Imposter Syndrome is a psychological event describing the secret internal belief some people have about themselves that they’re faking it and not good enough.
Even with proof of abilities, talents, and accomplishments, individuals experiencing this phenomenon frequently grapple with persistent feelings of insufficiency or self-doubt.
Do you think you might have imposter syndrome? Here’s more about the syndrome, its origin, and three proven strategies to release it so you can move briskly toward empowerment and authenticity.
What Is Imposter Syndrome and Why Does It Happen?
Thoughts about having shortcomings – or feelings of being flawed – can sometimes be deep-rooted and, therefore, operate outside a person’s everyday conscious awareness.
Step into the intriguing world of imposter syndrome — a sensation that dances on the edges of success, taunting you with whispers of doubt.
Picture it as an internal conspirator, slyly suggesting, “You don’t belong here,” or ominously predicting, “They’ll find out you’re a fraud.”
Now, let’s unravel the mystery behind this phenomenon, a puzzle with roots as intricate as a spy novel. Here, the suspects are:
- Attribution Bias: Thinking the good stuff that happens to you is luck, and the bad stuff that happens is secretly your fault. Ever catch yourself crediting your triumphs to luck while internalizing setbacks as proof of your own inadequacy? It’s a twisted game that distorts your perception of your own abilities.
- Perfectionism: Thinking you’re never good enough. Imagine chasing after standards so lofty they seem to reside in the clouds. No matter how many peaks you conquer, the feeling of never being good enough persists, like a mischievous phantom refusing to be banished.
- Societal Pressures: Comparing yourself to others. Peer over the fence of societal expectations and witness the constant comparison game. The pressure to measure up to others can turn success into an exhausting hamster wheel.
But here’s the plot twist: Imposter syndrome isn’t a rare affliction confined to the elite; it’s a widespread tale that touches lives across the spectrum.
If you find yourself entangled in this gripping narrative, rest assured — you’re in good company on this rollercoaster ride.
Let the knowledge that you’re not alone be your compass as you navigate through the twists and turns of imposter syndrome toward healing, empowerment, and authenticity.
Where Does Imposter Syndrome Come From?
People with Imposter Syndrome often doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as frauds or imposters – even if they have succeeded through hard work and talent.
But what’s behind imposter syndrome?
Early Experiences: Rewind to childhood, where criticism and a lack of validation may have laid the groundwork for low self-esteem. Those echoes from the past can linger into adulthood, casting a shadow on your present achievements.
Imposter syndrome can sometimes be connected to childhood experiences, such as not living up to parent’s expectations or never feeling good enough.
Each child has different relational needs and experiences love differently, so a child may eventually form a secret belief:
Common unconscious belief from those with imposter syndrome: “…if only I were more this or more that – and less this or less that – my parents wouldn’t have been so ambivalent. If I were perfect, my caretakers would have been more curious about me and more loving because I would have been worthy.”
Imposter Syndrome is not recognized explicitly as a mental disorder, but it can impact a person’s mental health. It can lead to anxiety or depression and affect a person’s relationships, career, and personal goals.
Conquer Imposter Syndrome: Try These Proven Strategies to Unleash Your True Potential
A recent compelling piece of research highlights various aspects and impacts of impostor syndrome, including the tendency to attribute success to external factors, the fear of not living up to expectations, and setting unrealistic goals and standards.
Imposter Syndrome can manifest in different ways, but some common symptoms include:
- Avoiding new challenges or opportunities that may expose your perceived weaknesses or flaws.
- Feeling like a fraud or an imposter, even when others praise your work or achievements.
- Believing that your success is due to luck or external factors rather than your own abilities and efforts.
- Having a fear of failure or making mistakes.
- Feeling the need to over-prepare, overwork, or overcompensate for perceived shortcomings.
If you are experiencing imposter syndrome, here are some strategies to help you heal and thrive.
1. Understand that Every Single Person on Earth is Imperfect
Struggling with imposter syndrome? You are not alone. Not by a long shot. It might be helpful for you to understand that every single person on earth is imperfect. You might already understand that intellectually, but let it sink in bone-deep: not a single human is perfect. Not only that, but there is beauty in imperfection. It makes life interesting.
While it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific percentage of adults who struggle with secret feelings of low self-worth, research suggests these feelings are common for many and that addressing them can be a vital part of wellness.
A study conducted by Brigham Young University found that 20% of college students experience impostor syndrome. This condition leads individuals to doubt their accomplishments and feel like a “fraud,” despite external evidence of their competence.
It may be that approximately 20% to 70% of adults are consciously aware of experiencing imposter syndrome in their work lives. However, a systematic review suggests that this number climbs even more among women, people of color (investigation here), people with alternative romantic preferences or gender fluidity, or individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This is possibly due to subliminal cultural and societal messages devaluing these groups’ worth and accomplishments.
2. Understand that There are Different Kinds of Smart
A common mistake people make is thinking there is only one kind of smart.
There are many kinds of smart. There is book smart (strong at academics). There is street smart (survival instincts). There is people-smart (social skills). There is linguistics smart (a penchant for words). There is math smart (good with numbers). There is soulfully smart (wisdom). There is politically smart (strategy). There is somatically smart (good at sports and movement). And many more kinds of smart.
Grasping that there are a variety of inherent talents and skills that people can have – and that nobody has all of them – might help you feel more grounded.
3. Develop a More Positive Internal Dialogue
Negative self-talk will not release you from imposter syndrome. Conversely, positive self-talk can work wonders. Try these tips:
- Reframe negative thoughts and beliefs into positive affirmations and realistic expectations.
- Practice self-compassion and recognize your own worth and value, regardless of external validation or achievements.
- Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional about your feelings and concerns.
- Embrace challenges and opportunities as opportunities for growth and learning rather than threats to your competence or worth.
- Celebrate your successes and achievements and credit yourself for your hard work and efforts.
“Perfectionism is just an excuse for procrastination. So, do it badly. You’ll be ahead of the vast majority of people who are too scared to even try.”– Abraham-Hicks
Imposter Syndrome Affects Mature Adults, Too
Some mature adults experience challenges with imposter syndrome because – in developed countries especially – people over 50 often experience new levels of professional and financial success:
- According to a report by the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of households headed by individuals aged 65-74 in the United States is likely increasing significantly (survey here).
- Similarly, a report by the UK Office for National Statistics (data trends here) found that senior adults often have higher (if not the highest) median income of all age groups.
So, data suggests that older individuals are accumulating more wealth, and when someone reaches a new financial level or level of recognition, it can sometimes activate imposter syndrome within that person’s mind and affect their sense of well-being.
According to a recent report by the US Bureau of Labor, the employment rate (statistics here) for individuals aged 55 and over in the United States is likely rising. This suggests that older individuals continue to work and contribute to the workforce at increasing rates.
Similarly, research has found that individuals over the age of 50 are more likely to start their own businesses. According to a report by the Kauffman Foundation (referenced here), in 2019, individuals aged 55-64 accounted for 26.4% of new entrepreneurs in the United States. This trend is also evident in other developed countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.
Boosting Success and Beating Imposter Syndrome in Midlife
When mature adults reach new levels of success or recognition, they may experience imposter syndrome for several reasons.
This can be especially true for individuals who have experienced setbacks or failures in the past, as they may feel like their success is temporary or based on circumstance. This can lead to self-doubt and anxiety about their ability to continue performing at a high level.
“The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.”–Valerie Young, Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.) and author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women”
Second, they may feel they don’t deserve the recognition or that their success was due to luck rather than their abilities.
Third, mature adults may feel like they are not meeting their internal standards of success, even if they are meeting external measures of success.
If left unaddressed, imposter syndrome can interfere with an individual’s ability to enjoy and capitalize on their success.
Counselors often address imposter syndrome issues in their work with clients over 50.
A counselor or clinical psychologist can help a client recognize and challenge negative beliefs, develop a more balanced perspective of accomplishments, and develop coping strategies to manage feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.
In truth, imposter syndrome impacts many people – regardless of age, gender, or profession.
Conclusion on Defeating Imposter Syndrome
You can overcome Imposter Syndrome and reach your full potential by consciously recognizing and addressing your feelings of self-doubt and utilizing the three solutions outlined above.
Imposter Syndrome is a common experience that affects many people, but it doesn’t have to hold you back from achieving your goals and living a fulfilling life.
Overcoming imposter syndrome leads to increased confidence, a more authentic sense of self-worth, and a greater ability to recognize and celebrate your achievements. In essence, on the other side of healing from imposter syndrome, a more fulfilling and positive life awaits!
In addition to the scholarly resources linked from within this article, here are resources that provide more science-based insights on the phenomenon of people secretly feeling like a fraud:
Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0086006
Sakulku, J., & Alexander, J. (2011). The imposter phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 73–92. https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521
Cokley, K., McClain, S., Enciso, A., & Martinez, M. (2013). An examination of the impact of minority status stress and imposter feelings on the mental health of diverse ethnic minority college students. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 41(2), 82–95. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2013.00029.x