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Imposter Syndrome: most of us are affected

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Author: Future Manager Research Center

It is not that common to hear about the Imposter Syndrome, and when you here about it is not immediate the connection with the working environment. However, even if we have never given it a name, everybody has had, at least for a moment the Imposter Syndrome. Still, what is it?

Have you ever felt like a ‘fraud’ at work? Have you ever thought that the success in your career are just down to luck? If yes, well that was the moment you experienced the Imposter Syndrome. You feel like you’re just lucky, that pretty soon, your friends or colleagues are going to discover you’re a fraud, and you don’t actually deserve your job and accomplishments.

It is a real deal and we are not alone in this, it affects more of us than you probably think.

The awareness of this phenomenon is spreading more and more and Work Psychologists are conducting interesting studies about this topic. These studies are important and fundamental in understanding the phenomenon because it affects people behavior, it weakends the presence of the affected person. They speak up a little less, hold back from sharing ideas, and shrank away from their genuine talent.

Psychologist have estimated that 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science. 

At the beginning of these researches it was a common thought that Impostor syndrome belonged only to women but the results of different surveys affirm that Impostor syndrome affects all kinds of people from all parts of life: women, men, medical students, marketing managers, actors and executives.

Today, impostor syndrome can apply to anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes,” says psychologist Audrey Ervin.

Impostor syndrome expert Valerie Young, who is the author of a book on the subject, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, has also found patterns in people who experience impostor feelings:

  • “Perfectionists” set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.
  • “Experts” feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or trainings to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting.
  • The “natural genius” believes that when she/he has to struggle or work hard to accomplish something, this means they aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily, and when they have to put in effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
  • “Soloists” feel they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
  • “Supermen” or “superwomen” push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.

Why do people experience impostor syndrome?

There’s no single answer. Some experts believe it has to do with personality traits—like anxiety or neuroticism—while others focus on family or behavioral causes, Ervin explains.

Sometimes childhood memories, such as feeling that your grades were never good enough for your parents or that your siblings outshone you in certain areas, can leave a lasting impact. “People often internalize these ideas: that in order to be loved or be lovable, ‘I need to achieve,’” says Ervin. “It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.”

How to deal with impostor syndrome?

One of the first steps to overcoming impostor feelings is to acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective. “We can help teach people to let go and more critically question those thoughts. I encourage clients to ask ‘Does that thought help or hinder me?’” says Ervin.

You can also reframe your thoughts. Young says she reminds people that the only difference between someone who experiences impostor syndrome and someone who does not is how they respond to challenges. “People who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent or competent or capable than the rest of us,” Young says. “It’s very good news, because it means we just have to learn to think like non-impostors.” Learning to value constructive criticism, understanding that you’re actually slowing your team down when you don’t ask for help, or remembering that the more you practice a skill, the better you will get at it can all help.

Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions, says Young. “The goal is not to never feel like an impostor. The goal for me is to give people the tools and the insight and information to talk themselves down faster,” she says. “They can still have an impostor moment, but not an impostor life.”