Imposter Syndrome

“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.” –Albert Einstein

“It’s not what you are that holds you back, it’s what you think you are not.” –Denis Waitley

Have you ever felt like you were just pretending to be a capable adult? Do you ever find yourself wondering if you are good enough at your job? Maybe you have even questioned why you were hired in the first place? Perhaps it was all an accident? Have you ever worried that you will someday be discovered as some sort of imposter?   

If you have had these experiences, you are not alone. In fact, one study found that 7 out of 10 adults have experienced times when they have felt like an imposter. Despite ample evidence that we are successful, many of us hold false beliefs that we are not as capable or smart as other people think. This experience is commonly referred to as imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome has been defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual believes that their own accomplishments came about because of having been lucky or having manipulated other people’s impression of them, rather than through hard work or inherent ability.  

Additional signs that we might be experiencing imposter syndrome include dismissing compliments as social niceties, attributing success to luck or good fortune, and consistently feeling unprepared and undertrained. Likewise, if you find yourself minimizing positive feedback, distrusting others, overpreparing and avoiding tasks due to a fear of failure, you are likely being impacted by imposter syndrome.   

Some of us are more prone to experiencing imposter syndrome. Approximately 30 percent of high achieving individuals frequently experience imposter syndrome as well as those of us who struggle with perfectionism. In other words, those of us who experience a need to constantly perform at 100 percent are more likely to feel incompetent and anxious when performing below this peak level.

Personality and early childhood also play a role. Individuals with certain personality traits, such as those of us higher on the personality factor neuroticism (a tendency toward anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and other negative feeling) are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. Furthermore, early childhood experiences of intense parental and social pressure about academics or other related achievements can also drive imposter syndrome later in life.  

Lastly, it is important to recognize and acknowledge how minority status within our environment, whether related to gender or gender identity, race or ethnicity, ability status, or socio-economic background can contribute to imposter syndrome. In such cases, it is often important to reflect on the role you have in the environment or group and how you can act in ways that promote equity and inclusion.  

Tips for reducing Imposter Syndrome

Normalize the experience. Remember that up to 70% of adults experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.

Remind yourself that smart, high-achieving people often struggle with imposter syndrome. Actual imposters don’t tend to have these feelings.  

Avoid comparisons with others. Focus on evaluating your own achievements and growth instead of comparing them against the achievements of others.

Remember that we often learn and grow the most from making mistakes.  

Set realistic goals and recognize your accomplishments.  

Separate feelings from the facts. Just because you think certain things doesn’t mean they are true. 

Label your cognitive distortions and any negative self-talk that contributes to imposter syndrome.

Be aware of your need for external validation and work to develop less reliance on the approval of others. 

Set limits and avoid overworking or overpreparing.

When you do experience a setback, practice reacting in a healthier manner with self-compassion and understanding, rather than criticism and self-blame.  

Encourage yourself. 

Remind yourself that you know more than you think you do.

Remind yourself that you are far more than any single achievement or setback.

Remember nobody is perfect.  

Imposter syndrome is very common. Most of us likely experience or have experienced imposter syndrome at some point. It also commonly comes and goes as we experience varying degrees of success and failure or when we take on new roles and begin new jobs.  

Recognizing our own experiences of imposter syndrome can help liberate us from the paralyzing self-doubt and limiting dependance on external validation that can inhibit our sense of freedom, confidence, and well-being. Recognizing imposter syndrome in others can also allow for greater empathy, understanding, and opportunities to give support in ways that help us grow stronger as a community and as a society. 

Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.

Licensed Psychologist

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Published by tlindquistpsyd

Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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