Imposter Syndrome

15th October 2020
Hailey O'Riordan

Have you ever felt like you don’t belong? Like your family, friends or colleagues are going to discover you’re some kind of intellectual fraud, and you don’t actually deserve your job and accomplishments, the idea that you have succeeded purely due to luck, rather than talent or qualifications

This is actually a very common occurrence, and known as imposter syndrome, or what psychologists often call impostor phenomenon. According to an article published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science, a staggering 70% of people experience these impostor feelings at some point in their lives, it can affect all kinds of people, at any time of life or career: women, men, medical students, finance managers, actors and executives to name a few.

Expert, Dr. Valerie Young, has categorized imposter syndrome into subgroups: the Perfectionist, the Superwoman/man, the Natural Genius, the Soloist, and the Expert.

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It Dr. Young builds on decades of research studying fraudulent feelings among high achievers.

Some of the common feelings connected to imposter syndrome can include:

I must not fail – The pressure not to fail to avoid being “found out”, success then also becomes an issue, as it brings the added pressure of responsibility and visibility. This leads to an inability to actually enjoy success.

I feel like a fake – Imposters believe they do not deserve success or professional accolade and feel that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes hand in hand with a fear of being “found out”. They believe they give the impression that they are more competent than they are, and often believe they don’t deserve a position or a promotion.

It’s all down to luck – The tendency to attribute one’s success to luck or to other external reasons, rather than their abilities. Statements like “it was a fluke” can often mask the fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.

Success is no big deal – Downplaying success and discounting it. They might attribute their success to it being an easy task or having support and often have a hard time accepting compliments. Again, they think their success is down to luck, good timing, or having fooled others.

No one really knows where imposter syndrome stems from, some experts believe it links to personality traits — like anxiety or neuroticism — while others focus on family or behavioural causes, sometimes childhood memories, such as feeling your grades were never good enough or that your siblings outshone you, can leave a lasting impact and in turn it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

To overcome Imposter Syndrome, you need to break the pattern of setting unattainable standards and thinking that external, temporary factors such as luck, or help from other people, are responsible for your success.

Take today as your opportunity to start accepting and embracing your capabilities.