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Feelgood Health

Mythbusters: myths about imposter syndrome

14 February 2022

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For some of us we strive for perfection. We might have pressure in a job to constantly perform at the top of our game or in a relationship to be the best version of ourselves. However, when this turns into feelings of inadequacy, that we’re unable to live up to expectations or a belief that we’re a fraud… it could be imposter syndrome. 

It can affect anyone no matter their career, social status or background, and leave someone full of self-doubt and that any success is down to pure luck, rather than that person’s own ability.

We’re looking at some myths surrounding imposter syndrome and sorting through the fact from the fiction. 

Imposter syndrome isn’t real

Imposter syndrome is a constant feeling of inadequacy that persists despite your clear successes. It could mean that you feel like a fake and is very much a real experience that can affect anyone in their everyday life.

As an example, you might experience imposter syndrome when entering a new job, through fear that you won’t live up to expectations, or worrying you are under-qualified for the role. 

Characteristics of imposter syndrome can include:

  • an inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
  • attributing your success to external factors
  • berating your performance
  • sabotaging your own success
  • setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short1

Imposter syndrome only affects women

When the concept was first documented in the 1970s it was only focused on women which is where this myth stemmed from. 

Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes developed the concept, originally termed “imposter phenomenon,” in their 1978 founding study, which focused on high-achieving women.2 However, imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of job, social status or gender. 

Many people only experience symptoms for a limited time, such as in the first few weeks of a new job. For others the experience can be lifelong. 

Research shows that imposter syndrome is likely the result of multiple factors, including personality traits like perfectionism, classism or family background. 

Imposter syndrome only affects work

Imposter syndrome is more common in workplaces; however, it can affect you in many different aspects of your life. A parent can feel this way at home, a student can feel this way at school, or a son or daughter can feel this way with their parents. 

You could be struggling in your relationship due to feelings of not being good enough for your partner – which leads to fear of abandonment or rejection. It could affect your parenting through doubt of your skills or worries of not being equipped to look after your children. It can even affect you socially among friendship groups, with feelings of doubt over why your friends like you. 

Imposter syndrome isn’t triggered by anything 

There are many life changes that can trigger imposter syndrome, like starting a new job, starting university or even taking exams. These might leave you feeling like you don’t belong, aren’t capable, and don’t deserve to be there or get good grades. 

Other factors can lead to your experience of imposter syndrome, like coming from a high achieving family who put pressure on being successful or having perfectionism as a personality trait. 

It normally doesn’t just come on by itself, there is usually a combination of causes. For example, tracing it back to family dynamics or pressure at school combined with something new that is happening in your life.

Imposter syndrome is a mental health condition

Although imposter syndrome is not currently considered to be a mental health condition, it can lead to mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression; or even make symptoms an existing diagnosis worse.

Imposter syndrome can however be treated in similar ways to that of anxiety – speaking to a therapist, talking to trusted friends and family, taking note of any accomplishments to read when you are doubting yourself. 

If imposter syndrome isn’t something you’ve heard of before and anything here rings true and it’s affecting your day-to-day life, then speaking to your GP and seeking some help is the next step. 

 

References:

  1. What Is Imposter syndrome? – Very Well Mind
  2. Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter syndrome – Harvard Business Review