What is imposter syndrome?

Team IIBP Anveshan, Emotional Intelligence, General Psychology, Mental Health, — Issue 10

Self-doubt and lack of confidence frequently cause people to doubt their own abilities and accomplishments, and to see themselves as undeserving or even an imposter. While most people can rise above the questions and believe in themselves and their accomplishments, this is not the case for people with imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is characterized by an inability to own one’s success, self-doubt, feelings of incompetency, inability to assess one’s abilities and set realistic goals, as well as self-sabotaging behavior. People with imposter syndrome believe that they are not competent, but rather a fraud, and are often concerned that others will recognize that. Imposter syndrome leads to constantly questioning one’s ability and attributing success to either luck or other external factors rather than competence. People suffering from imposter syndrome frequently ask themselves questions like, “Am I good enough?”, “Will I be able to fit in?”, “Will I be able to produce quality results?”, “Will people think I’m a fraud?”, “Is it a coincidence that I got this job?”, “What if I make a blunder?”, and so on. These questions disturb them constantly, leading to overwork, excessive preparation, and overwhelming anxiety.

The term “Imposter syndrome” was first used in 1970s by Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance. They used the term in reference to high achieving women, however, today it is equally applicable to people from different walks of life, regardless of their gender, job profile or background. While imposter syndrome is quite common, many people who suffer from it are completely unaware of it. This unawareness leads to inability in identifying the problem, difficulty in coping with it as well as low probability to seek help from others.

Coping with imposter syndrome is often emotionally draining, as it leads to second-guessing one’s every decision, doubting one’s accomplishments, and a constant anxiety that is often associated with proving that you are not a fraud. To cope with these emotions, one must learn to assess their skills and competencies and set goals that are realistic and consistent with their abilities. Another important way to cope with imposter syndrome is to increase one’s self-awareness, as increased awareness leads to increased understanding of one’s strengths, and weaknesses. It is also critical to learn to stop comparing yourself to others and expecting to do everything with perfection. As noted here, coping with imposter syndrome demands some skills which can also be learned through therapy and would be more effective in dealing with the difficulties experienced. Psychotherapy would help people suffering with imposter syndrome in reframing their thoughts, increasing self-awareness and learning appropriate problem-solving and coping skills to deal with work stress. To make sure people with imposter syndrome get the right help at the right time and not suffer in silence, it is important to talk about it because imposter syndrome is as real as any other mental health concern.

Ms. Niti Clinical Psychology Trainee (MPhil, 2nd year)

She has completed her Bachelors’s as well as Master’s in Applied Psychology. her aim is to make people aware of the importance of mental health and make therapy affordable and accessible for the mass. Currently, she is offering pro bono online therapy, under supervision. I am interested in working with adolescents as well as the adult populations and my interests include positive psychology mainly the practice of mindfulness and therapies like cognitive behavior therapy and expressive arts-based therapy.