Imposter syndrome (brief overview)

Imposter syndrome
JuanitaHFNE

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behaviour, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.

In this blog, we will discuss the imposter syndrome. When was it discovered, what it is exactly how it affects our thought process and quality of life, if it’s common or not and how to deal with it or care for someone dealing with this syndrome.

Imposter syndrome (brief overview)

What is it?

Human beings are very self-aware and cognitive creatures. We think and process complex thoughts within our heads and are capable of producing thoughts about our thoughts all to ourselves without even uttering a word. Where this great ability to think has lent us it’s strength in understanding the world around us and even aspects of the world we cannot perceive, it has also burdened us with delusions which are based in reality only we believe is real. 

The imposter syndrome is one such adverse result of our ability to think deeply and critically, especially when thinking about our own selves. It is a strong feeling of unworthiness wherein the victim will feel that all of their accomplishments were achieved purely due to luck rather than merit, skill, or qualification. It is a feeling that the praise one receives is undeserved, unwarranted or came by due to an accomplishment that wasn’t truly theirs. People who suffer from strong symptoms of Imposter syndrome will feel as if any given day their ‘secret’ or ‘well hidden’ incompetence would be revealed and they would have to face the music.

Psychologist Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes are credited with being the first to identify and write about the Imposter Syndrome in their paper in 1978 though they, later known to be incorrect, theorized that woman was uniquely affected by this condition. 

Who does it affect?

When research was first conducted on the imposter syndrome by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes on this condition, in 1978, they believed that this condition only occurred or mostly occurred in women, Modern research and studies have shown that men and women across all professions, age groups, IQ’s and status are capable of suffering from imposter syndrome, their level of success being often irrelevant in making them feel at ease or at times making their sense of uneasiness and unworthiness much worse altogether. 

How common/Uncommon is it?

The imposter syndrome used to be thought of as uncommon, but more recent studies have found that nearly seventy percent (70%) of the human population has, at some point in their life, have experienced the symptoms of imposter syndrome. That means that nearly two in every three people have had points in their lives where they’ve doubted their own position in society and or success.

Though it is true that the symptoms and sometimes complete effects of the imposter syndrome are felt by the majority of the masses at some point in their life, for many people, it is only temporary. For some, the imposter syndrome possesses the capacity to spiral into something beyond the realms of our normal self-doubt.

Imposter syndrome (brief overview)

Imposter syndrome; what it feels like.

A lot of notable personalities in human history have suffered from severe cases of imposter syndrome. Some of the most distinguished among them are the scientist, an absolute prodigy in Quantum Physics, Sir Albert Einstein, and the esteemed novelist, playwright and poet Maya Angelou.

Einstein used to think that he was receiving a lot more recognition than his work was worthy of. It is quite unfounded for people at our level to be even able to imagine the accomplishments and brilliance of minds like Einstein, but in his own space, he felt as if all his achievements were more luck than competence. Maya Angelou Has been quoted saying, ‘I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh they’re going to find out now.’ And, ‘I’ve run a game on everybody they’re going to find me out.’

Someone suffering from the imposter syndrome will have a particular set of recurring symptoms with varying intensity and thoughts that will fuel the fire burning inside of them. They tend to;

  • Feel like frauds, and are afraid of being ‘found out’.
  • Attribute their personal success to practically anything other than their own achievements and competence. i.e., luck.
  • Belittle or downplay their own hard work or intellect. Make themselves seem smaller than how others see them.

They also experience intense psychological symptoms such as;

Triggering Factors

The imposter syndrome is common, very common. All of us experience it at some points in our lives, but some people have to face the full brunt of it for a much longer period of their lives than others and it truly makes them suffer. Imposter syndrome can possibly, for an individual, have its roots buried deep within their childhood, having been formed in the early years of their development.

This starts with a child’s time with their parents. Our parents, to us, are incomprehensible beings at the beginning of our lives. To a four-year-old, the thought that their father or mother was once their age is inconceivable. After all, to children, adults are such strange beings. They sit in one place and have discussions, and they get to decide when you wake up or go to sleep, they are in every way your superiors and you look up to them. Hence Alcoholic parents, domestic abuse, constant critiquing, and a judgmental verbally abusive atmosphere in the house during the early years of development cause the child to develop a permanent doubt one that grown into making one believe that they are merely an imposter and deserve nothing of what they have achieved.

Imposter syndrome (brief overview)

Do you have it?

The imposter Syndrome affects successful, high achieving people the most because it renders them unable to internalize their success and, as such, disallows them from feeling any form of happiness or sense of accomplishment. It makes them feel as if they are incompetent, inadequate, unskilled and insufficient. Even in the presence of an overwhelming amount of evidence which might say otherwise. It makes people feel like a fraud.

“imposters” often feel the need to finish their work or job in the perfect way possible. They are perfectionists to the point where it can be harmful and debilitating. We will now take a look at some of the most commonly recurring thoughts that people suffering from the imposter syndrome have to face.

Ask yourselves if you’ve ever felt as if;

I am a fake, i will be found out.

People suffering from imposter syndrome will tend to find little worth in themselves. They have a tendency to think that they do not actually deserve their success. They will be stuck believing that they might have given off an impression of competence they don’t actually possess, or as if they have fooled everyone around them and any day their façade could fall apart. 

I was just lucky

People who think of themselves as mere imposters consistently think that their achievements were all “fate” or them being in the right place at the right time by coincidence. This stems from a deep-rooted fear that they won’t be able to repeat their success and will have to suffer from embarrassment and shame in front of their peers.

I achieved because it was easy

People with imposter syndrome think that they’re achievements are nothing special, and this is, of course, because they cannot bring themselves to believe that there is anything special about them. They feel that if they could do it, then the task must have been simple or easy enough that practically anyone could have accomplished it. 

PrivIlege

They begin to think that they were only more privileged than others and so might have achieved a position that anyone but them would be more deserving of. They pass off their status and position to merely having ‘connections.’

Sympathy

People facing imposter syndrome will feel that people only give them praise or pass admiration because they’re being nice to them or sympathize with them.

FaIlure is not an option

‘imposters’ can be perfectionists to the point of crippling themselves. Since they feel undeserving of their position, they think that they need to put in three times the work and effort just to keep up to what them is, an ‘act’.

I have no idea what im doing

They will feel as if they don’t really know as much as people think they do, and to them, their colleagues will look, much more, like they know what they are doing compared to themselves. They will talk in an unsure way because they think that their expertise is anything but legitimate.

Some Helpful Resources

Conclusion

It is not necessary for the imposter syndrome to be triggered right from the get-go, it’s possible for it to develop while facing abuse and get triggered during some other stressful or relevant traumatic event during a person’s lifetime. People suffering from imposter syndrome often have distinct behaviors such as choosing very work-intensive and tiring jobs with a lot of time pressure and responsibility involved, and then they will go on with trying to do their stressful job with perfection.

Imposter syndrome (brief overview)

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What does imposter syndrome feel like?

It feels as if you are undeserving of your place in society, don’t know as much as people think you do, and cannot repeat your success and will be found out because of this. They lack self belief, are perfectionists, and do not think that they are adequate or deserving of praise.

Q2 How common is imposter syndrome?

The imposter syndrome is very common. Studies suggest that nearly 70% of people will experience the symptoms of imposter syndrome at some point in their life. That is two in every three people. The intensity of the symptoms experienced, of course, varies.

Q3. How is imposter syndrome treated?

There is no particular treatment for imposter syndrome. A good way to deal with it can be to recognize these thoughts as they arise and deal with them one by one or to be open about these thoughts to your peers and consulting them when such feeling is reigning heavy on your chest.

Q4. Does everyone have imposter syndrome?

Studies suggest that 70% of the people in the world will, at some point in their lives, experience the symptoms of this syndrome, but it can vary greatly in how intense the symptoms are and how long they will persist.

Q5. How do you know if you have imposter syndrome?

Ask yourself if you have recurring thoughts such as;

  • I don’t deserve my position
  • It was all luck
  • Others can achieve this just easily
  • I hope they don’t find me out
  • I’m not actually as capable as they might imagine
  • I’m fooling everyone

Q6. Is imposter syndrome in the DSM?

Surprisingly this syndrome is not found in the American DSM even though, in some cases, it can lead to clinical depression and chronic anxiety.

References

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