What is Imposter Syndrome? 7 Common Signs and Causes
Did you know that many successful individuals, including Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, and Maya Angelou, have admitted to struggling with imposter syndrome? Despite their remarkable achievements, these prominent figures have still experienced the same inner turmoil as many of us. In fact, Maya Angelou, who wrote 11 books, described how she sometimes feels anxious and worries about being exposed as a fraud. It may be difficult to believe that such accomplished individuals would suffer from imposter syndrome, but the truth is that anyone can experience it.
In this blog post, we will delve into the topic of imposter syndrome, exploring what it is, common signs of it, and what causes it. So, if you have ever felt like a fraud or worried that you are not good enough despite your achievements, this post is for you.
What is Imposter Syndrome? A Psychologist Explains
Back in 1978, a survey was conducted on one hundred women who were formally recognized for their professional excellence and academic achievements in their respective fields. Despite having all the external validation, these women lacked internal acknowledgement of their accomplishments. They did not believe that they were deserving of the recognition they received and thought it was due to pure luck or coincidence, rather than their own efforts. This feeling of being a fraud led to anxiety, lack of confidence, depression, frustration, and a reluctance to seek help because they didn't believe they were worthy of attention.
The survey was conducted by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Innes and resulted in an article titled "Imposter Syndrome in High Achieving Women". This was the first time the term "imposter syndrome" was used to describe the internal experience of intellectual phoniness that these women were feeling at the time. The study shed light on this common phenomenon experienced by many successful women, highlighting the need for increased awareness and support for those affected by imposter syndrome. While initially this term was utilized for describing the inner turmoil experienced by many high-achieving women, subsequent research found that both male and females are prone to experiencing imposter syndrome.
Now, what is the exact definition of imposter syndrome? Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that affects people of all backgrounds and professions. It's a belief system in which individuals doubt their own abilities and accomplishments, thinking they are only successful due to external circumstances, such as wealth, family, or connections. This distorted view of oneself can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and even depression.
People with Imposter Syndrome often experience a fear of being "found out" and exposed as a fraud. They attribute their successes to luck or other external factors, rather than acknowledging their own hard work and talent. This belief system can be harmful, as it can lead to self-sabotage and missed opportunities. The Matthew effect can also contribute to Imposter Syndrome. People who benefit from the Matthew effect may attribute their success to external factors, rather than acknowledging the hard work and talent that got them there.
7 Common Signs of Imposter Syndrome
In this section, we will explore the signs and symptoms of imposter syndrome, including feelings of self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud. Whether you are a student, a new employee, or an experienced professional, understanding the signs of imposter syndrome can help you recognize and overcome these feelings of self-doubt.
1. Fear of evaluation
Imposter syndrome can manifest in many ways, one of which is a fear of evaluation. This fear stems from the belief that we will be exposed as frauds when we are evaluated and that others will see that our accomplishments are not due to our own abilities but rather luck or the help of others. As a result, we may feel anxious and stressed about being evaluated, and may even avoid situations where evaluation is likely to occur.
2. Fear of success
Imposter syndrome can also lead to a fear of continued success. While individuals with imposter syndrome may desire success, they may also fear that they will be unable to sustain their success over time. This fear can stem from the belief that their success was due to luck or external factors, rather than their own abilities. As a result, they may doubt their capacity to continue achieving at a high level and worry that they will eventually be exposed as frauds.
3. Fear of being inadequate
This syndrome can also manifest as a fear of inadequacy and constant comparison to others. Those experiencing imposter syndrome may feel that they are not as capable as their peers or that they lack the necessary skills or knowledge to succeed. This fear can be particularly acute in competitive or high-pressure environments, where individuals may feel like they are constantly being evaluated against their colleagues. As a result, they may feel compelled to constantly seek out training and education to close perceived knowledge or skill gaps. These feelings of self-doubt can be a significant barrier to success and can lead to feelings of anxiety, stress, and even depression.
4. Fear of failure
Another common feature of imposter syndrome is a combination of the fear of success and the fear of failure. These conflicting fears can create a significant amount of anxiety and stress for individuals experiencing imposter syndrome. On the one hand, they may be afraid of succeeding and then being unable to sustain that success over time. On the other hand, they may be afraid of failing and being exposed as frauds. This constant state of fear can be draining and can create a sense of paralysis that prevents individuals from taking risks or pursuing their goals.
Another factor that can contribute to imposter syndrome is a strong need to be the best or to be seen as special. This need for perfectionism can stem from a belief that anything less than perfection is failure. This all-or-nothing mindset can create a significant amount of pressure and stress and can lead individuals to constantly compare themselves to others, often feeling that they fall short.
5. Downplaying your ability
Imposter syndrome can also lead to a denial of ability and discounting of praise. Even when others acknowledge their contributions or successes, individuals with imposter syndrome may struggle to accept that they played a significant role in the outcome. They may discount praise and attribute their accomplishments to luck or the efforts of others, rather than their own abilities. This self-doubt and denial of their own abilities can lead to feelings of guilt and a sense of fraudulence.
The constant inner voice telling them that they are not as capable as others can create a significant amount of anxiety and stress. Individuals with imposter syndrome may also feel guilty about their success, believing that they do not deserve recognition or accolades. This guilt can be particularly acute if they believe that they were simply lucky, or if they feel that they do not have the skills or knowledge to replicate their success.
6. Overpreparing for everything
One other trait of people with imposter syndrome is over-preparing for tasks and projects. They feel like they do not have enough knowledge or skills to complete the job, so they try to compensate by preparing excessively. This tendency towards over-preparation can be closely linked to perfectionism, as the fear of failure can lead to a belief that everything must be perfect in order to avoid being exposed as a fraud. These two traits often interrelate and reinforce each other in a vicious cycle.
7. Mental health struggles
The connection between mental health and imposter syndrome is undeniable. When you struggle with imposter syndrome, you often feel like you are not good enough, which leads to shame and a lack of self-acceptance. This mindset is intertwined with perfectionism, as you feel like you need to be perfect to compensate for your perceived inadequacy. However, both of these mindsets can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and burnout. While imposter syndrome itself is not a mental disorder, it can certainly exacerbate underlying mental health issues and have a negative impact on your overall well-being.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome often stems from family expectations, especially if one has been labeled as the best, the talented one, or the good one as a child or teenager. The pressure to meet these expectations can be overwhelming, and without being prepared to handle setbacks and failures, individuals may believe that they are either capable and never fail, or incapable if they do fail. Overprotective family environments can contribute to this distorted view of success and failure. Other factors, such as racial differences, diverse perspectives, and various environments, as well as anxiety, depression, and perfectionism, can also be at the root of imposter syndrome. Additionally, excessive self-monitoring can lead to doubt about oneself and contribute to the development of imposter syndrome.
To wrap it up, imposter syndrome is created and perpetuated in our lives through a cycle of anxiety, over-preparation, procrastination, and self-doubt. We want to prove our worth and validate our success or recognition, so we overanalyze and attribute our achievements to luck or circumstance. This only serves to increase our feelings of inadequacy and perpetuate the cycle. By recognizing the characteristics of imposter syndrome and understanding its root causes, we can work towards breaking the cycle and enjoying the success that we have earned through our skills and talents. If you have recognized some of these characteristics in yourself, let's continue the conversation and work towards overcoming imposter syndrome. Check out this free guide to assess your level of perfectionism and learn how to make positive changes. Remember, you deserve to enjoy your successes and accomplishments. And, above all, remember you are not alone. If you ever need support, here at AntiLoneliness we are always happy to lend a listening ear. Take care.
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