Imagine this. You just killed it on a work project. Your boss promises to give you a huge pay rise or even bump you up to management. Everyone in the firm is proud of you and glad to have you on the team.
You should celebrate this. Probably even buy yourself that car you’ve been eyeing. But somehow, somewhere deep within, there’s a niggling sense screaming, telling you you’re not worthy of the praise, the pay rise, or even a promotion. You feel like a fraud. Like you deceived the company into letting you take point on the project. You spin in a cycle of guilt, inadequacy, shame, and worry.
That feeling is what clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes identified and termed as impostor syndrome.
Keep reading to learn more about it, the types of impostor syndrome, and how to deal with it (which includes subscribing to a few select imposter syndrome audios).
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome, “imposter s,” or “the imposter phenomenon,” is the internalized belief that your accomplishments result from lady luck or other external factors rather than your intelligence, skills, talents, or qualifications.
It’s like that mean girl in high school who kept telling you that you couldn’t make it as a cheerleader because your thighs were “too chunky” or that you were too “unrefined” to be the class president.
It’s a false idea that leaves you with the perpetual fear of being exposed as a fraud or a poser. It triggers feelings of anxiety, insecurity, and stress and can intensify feelings of low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in your own skills and abilities despite the numerous accolades or achievements you might have accomplished in your life.
Hitting too close to home? Don’t worry. You’re not alone, sis.
In fact, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, an estimated 70% of people experience imposter syndrome. Candy Carty Williams, Lady Gaga, and even Michelle Obama have had interviews and lengthy discussions about their constant struggle with imposter syndrome.
And while it might seem impossible, you can get rid of this feeling and lead a confident, worry-free life like some of these ladies do now. But, to do so, you’ll first have to figure out the type of imposter syndrome you’re struggling with and adopt healthy ways to overcome it.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is said to be triggered by factors such as:
Success And Visibility
Ironically, success can also contribute to feelings of imposter syndrome. Individuals who achieve a high level of success or visibility might feel like they have to keep proving themselves worthy of the status or even feel they don’t deserve their achievements.
This leads to anxiety, self-doubt, and even depression, which can be challenging to overcome.
Family dynamics or childhood experiences play a significant role in the development of impostor syndrome. Kids who constantly receive criticism from their parents might feel pressure to succeed or be paralyzed by failure.
Those continuously compared to their “better performing or better behaving” siblings might be riddled with self-doubt or obsessively compare themselves to others.
Sometimes, feelings of inadequacy can also result from pre-existing mental health conditions, emotional regulation issues, or general low self-esteem.
Stereotypes And Discrimination
Yes. Stereotypes also cause imposter s. People from marginalized groups such as women (they’re more likely to than men), people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community might experience imposter syndrome symptoms due to lack of representation, systems of oppression, and stereotypes.
They might feel inadequate, doubtful of their accomplishments and abilities, and thus work harder to prove themselves.
Society has us in an “-est” type of mindset.
We admire the prettiest, the wealthiest, the fastest, the smartest, etc. We reward, praise, and favor the first, the best, and the most. So, when you don’t achieve “the best status” or aren’t recognized as “the first in something,” you start putting yourself down. You assume there’s something wrong with you, and the feelings of doubt take over your life.
Society has also programmed us to measure our success worth by the number of dollars, Instagram likes, awards and mentions, and views on YouTube we get. We kill ourselves in the pursuit of leaving a legacy as an “est,” which triggers imposter syndrome and a myriad of other mental health issues.
Symptoms/Indicators Of Imposter Syndrome
Impostor syndrome manifests itself in various ways, including:
- Avoiding new opportunities and never taking risks in life (you’re comfortable with being in the comfort zone)
- Feeling like you’re not smart, pretty, strong, thin, curvy, or sharp enough
- Downplaying your accomplishments and accolades
- Exaggerating your failures and shortcomings
- Feeling like your boss or friends are going to call you out on your fraud
- Fearing failure and the idea of not living up to your own “conditioned” and society’s expectations
- Inability to internal achievements and be proud of your stellar skills and talents
- Setting unrealistic goals and feeling depressed about not attaining them
- Always looking for validation, reassurance, and attention
- Having a perfectionist mindset
These feelings and behaviors then trigger:
- Declining work performance
- Avoiding “challenging” responsibilities so you likely get stuck in the same position in life for eons
- Working extremely hard to prove your worth, to make up for what you assume you’re lacking
- Not trusting your intuition and struggling with discernment (at work, in your relationships, and personal life)
- Codependency and clinginess
- Retracting back to your cocoon (isolation) when you don’t receive external validation
- Lack of motivation and complete loss of ambition
- Constantly seeking pity, sympathy, or recognition from others
- Emotional, mental, and sometimes physical repercussions of stress
What Are The 5 Types Of Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome comes in numerous forms. And according to Dr. Valerie Young’s Book: The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From The Impostor Syndrome and How To Thrive in Spite of It, there are five main imposter syndrome types:
This type of imposter syndrome sets very unrealistic expectations for themselves. They hold themselves in high regard, and when they make mistakes, no matter how many wins they have, they feel like a failure and question their skills and abilities.
Perfectionists avoid trying new things because doing so makes them feel shame, inadequate, and like frauds.
How To Deal:
Learn to take mistakes in stride, viewing them as an unavoidable, natural part of your life process. Also, push yourself to start on that project you’ve been procrastinating – there’ll never be a perfect time to do it, so why not do it now?
Hey, no one is 100% flawless, so be gentle with yourself. Talk to your therapist, work through the issues, and within no time, the imposter syndrome will take the back seat in your life (it’s not easy to completely get rid of it).
Experts measure their competence on “what” and “how much” they know or are capable of. They validate themselves through their knowledge and often seek certifications, awards, degrees, and trainings.
When applying for roles, they don’t apply for jobs they feel they’re “not qualified” for (which is the case for many women when compared to men) and might be hesitant to speak up in meetings for fear of being termed as “stupid” for not knowing something.
How To Deal:
There’s no denying it: there’s always more to learn. However, endlessly striving to bulk up your accolades and skill set can actually be a bad form of procrastination.
Try practicing just-in-time-learning. This is where you purpose to acquire a skill when you actually need it. You can also try mentoring junior colleagues or volunteering. When you share knowledge, it not only benefits others but also helps eliminate fraudulent feelings.
The Natural Genius
A natural genius is born with the inherent ability to pick up skills easily. They judge their competence based on the speed and ease instead of their efforts. So, when they take time to master a specific task, their alarm sounds. They feel shame and embarrassment.
How To Deal:
Try seeing yourself as a work-in-progress. Attaining success involves lifelong learning, relearning, and consistent skill-building – yes, for everyone – even Stephen Hawking struggled with a few tasks and skills.
So, rather than beating yourself up and calling up Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) to cross your name off the genius list, identify specific, changeable behaviors you can improve with time.
Hands up if you often feel shame or embarrassed to ask for help. You’d rather get a question wrong than ask a teacher or mentor for guidance.
You’d rather sleep hungry than call up your rich bestie or mom to ask for a loan or help. You are struggling with a project because the apocalypse will dawn on Earth if you ask Jeremy or Amy for assistance.
Giiirrrlll… you a soloist.
How To Deal:
There’s no shame in asking for help – and Lawd knows we all need it! If you are stumped on a project, ask your more knowledgeable sibling or stranger if that’s easier.
If that project has you scratching your head and beating up on your wig, ask Jeremy and Amy for help (they might never let you forget, but at least you’re done with it).
The Superwoman/man thrives in showing off their ability to take on loads of work in a short period of time. They’re obsessed with the validation that comes from the working rather than the work itself. And when they fall short, they view themselves as failures and “losers.”
How To Deal:
To stop being an imposter workaholic, train yourself to focus on the quality of the task than the quantity. You shouldn’t give people the power to make you feel great about yourself—even your own boss.
Also, learn to take constructive criticism positively, not personally. As you get more attuned to internal validation and build your confidence, you’ll be able to ease off the gas as you figure out how much work is reasonable.
If the above pointers fail, you can try the following:
- Creating a badass list to remind yourself you’re a freakin’ star
- Pumping it up at work (music works wonders, people!!)
- Calling your forever squad (they’ll pump you up and give you support where you need it)
- Listen to these imposter syndrome audios (trust us, they’re the real deal)
Audios That Can Help You Overcome Imposter Syndrome
These audio resources have been proven to help you overcome imposter syndrome and channel your inner boss bih. Check them out:
The Imposter Syndrome Paradox By Lisa and Richard Orbe-Austin
This list would be incomplete without including the Queen of kicking imposter syndrome to the curb. In this TEDx Talk, renowned psychologist Dr. Lisa Orbé-Austin explains how imposter syndrome creeps into your life and how you can recognize the way it manifests in your life.
She also gives you helpful pointers on how to banish the thought patterns that undermine your ability to feel and act as the badass you already know you are!
Listen to her here. Trust. It’ll change your life forever!
Unf*ck Your Brain With Kara Loewentheil
If you haven’t listened to Kara Loewentheil’s pearls of wisdom yet, you’re in for a treat. The master-certified coach explores how impostor syndrome has held you back in your career and offers tips and strategies for overcoming this feeling.
She also teaches you how to overcome social conditioning and your own self-critical thoughts so you can lead the life you were always meant to be living!
Subscribe to her podcast here.
Therapy For Black Girls by Joy Harden Bradford
Therapy for Black Girls is a breath of fresh air. Hosted by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, the podcast teaches you how to overcome impostor syndrome and become the best possible version of yourself.
The Imposter Syndrome Files By Kim Meninger
As a leadership coach and lifelong self-doubt struggler, Kim talks about the significance of self-leadership, particularly for women and people of color. Her guest, Meenakshi Iyer shares her personal story of navigating through life feeling different from those around her.
She also talks about how her experience with imposter syndrome influenced her perspective on leadership, including the importance of recognizing and leveraging your power.
Listen Here: Finding & Leveraging Our Personal Power
Best Kept Secrets By Sharon K Mwangi
Sharon speaks on dealing with impostor syndrome and how she found the courage to step out after several failures. She also advises you on how to numb that crippling sense of fear that comes with imposter syndrome and how to step out victorious and reclaim your power!
Listen Here: Dealing With Imposter Syndrome And Finding The Courage To Step Out. You can also listen to it here.
Imposter Syndrome And Other Confessions By Alejandra Kim
Alejandra feels like she doesn’t belong anywhere.
Not at home, where she faces tense silence from her mom since her dad’s passing, not in Jackson Heights, where she’s not considered Latinx enough, and not at the Manhattan prep school where her predominantly white classmates pride themselves on being “woke”. But maybe, just maybe, she can find her freedom and peace in college (if only she could get in).
Alejandra Kim’s impostor syndrome and other confessions is an incisive, laugh-out-loud, provocative resource about feeling like a fraud caught between worlds, what it takes to feel like you belong, and how to build a confident, powerful future for yourself.
Listen to Her Here: Imposter Syndrome And Confessions Of Alejandra Kim