egardless of how fast or how high you climb the “ladder of success,” you still experience crushing self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy. We all do from time to time. But you just can’t shake the idea that you’re not deserving of your success, and you probably feel like you’re less competent than other people believe you to be. Approximately 70 percent of the population feels this way at some point in their lives. Impostor syndrome is a persistent feeling of insecurity and insufficiency that plagues high-achieving individuals. Even though you’re likely highly competent, capable and proficient, there are times when you feel like a fraud. Although impostor syndrome is not a mental disorder, it can be debilitating. Impostor syndrome can prevent you from reaching your full potential.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome was identified in 1978 by two female psychologists. They defined it as an internal experience that causes people to feel like a fraud.
The psychologists studied 150 high-achieving women who displayed academic and professional achievements. Although their test scores and accomplishments reflected their proficiency and success, these women felt that they had triumphed because of luck. They believed that they really weren’t that intelligent, talented or adept; other people must have overestimated their abilities.
Impostor syndrome is not classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, the psychotherapists who work with high-achieving individuals understand that you might be suffering from the phenomenon if you have at least two of the following characteristics:
• Going through cycles of self-doubt when faced with an achievement-related task
• Feeling an urge to be the best
• Acting like a Superhuman; getting significant validation from working hard
• Having an intense fear of failure
• Writing off skills and abilities or downplaying praise
• Experiencing guilt surrounding success
The Impostor Cycle
You may be one of the many people who struggle with impostor syndrome that experience similar patterns. Does this cycle sound familiar? It usually begins when you’re faced with an achievement-oriented project or assignment. You immediately begin to worry.
Maybe you’re not smart enough to do the project.
You’re probably not going to impress your boss, your colleagues, your friends, or your family.
You might fail miserably.
Why did your boss or teacher think that you could handle this task in the first place?
Sometimes, these concerns lead to obsession and over-preparation. But the hit to your self-confidence may cause you to procrastinate.
In many cases, you alternate between the two. You might feel as though you can’t get started unless you do intense research, but you get caught up in that prep work because you don’t feel ready or able to perform the task. You might start the project but become so worried that you’re not doing it right that you fret over the tiniest details and work yourself up over unimportant priorities.
Does this pattern ring a bell? If so, you’re probably dealing with impostor syndrome.
When the project is complete, you might feel some immediate relief. But as you go back over the process in your head, you’re sure that you didn’t do a great job.
If you’re praised for your achievement, you wave it off. You might believe that you did well because you worked hard. You don’t acknowledge that your personal abilities contributed to the victory. If you procrastinated, you probably attributed the positive outcome to luck.
It’s only a matter of time, before they all figure it out… I’m not as good as they think I am. One of the worst things about impostor syndrome is that you think people are going to find out that you’re not as qualified or competent as they may think. You feel like a fraud, and this perception can intensify with every impostor cycle.
How Does Impostor Syndrome Affect Your Life?
You might not think that impostor syndrome sounds serious. After all, doesn’t everyone want to strive for greatness and feel as though they fall a little flat sometimes? But impostor syndrome can throw your entire life off balance.
If you have impostor syndrome, you may work so hard that you neglect your self-care. You may turn down get-togethers with close friends or ignore your family so that you can put your nose to the grindstone and prove yourself. This behavior can leave you feeling isolated and lonely.
While you’re working, you may feel intensely anxious because you don’t think that you’re performing well. You may get overwhelmed by small tasks and put them off because you don’t think that you’re doing a good job.
Although you may complete all of your projects, gain recognition and earn promotions, you believe that those rewards could disappear in an instant, which keeps you spinning inside of the chaos in your mind.
At the peak of your insecurity, you may feel paralyzed. You might be so overwhelmed by your worry that you don’t try your best or you ignore a project until the deadline is looming. But your self-worth hinges on your success. Therefore, you throw yourself back into the cycle.
Here are some other ways that this issue can affect your life:
• You avoid challenges so that you don’t look silly.
• You avoid help even when you need it or get annoyed when people offer assistance.
• You don’t apply to jobs that you’re qualified for because you worry that you’re lacking a requirement.
• You have trouble owning your authority in your field.
• You tell yourself that you don’t have enough time to devote to your interests and hobbies.
• You micromanage everything in your life so that it looks perfect from the outside.
Self-Worth and Impostor Syndrome
If you base your self-worth on your accomplishments, you’ll constantly try to prove yourself through hard work. But if you struggle with fraud syndrome, you’ll never feel validated. When people applaud your successes, you feel transparent. You worry that they can see all of your shortcomings. If they find out who you really are, they may not love you as much.
Sometimes, it’s hard to admit this to yourself. People with impostor syndrome are often extremely successful, high-achieving individuals. You may not think that you suffer from low self-esteem.
However, if you value yourself based on how others see you, you’re not giving yourself the credit that you deserve. When you don’t truly love yourself just because you’re you, you may fall prey to roller-coaster emotions and feelings of inadequacy while trying to convince others of your greatness. This is at the root of so much anxiety!
Impostor phenomenon is real, and it can impair your ability to live a fulfilling life. We can help you own your success, stop judging yourself and find meaning outside of your work and achievements. You’re worthy, and you deserve success, love and abundance. Visit our therapists’ webpages to see how each of them may work with you on your specific issues of Imposter Syndrome.