Feelings of inadequacy affect all of us at some point or another. Sometimes we may feel that we don’t deserve the good things that come into our lives or the success we achieve. Occasional feelings of inadequacy are normal and a part of life.
However, if these feelings are unfounded and persist, they can often be attributed to imposter syndrome. In this post, Select Psychology explores the question, what is imposter syndrome? What causes it, what are the different types and how to overcome them.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome can be defined as feeling like a fraud. It is an internal experience of feeling like you are not able and competent and that other people have an incorrectly high perception of your capabilities. This psychological phenomenon has the individual doubting their talents, skills and accomplishments. It most often affects successful and accomplished people who find it difficult to accept the recognition of their talents.
Imposter syndrome was first identified in the late 1970s by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. Research has shown it most often affects high achievers, successful and accomplished people who find it difficult to accept the recognition of their talents.
People with this syndrome tend to overwork frequently, pushing themselves to compensate for perceived inadequacy. They also rely on comparison with others, thereby feeling inferior even if there is proof to the contrary. Often, an imposter feels the need to disregard their achievements as mere luck rather than acknowledging one’s effort and skills. Excessive worrying about making mistakes or failing is commonly found in people with this mental health problem.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
The most common cause is an individual growing up in a family that emphasises achievement over other aspects of life. For example, if your parents went from overpraising to over-criticising, there is a likelihood that you will experience imposter syndrome later in life. Personal feelings of perfectionism can also prompt you to feel like a fraud when you feel you have not done enough or as well as you could have. And lastly, societal pressure to achieve can also have an effect on the psyche.
Types Of Imposter Syndrome
One of the leading experts on imposter syndrome, Dr Valerie Young, has categorised this syndrome into five different types. Here are the five types, a bit about each, and how to overcome it:
Perfectionists hold themselves to unrealistically high standards, and if even the smallest element of their project is imperfect, they will feel a sense of disappointment in the self. They seek to achieve flawlessness and as a result, can be extremely critical of their own work.
Overcoming The Perfectionist
Slow down and consider the situation from the perspective of someone else who is not a perfectionist. Become aware of what’s going on in your head and remember that not everything can be perfect or needs to be.
The Natural Genius
Being used to understanding and succeeding, they judge themselves by the speed and efficiency that they pick up a new task. It is common for people with this type to believe that their worth is tied to to their innate abilities and intelligence only. They measure their success by how quickly and easily they can do something, and if they fail their own standards, they feel they have failed at the task, even if externally praised.
Overcoming The Natural Genius
See yourself as a work in progress, and consider that the more time you spend doing something and learning, the better you will get at it. So instead of being hard on yourself for your perceived failures, think of things you can improve next time.
The soloist feels like they must do everything by themselves, without any help or support from others. This behaviour stems from the belief that asking for help might reveal their incompetence or lack of knowledge. That is why they feel like a failure if they need to ask for help.
Overcoming The Soloist
Keep in mind that you could be drawing out a project for longer than needed by doing it by yourself. Realise that there is no shame in asking for help, and that everyone needs it at some point. Practice asking for help from a co-worker, supportive mentor or friend, depending on the situation.
The Super Person
The super person feels like they should be able to handle anything and everything, and they feel disappointed with themselves if they cannot. They feel compelled to excel at everything whether it’s family, work, social relationships or personal hobbies. These people value their ability to juggle many things at once.
Overcoming The Super Person
The super person values external validation disproportionately, making it important to readjust the focus on external validation, practice self-compassion, and learn to accept constructive criticism.
The expert focuses on what they know and can do. They will go out of their way, and above and beyond to prove themselves and their expertise. As they have a broad range of knowledge and ability in a particular subject, they will feel inadequate if they don’t know something in their field.
Overcoming The Expert
For the expert, negative self-criticism is an issue. Instead, focus on speaking compassionately with yourself and practice in-time learning instead of hoarding knowledge. You can also mentor others to share your knowledge, which helps dissolve feelings of deficiency.
It is important to note that these types are not mutually exclusive. An individual might identify with more than one. Which type one identifies with is also dependent on experiences and can vary over time. These types have been characterised by psychologists based on unique thought patterns, behaviours and feelings of inadequacy.
Conclusion on Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome can make it difficult to accept your achievements without severe self-criticism, even when you are receiving praise from others. However, shifting your focus to overcome these feelings can have an excellent effect on your feelings of inadequacy.
Key to overcoming imposter syndrome is acknowledging these thought patterns and working on gradually changing them. There are various ways to do this, such as through self-awareness, cognitive reframing, seeking support and focusing on self-compassion and self-acceptance.
If you are struggling with your mental health, our team of professional and fully trained therapists is here to provide the support you need. You can book a free telephone consultation with us today. At Select Psychology, we are committed and always prepared to help with any mental health issues you may be dealing with.