Impostor Syndrome: Facing Fears of Inadequacy and Self-Doubt
Updated: Sep 27, 2020
The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ . . . just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud. —Tina Fey
Think of your greatest achievements. Do you feel proud of what you've accomplished? Or do you feel like a fraud?
Does each praise, rank or accolade bring joy? Or is it accompanied by the dread that, one day, your cover will be blown, and everyone will find out that you just got lucky?
If you experience feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, you may be surprised to learn that you are in great company. Impostor Syndrome is typically associated with high achievers. So, if you feel like a fraud, the chances are that you're more capable than you think. Real frauds don't worry about this!
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor Syndrome is the overwhelming feeling that you don't deserve your success. It convinces you that you're not as intelligent, creative or talented as you may seem. It is the suspicion that your achievements are down to luck, good timing or just being in the “right place at the right time.” And it is accompanied by the fear that, one day, you'll be exposed as a fraud.
Impostor Syndrome can be linked to other feelings of self-doubt, such as fear of success, fear of failure, or self-sabotage. But it's not simply another symptom of low self-confidence, or excessive humility. It involves a constant fear of exposure, isolation and rejection.
Impostor Syndrome often strikes at moments of success: joining an IIM, receiving a placement offer, or taking on extra responsibility such as a POR for a club or simply a project.
These feelings can inspire you to work harder, so as not to be "unmasked," leading to further success and recognition – and feeling like an even bigger fraud. But often, they lead to "downshifting." This is when you revise your goals and become less ambitious, which in turn, prevents you from fulfilling your true potential.
I am not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people.—John Steinbeck
Imposter syndrome can appear in a number of different ways. A few different types of imposter syndrome that have been identified are:
The Perfectionist: Perfectionists are never satisfied and always feel that their work could be better. Rather than focus on their strengths, they tend to fixate on any flaws or mistakes. This often leads to a great deal of self-pressure and high amounts of anxiety.
The Superhero: Because these individuals feel inadequate, they feel compelled to push themselves to work as hard as possible.
The Expert: These individuals are always trying to learn more and are never satisfied with their level of understanding. Even though they are often highly skilled, they underrate their own expertise.
The Natural Genius: These individuals set excessively lofty goals for themselves, and then feel crushed when they don't succeed on their first try.
The Soloist: These people tend to be very individualistic and prefer to work alone. Self-worth often stems from their productivity, so they often reject offers of assistance. They tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence.
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Some common thoughts and feelings associated with imposter syndrome include:
“I must not fail”
There can be a huge amount of pressure currently not to fail in order to avoid being “found out.” Paradoxically, success also becomes an issue as it brings the added pressure of responsibility and visibility. This leads to an inability to enjoy success.
“I feel like a fake”
Imposters believe they do not deserve success or professional accolades and feel that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes hand in hand with a fear of being “found out”, discovered, or “unmasked”. They believe they give the impression that they are more competent than they are and have deep feelings that they lack knowledge or expertise. Often they believe they don’t deserve a position or an accolade and are anxious that “somebody made a mistake”.
“It’s all down to luck”
The tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons and not their abilities is a clear indicator of imposter syndrome. They may typically say or think: “I just got lucky” or “it was a fluke”. Often this masks the fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.
“Success is no big deal”
The tendency to downplay success and discount it is marked in those with imposter syndrome. They might attribute their success to it being an easy task or having support and often have a hard time accepting compliments. Again, they think their success is down to luck, good timing, or having fooled others.
So what can you do to mitigate the negative effects of Imposter syndrome?
Follow the ABCD rule.
Acknowledge the problem. Recognize imposter feelings when they emerge. Acknowledgement is the first step to change, so ensure you track these thoughts: what they are and when they emerge. Also don’t fight but accept these feelings. It helps to talk to others about your feelings. There may be others who feel like imposters too – it’s better to have an open dialogue rather than harbor negative thoughts alone.
Take Baby steps. Don't focus on doing things perfectly, but rather, do things reasonably well and reward yourself for taking action. For example, if you have to read a 100 slide presentation for an exam, start by reading out only 5.
Be Constructive. Reframe failure as a learning opportunity. Remember that you are entitled to make small mistakes occasionally. It is only through these mistakes that you learn new things. Find out the lessons and use them constructively in future. Don’t forget to reward yourself for things done right.
Don’t Compare. Every time you compare yourself to others in a social situation, you will find some fault with yourself that fuels the feeling of not being good enough or not belonging. Instead, during conversations, focus on listening to what the other person is saying. Be genuinely interested in learning more.
Use social media moderately. We know that the overuse of social media may be related to feelings of inferiority. If you try to portray an image on social media that doesn't match who you really are or that is impossible to achieve, it will only make your feelings of being a fraud worse.
I have written 11 books but each time I think ‘Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out’ — Maya Angelou