There’s dirty little secret lurking beneath many façades of high achievement and perfectionism. It impacts successful people across the board, despite expertise, work history, social status or skill level and causes them to suffer and be separated from their good.
The secret is imposter syndrome. Maybe you have, or will, find yourself or a loved-one in what follows, because I did.
Recently, in thanking and acknowledging a highly skilled and compassionate health care professional, he revealed to me he suffers from imposter syndrome. He explained all of the accolades and recognition he receives for the work he does creates a sense of internal discomfort. He doesn’t feel he is as good as everyone thinks he is, despite evidence to the contrary.
It made me sad he couldn’t experience the reward of being phenomenal at his craft. I became curious and dug deeper to learn more, learning imposter syndrome is more prevalent than I could have imagined and fuels thinking and behaviours that negatively impact life.
Imposter syndrome, a term introduced in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Paula Rose Clance, is the internal feeling that you’re not really as competent and able as people think you are. You feel like a fraud, resulting in a state of constant anxiety. Research into the syndrome continues today.
Imposter Syndrome is often related to a personal belief that one’s success hasn’t been due to personal intelligence, skill or ability, but only because of luck. People experiencing it feel like a phony, and live in fear they’ll be exposed as the frauds they believe themselves to be.
People suffering from this syndrome may develop tendencies toward perfectionism, overachieving and isolation. Never measuring up to the high standards they’ve set for themselves, they continually keep the carrot of feeling good enough out in front of themselves, like an unachievable goal.
Becoming very sensitive to even constructive criticism, people with the syndrome often work hard and over-prepare to ensure the ruse is maintained. Doing well does nothing to quell these internal feelings because the more one accomplishes, the more they feel like a fraud if those beliefs and feelings of self-doubt are not healed.
People with the syndrome live in fear of not living-up to others’ expectations, deflecting any personal credit for their own abilities, often attributing their success to other factors. They’re often hyper self-critical, berating their performance and, filled with self-doubt, have a hard time accurately assessing their own competence and skills, underestimating their abilities.
People experiencing imposter syndrome often suffer in isolation and silence, not sharing the constant anxiety they’re experiencing. Over time, that can lead to depression and greater isolation.
While there are many factors contributing to the development of IS within an individual, such as upbringing and family dynamics, personality, and social anxiety, feelings of being an imposter easily surface whenever new opportunities at work or school present in our lives. Studies estimate 70% of people will experience feelings of imposter syndrome whenever new opportunities arise at work or school.
There are five types of imposter syndrome, according to expert Dr. Valerie Young, in her book: “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in spite of It.”
• The Perfectionist and Control Freak
• The Superwoman/man who work harder to push themselves to measure up.
• The Natural Genius who wants to get everything right the first time.
• The Soloist who beliefs they must do everything themselves, and resist asking for help.
• The Expert who feels they never know enough and shudder at being considered an expert.
No accomplishment or success in the world will soothe these internal feelings of being a fraud. It’s an inside job.
To help break out of the prison of this suffering, try these approaches:
• Learn to question your thoughts and self-judgments and consider whether they’re rational.
• Share your feeling with trusted others.
• Honestly assess your abilities; write them down
• Don’t compare yourself to others.
• Be moderate in your use of social media.
• Mentoring others can help you to see your own ability and knowledge.
• Seek out professional support.
Breaking free of imposter syndrome helps free us from feelings of constant anxiety and stress. It allows us to more easily step outside of our comfort zones and accept new opportunities as they arise.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.