An Imposter Among Us: It could be you, it could be me, it could be anyone you see
Written by Jasmine Chea
Have you ever felt that you didn’t really deserve that promotion? Maybe you thought getting an A1 in an exam was just a fluke and based on pure luck?
Or maybe you felt like you shouldn’t have accepted a position because you lack the skills and talent to carry out the responsibilities.
Well, you may be experiencing something called Imposter Syndrome.
“Are you an imposter?”
Signs That You Are Experiencing Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is the belief that one does not have the ability or talent to succeed and they frequently attribute any form of achievement to pure luck or by chance. This leads to feelings of fraud and thinking they are fooling everyone into thinking they are competent when they feel they are the exact opposite.
Could you potentially be experiencing signs of Imposter Syndrome? Keep reading to find out.
*Disclaimer: The content below is not a formal diagnosis and we would like to encourage you to seek professional help and diagnosis from a licensed mental health practitioner if you are currently experiencing the signs of Imposter Syndrome below.
A persistent sense of self-doubt
Constantly second-guessing can be a sign you are experiencing imposter syndrome. If thoughts like…
“I never could have done this if it weren't for X”
“I wouldn’t have gotten this done if luck wasn’t on my side”
…sound familiar to you or are common thoughts, you are possibly consistently second-guessing yourself because you are not confident in your own skills. It is essentially a self-destructive cycle where you doubt your work and/or academics too much until it actually does affect your performance which will then aggravate your insecurities and self-doubt. Worst case scenario, this can negatively impact your self-esteem as many individuals do tie their level of self-worth according to their work performance.
The belief that one’s success is attributed to external factors (luck, others helping, etc.)
“Congrats! You passed all your interviews with flying colours and got your dream job! All that hard work paid off right? Right? Or did you get hired because you were just lucky? Or that the company just needed to fill a hiring quota so they resorted to hiring you?”
Constantly believing that the successes in your life are due to pure luck or external factors indicates that you may be facing imposter syndrome. Whilst sometimes success can be a result of an accident or unintentional occurrence, hard work and skills are needed to achieve your goals in life. Therefore, when you succeed in something the next time, don’t immediately pass it off as a fluke. Congratulate yourself for achieving it through your own tenacity.
The disbelief in one’s own competence and skills
Relating back to the above point, individuals with imposter syndrome tend to be sceptical when it comes to their competence and skill. It is more believable to them that external factors were at play for their own performance rather than giving credit to their own skills. They believe their talents and skills are fake and can’t possibly contribute to their success.
Intense fear of failure
Receiving criticism for our work and sometimes failing at our task is how we improve our performance and quality of work. However, if you are someone who faces imposter syndrome, failure can sometimes feel like a fate worse than death. It is an intensely unpleasant experience for someone with imposter syndrome to go through until they will do whatever it takes not to fail. And this can result in unhealthy levels of perfectionism which can cloud one’s judgement and reasoning when faced with the reality that failure is a part of life and growth.
Harsh criticism on one’s own performance
Because of their strong aversion to failure, those who face imposter syndrome are incredibly critical of their own work and performance. An A2 in their studies just means they weren’t good or smart enough to get an A1. Anything less than perfection indicates a character flaw within themselves. They are their own biggest critics and do not hold back on criticism toward themselves. They either succeed or fail at something and rarely have any middle ground in terms of their work and achievements. Therefore, when they are met with failure, individuals with imposter syndrome can experience…
Heavy disappointment when challenging goals are not met
As individuals who feel they need to achieve great things all the time in order to prove their skills, those with imposter syndrome often undertake very challenging tasks. Inevitably, failure can happen and when it happens they take it very harshly and feel like fakes because they did not succeed in proving their abilities. This can lead to lowered self-esteem as well as unhealthy pursuits to achieve success and perfection in every task they undertake so they can ‘prove’ they are competent individuals.
Who Usually Experiences Imposter Syndrome?
It could happen to you or even someone you know. While anyone can experience imposter syndrome, there are select groups that are prone to experiencing this syndrome. Let’s find out what type of individuals are more prone to facing imposter syndrome
This trait may not be surprising when studies mention it is significantly related to imposter syndrome. As the above content has mentioned, those with imposter syndrome tend to have unhealthy levels of perfectionism and firmly believe that failure isn’t an option. Because not being able to live up to expectations or meet demands indicate that whatever expectations or trust is given to them was misplaced. This incurs the feeling of being a fraud or a fake. Other traits that are linked to imposter syndrome are pessimism, neuroticism and low self-esteem.
According to some studies done on the topic of imposter syndrome, it was suggested that females are more prone to developing imposter syndrome as it is hypothesised that they face more gender stigma than men do. Females are more likely to be self-conscious about their gender being attributed to their intelligence or competence which pushes females to try and prove themselves as competent individuals. And if they fail to do so, they think they are frauds and see themselves as imposters. However, there are also studies that theorise that imposter syndrome is a gender-neutral issue and there isn’t enough significant data to show imposter syndrome is more of a female issue than a male one. Therefore, take this information with a pinch of salt before more studies come out.
3. Unsatisfied, burnt-out employees
Employees who are burnt out or feeling unsatisfied with their current working environments are more likely to face imposter syndrome. These factors usually come from highly critical, performance-based occupations which rarely take time to nurture growth and development for their employees. Workplaces such as in the corporate or medical field tend to attribute mistakes to failure and therefore cause their employees to feel unworthy or too incompetent for their position. This kind of system and workplace causes imposter syndrome to catch amongst the employees like wildfire and can eventually cause more harm than good.
Just like perfectionists, it is no surprise that high-achievers are individuals who are prone to experiencing imposter syndrome. This is largely due to the reason that high-achievers closely associate their worth to their achievements. Should their success or performance fall short of their expectations, this can cause them to feel like their identity is a lie. Because if they aren’t successful or perfect, who are they then? This type of thinking puts high-achievers on an all-or-nothing tightrope where it’s either they succeed and have accomplished their purpose or they fail and consider themselves failed individuals.
Combating The Mask
Experiencing imposter syndrome in your day to day life can be a very stressful and unpleasant experience to go through. This is why it needs to be tackled head-on with appropriate and effective methods before things get out of hand.
*Disclaimer: The following content is not a method that will indefinitely ‘cure’ or stop someone from experiencing imposter syndrome. These are just tips and methods that can help individuals cope with it. Please seek professional mental help if you require assistance in facing this issue.
Acknowledge insecurities & worries
It is normal to worry about your capabilities and skills. It is what helps us improve and strive to be better. However, these worries should be addressed in a healthy way and serve to improve you and your capabilities. Trying to block it out and pretend it isn’t there will only postpone a looming problem within you. Whether through therapy or having a good support system, worries and insecurities don’t have to be tackled alone. Find someone you are comfortable confiding with about your worries and hopefully you’ll find that your problems are easier to acknowledge and handle.
No such thing as ‘perfection’
We all want to be perfect. It’s what we strive for. However, clutching onto the idea of perfectionism can be damaging to our mental health and self-esteem. Well…because the concept of perfection simply does not exist and it is unattainable. We all have our flaws in different aspects and that is perfectly fine. What weaknesses we have is just a learning curve for us to improve from.
You deserve kindness
It is easy to berate ourselves over mistakes and shortcomings. Maybe it will teach us not to be so careless or absentminded next time. But we have to remember, we are only human and mistakes happen sooner or later. Encouraging thoughts and a renewed mindset is much more productive than thinking that you’re stupid or careless because of a simple mistake. Like taking care of a plant, it can only grow and bloom when given enough nurturing and care. You cannot expect a plant to grow in bad soil or in a cold and harsh environment. And neither should you. A little kindness goes a long way, especially towards yourself.
Whilst learning ways to independently cope with imposter syndrome and the negative feelings that come along with it can be helpful, there are times when seeking help is the best course of action. Seeking therapy allows you to express any insecurities and troubles you face which then the therapist can help guide you in overcoming them. It is never a sign of weakness to seek help and therapy and more often than not, will benefit you in the long run.
Don’t Hide Behind Masks Anymore
Even with mistakes and shortcomings, you’re not a fraud, but a human being who can achieve success. As humans, we have the amazing tenacity to get back up when failure knocks us down. No one can be perfect and that’s okay. Mistakes and failures are part of life and should be accepted as such. Rome was not built in a day and definitely not without any mistakes or roadblocks happening. Remember, you are someone who is imperfect but deserves kindness and healthy growth in life because…
If you are currently experiencing imposter syndrome or other issues concerning your mental health and well-being, consider making an appointment at Thrive Well. We are equipped with experienced psychologists and counsellors who can provide you with holistic mental health support and counselling. Remember, seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness rather it is the opposite.
To register for an appointment with Thrive Well, visit the link here.
For more informational and educational articles based on mental health, consider checking out the Thrive Well blog where we have more intriguing articles for your reading. Visit them here.
The Roles of Gender Stigma Consciousness, Impostor Phenomenon and Academic Self-Concept in the Academic Outcomes of Women and Men https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11199-015-0516-7
Yes, Impostor Syndrome Is Real. Here's How to Deal With It https://time.com/5312483/how-to-deal-with-impostor-syndrome/
How Impostor Syndrome Is Holding You Back at Work https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/how-impostor-syndrome-holding-you-back-work-ncna814231
Imposter syndrome among Russian students: The link between perfectionism and psychological distress https://publications.hse.ru/en/articles/255590118
You’re Not a Fraud. Here’s How to Recognize and Overcome Imposter Syndrome https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/imposter-syndrome#causes
A Psychologist Explains How to Deal With Imposter Syndrome https://health.clevelandclinic.org/a-psychologist-explains-how-to-deal-with-imposter-syndrome/
Overcoming Imposter Syndrome https://hbr.org/2008/05/overcoming-imposter-syndrome
Impostor Syndrome: Signs, Causes, & 9 Ways to Overcome https://www.choosingtherapy.com/impostor-syndrome/
How to handle impostor syndrome https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321730#diagnosis
Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7174434/
What Is Imposter Syndrome? https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-anxiety-disorder-4156469