Impostor syndrome (also known as “impostor phenomenon” or “impostorism”) is a psychological phenomenon in which a person has difficulty internalizing their accomplishments and has a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud.” Despite external evidence of competence, these individuals believe that they do not deserve the success they have achieved.
“Imagine you have a little gremlin or a little voice inside your head. Every time you achieve something good, this voice tells you it was just luck, or that anyone could do it, or even that if people really knew what was going on in your head, they would see that you don’t deserve these accolades.
Impostor syndrome is a bit like having this gremlin constantly questioning your achievements and making you doubt yourself, even when everything shows that you have truly succeeded. It’s like wearing glasses that distort reality, and even if everyone tells you that you did well, you have trouble believing it.
The key is to recognize this feeling, understand where it comes from, and learn strategies to deal with it.”
This metaphor of the gremlin’s voice highlights the tendency of those suffering from impostor syndrome to underestimate or downplay their own skills and contributions, even in the face of clear evidence of their success.
Impostor syndrome is characterized by a series of internal feelings and beliefs that lead a person to doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a “fraud,” despite external evidence of competence. Here are some of the commonly associated symptoms and signs:
Constant self-doubt: Despite achievements, the person continually questions their skills and talents.
Attributing success to external factors: Belief that success is due to luck, timing, or deception rather than their own effort or competence.
Fear of being “found out”: Constant fear that others will discover they are a fraud or not as competent as they appear.
Inability to internalize success: Even in the face of rewards, degrees, or praise, the person believes they do not truly deserve them.
Tendency to overachieve: The person may work excessively hard to avoid criticism and ensure that no one discovers their supposed “fraud.”
Fear of failure: Avoiding challenges out of fear of not succeeding.
Downplaying achievements: Minimizing accomplishments or attributing them to other factors rather than their own skills.
Constant comparison: Frequently comparing themselves to others and feeling less competent.
Feelings of perfectionism: Feeling that they must always succeed at 100%, or it’s a failure.
Excessive sensitivity to criticism: Viewing any negative feedback as evidence of their impostor syndrome.
It is important to note that impostor syndrome is not an official medical diagnosis, but it is widely recognized in the field of psychology as a specific phenomenon of self-doubt.
Impostor syndrome does not have a single identifiable cause. However, factors such as socialization, past experiences, family culture, and work dynamics can contribute to its development. Pressure to succeed, high expectations from loved ones or mentors, and even certain personality traits like perfectionism can also play a role.
Treatment for impostor syndrome may involve various approaches:
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This can help identify and change negative thought patterns that fuel the syndrome.
Social support: Openly discussing one’s feelings with trusted friends, colleagues, or mentors can offer a new perspective.
Setting achievable goals: This can help develop a better appreciation of one’s own skills and accomplishments.
Education and awareness: Learning more about impostor syndrome itself can often help reduce its severity by raising awareness that others have similar feelings.
It is always advisable to consult with a mental health professional to assess and treat symptoms of impostor syndrome or other mental health concerns.