bid to achieve their goals the exact way they thought it out, they hardly assign duties to others, and if they do, they may end up being too controlling.
Also, as a perfectionist, you will notice that success is fleeting as you are rarely satisfied as you always feel that you can do better.
Admittedly, this habit is toxic as it will keep you feeling not good enough for tasks, even if it is your area of specialization.
Your relationship with people working with you would be a bit stressed because you are likely to be tagged as a control freak.
Answer these questions to know if you fall into this category:
- Are you usually stressed out when you are not working? Do you see relaxation time as a total waste?
- Do you continuously stay back at work even after you have completed your task for the day?
- Have you let go of your hobbies and pastime activities all because of work?
- Despite your numerous achievements and awards, do you still feel like you have not earned your title, hence, a need to continue overworking yourself to prove your worth?
If you answered in the affirmative to the questions above, you are a Superman/woman, and this does not necessarily mean it is in the positive light.
Individuals with the Superman/woman impostor syndrome regard themselves as not good enough when compared to their colleagues, even if they have a truckload of achievements that outweigh their colleagues’. Therefore, they tend to overwork themselves in a bid to measure up.
One would think that this is a perfect set up for a successful career; however, this is only a stance to cloak their insecurities. You may end up overworking yourself and exerting yourself not only physically, but mentally as well, hence, straining your relationship with the people around you.
You will find out that you are actually in pursuit of the validation that accompanies the work and not the work itself, making you a candidate for the “eye-service” tag at your place of work.
Additionally, you will find it tasking to communicate with your colleagues as you hardly kickback to relate with them outside the professional environment.
The Natural Genius
Below are a few questions for you to answer to know if you belong to this category:
- Do you succeed at work without extra effort?
- Have you found yourself avoiding challenges because you are not so good at them?
- Are you continuously tagged the best in everything you do?
- Do you find the idea of having a mentor to be unnecessary because you believe you are competent enough?
- As a child, were you always told that you were the smartest child at home and school?
- Do you experience a loss of confidence and feel ashamed when you are experiencing a little setback?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, then you may be experiencing the impostor syndrome as a natural genius.
The natural geniuses believe that they should always be competent without trying too much, hence, the name. You will find yourself judging your competence using speed and ease as the standard instead of your efforts.
Consequently, if you spend a long time trying to learn something, you begin to feel ashamed.
Just like the perfectionists, the natural genius sets the standard ridiculously high. Still, instead of judging based on the expectations, they judge themselves on their ability to succeed the first time they try.
As soon as this comes to play, they start feeling incompetent; hence, their refusal to try new things to avoid failure.
Additionally, you forget that skills need to be honed to be the best you can be and avoid being mediocre or being only competent in one aspect.
Answering the following questions will let you know if you are a soloist or not:
- Do you frequently catch yourself saying, “I can do it myself, I don’t need help”?
- Are you a believer that you need to be self accomplished without help?
- When requesting materials, do you make requests based on the project requirements and not your needs as an individual?
- Do you find teamwork difficult?
- Do you tag dependent individuals as incompetent?
If this applies to you, then you are a soloist in terms of impostor syndrome. You will continuously push for independence even in a team task.
The soloists are individuals that believe that asking for help will only reveal that they are weak; hence, they refuse assistance to prove their worth. When you are in a fix or have difficulty in a given task, you will rather fail the assignment or spend more time on research, rather than seeking counsel.
Additionally, you may be of little or no help when placed in a team to work on a project, only delivering if you are the leader or the major contributor.
Even as a leader, others’ opinions may not count, except they agree with your thoughts.
You believe that dependence is a sign of weakness and will never seek help, and if you eventually do, you will feel like a failure until the task is completed.
Can you answer the following questions to know if you belong to this category?
- Do you feel like you do not know enough even after you have played a particular role for a while?
- Have you disagreed continuously with people who call you an expert?
- Do you have issues applying for jobs except you meet all the requirements indicated?
- Are you always on the lookout for certifications and training because you feel your success is tied to skill improvement?
If you answered in the affirmative to the questions above, then you fall into this category. Admittedly, certifications and training are vital to one’s career; however, when it becomes a defining factor for success, it may be abused.
The experts take pride in what they know and how much they can do, tagging this as a yardstick for success. Professionally, this is good; however, it becomes a bane for the experts because they feel that they will never know enough; thus, fear that they will be found out to be inexperienced or unintelligent.
Building up your skills will indeed make you grow professionally and make you valuable in the market. Nevertheless, when you take it too far, the drive to seek information and certification graduates to a form of procrastination.
When given a task or job that you have limited knowledge of, you may opt to do research or go for training. However, you just might get caught up with chasing validation instead of focusing on the task at hand, thus, postponing the execution of the job.
You believe that you do not know enough, whereas you may have had a series of certifications and recognitions. Consequently, this will hinder your progress, as you will keep feeling inadequate.
HOW TO BEAT THE IMPOSTOR SYNDROME
Beating the Perfectionist Impostor Syndrome
As a perfectionist, you are rarely satisfied with your successes as you feel you can do better. This is a toxic and unproductive mindset in this context because it will hinder your growth.
You should deliberately own and celebrate your successes and achievements to avoid a breakdown.
Also, you should cultivate a level of confidence in your abilities and be content with your success no matter how little.
Additionally, learn to see mistakes as an integral part of your success, taking them in stride, and owning it. Admittedly, the perfectionist mentality could result in your procrastinating specific tasks.
This is as a result of you waiting for the perfect time and for all things to be equal.
The hard truth is that all things will never be equal, and there is never an ideal time to begin. You have to start where you are, accept your flaws, and run with it.
Beating the Superman/woman Impostor Syndrome
A superman/woman impostor is driven by the validation that accompanies working, rather than the work. You have to detach your drive from other people’s validation deliberately.
Remember that no one has the power to make you feel self-sufficient or good about yourself.
Your boss is only there to validate your work and give constructive criticism on a particular task.
You are not investing your total knowledge base for that specific task; hence, criticism is geared at only that particular task.
Therefore, you should not take it personally and let it decide your competence.
Focus more on internal validation – your opinion about yourself – and build your self-confidence, believing that you are competent in your area of specialization. This way, you will be able to regulate how much work you need to put in and maximize productivity.
Beating the Natural Genius Impostor Syndrome
A natural genius believes that he should succeed in his first try. Speed does not validate competence. This is a truth that we should continuously remember. If you are fast in a particular task and competent, that is great, however, when you are not, remember that you are still a work in progress.
Learning and building skills is a continuous process for everyone alike. No one stops learning; therefore, when you make a mistake in a particular area, it shouldn’t make you see yourself as less than you are.
Not being able to achieve your extremely high goals should not deter you; however, it should push you to improve in that particular area.
Identify these specific shortcomings and grow competence in them instead of avoiding them altogether. You never know what area will be beneficial to you.
Beating the Soloist Impostor Syndrome
Firstly, you should know that no man is an island.
Admittedly, independence is blissful; however, it shouldn’t deter you from accepting assistance from others.
Everyone has their area of strength, and asking for help with a particular area you are not good at will help to maximize the quality of tasks.
Therefore, you should learn to ask questions as it only shows a willingness to learn rather than incompetence as no man knows it all. Additionally, accepting assistance from others will help you complete tasks in record time.
Beating the Expert Impostor Syndrome
Admittedly, you can never stop learning. However, you should endeavor that the skills that are garnered are productively used while it is required. This is better than accumulating skills that you may not apply for a while. Additionally, accept that you can always ask for help when you need it.
When applying for a job, if you do not have some of the required skill set, there is no harm in applying and deciding to learn the rest while on the job.
Also, you can choose to mentor your junior colleagues; this way, you share your knowledge and benefit others, hence, overcoming the feeling of inexperience.
When you give out your insight, it reveals the places where you need; hence, you get the relevant skill help set.
Conclusively, no matter what type of impostor syndrome you exhibit, beating it starts from you assessing yourself and accepting that you have an issue with it.
Then, you can take it further to let people in on it, either, trusted friends, or professionals who can help you deal with it.
This way, you are accountable to people who can help you track your progress when you start working on yourself.
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