Am I an Imposter? Imposter Syndrome and How to Handle it

I don’t belong here. Everyone’s going to hate me. I’m a fraud, an imposter. I don’t deserve any of this.

Do any of these sentences sound familiar to you? If so, you’re experiencing a phenomenon that is known as imposter syndrome. Most people have these thoughts from time to time, including myself. Today I am going to tell you a bit about what imposter syndrome is and, more importantly, ways to beat it.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

I’m finishing the last touches on my article, but I hesitate to get it reviewed. What if no one likes this, I think to myself. What if no one reads it? What if people do read it, and think my writing style is boring and horrible? What if it makes everyone see through me, as a failure who doesn’t deserve to contribute to the website?

These are all thoughts I had when writing my last article. Try as I might, I could not get rid of them. They are the thoughts that whisper in your ear, “You’re not good enough. You should just give up. They cling like burrs, and once they dig in they can be extremely difficult to brush off.

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that, despite having accomplished something, the person is really a fraud. People who experience this commonly attribute their success to an outside factor: luck, chance, someone else. They constantly doubt themselves. They are afraid that they don’t deserve what they have, that they haven’t earned it.

In her book How to be Successful, Ellen Hendriksen writes that people react in one of two ways: they either overcompensate for their perceived faults, or they shut down and just give up. Either way, it will catch up to you eventually, and the results are often not pretty. Imposter syndrome can lead to an increase in stress, anxiety and depression, as well as a lack of self-esteem.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

According to expert Valerie Young, there are five types of imposter syndrome: the Perfectionist, the Super(wo)man, the Natural Genius, the Rugged Individualist, and the Expert. Although not everyone fits neatly into one or even any of these categories, they’re still useful to talk about. 

The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist is someone who sets an extremely high goal for themselves, one that most people would never be able to reach. But, when they fail to meet their expectations, they blame themselves. They always believe that they could have done something better. This type also tends to be a control freak, because they feel like they have to do everything in order for it to be perfect. Perfection is the ultimate goal – right? Well, not if you’re never satisfied with your successes.

The Super(wo)man

The Super(wo)man tends to overly push themselves in order to do better and better. They work harder and longer than everyone else, often feeling like they have to do more to earn their accomplishments. This, unfortunately, takes a toll on their mental and social health, and they may end up becoming workaholics.

The Natural Genius

The Natural Genius believes that they are no good at something if they have to work hard at it. These people were frequently told they were smart when they were younger and often got good grades without really trying. This leads to the self-expectation that they will be good at something if they do have to try hard. Like perfectionists, they set their standards unreasonably high. However, they must be able to get everything on their first try; if they don’t, then they feel they have failed.

The Rugged Individualist

The Rugged Individualist feels like they must do everything on their own. They feel that asking for help reveals their status as incompetent, an imposter. This makes asking for help or advice very difficult, which can impede progress.

The Expert

The Expert feels like they never know enough. They feel like they’ve somehow tricked someone into hiring them and will soon be found out as incompetent. In order to prevent that, they try and become an “expert” in their field. Gaining knowledge can be a good thing unless it leads to procrastination – for example, someone not applying for a job until they meet every qualification, or else hoarding knowledge and training.

No matter which type of imposter syndrome you have, it can have a very negative impact on your life.

But How Do I Deal With It?

Imposter syndrome can be tricky to deal with, but here are a few tips:

  • Mindfulness If you already practice meditation or some other mindful activity, you’re already on the right track. But if not, it’s pretty simple: the first step to dealing with imposter syndrome is to recognize and acknowledge these thoughts when they pass. Once you can recognize these thoughts, you’ll have an easier time overcoming them. After all, you can’t overcome something if you don’t realize it’s there.
  • Reframe negative thoughts If you’re having a difficult time overcoming these negative thoughts, try reframing them instead. Change “I don’t deserve this” to “I have worked hard to earn this, I should deserve it,” or “I don’t know what I’m doing” to “I’m still learning.” Reframing negative thoughts into more positive or neutral ones can help you overcome them.
  • Imperfection You aren’t perfect. I’m not perfect. No one is perfect. It’s okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to ask for help, or to make mistakes. People will forgive you. According to psychologist Ellen Hendriksen, people will find small imperfections endearing rather than annoying because they are what make you human.
  • You are not alone Finally, if nothing else, remember this: You are not alone. Nearly everyone has feelings that they don’t belong at some point in their lives. Everyone makes mistakes or feels overwhelmed. At the end of the day, you deserve all of your accomplishments because you matter.

Resources

  • Hendriksen, Ellen. How to be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic and Rise Above Social Anxiety. St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

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