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How to Spot Imposter Syndrome and What to Do About It
Do you know how to spot imposter syndrome? It’s easy to describe the feeling behind it. The feeling that no matter how much progress you make or success you achieve, you don’t truly deserve your accomplishments. But imposter syndrome can be sneaky, showing up in different ways for different people.
The Five Types of Imposters
Dr Valerie Young, author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, has identified five types of ‘imposters’:
- The Perfectionist
Perfectionism and imposter syndrome often go hand-in-hand. Perfectionists tend to set incredibly high goals for themselves. When they fail to reach a goal, they experience intense self-doubt. For this group, success is rarely satisfying because they always believe they could have done better.
- The Natural Genius
This group judges their competence based on ease and speed as opposed to their efforts. If they take a long time to master something, they experience shame. Just like perfectionists, they have impossibly high expectations. But natural genius types also judge themselves based on getting things right on the first try. When they’re not able to do something quickly or fluently, they berate themselves. In other words, they’re unable to see themselves as a work in progress.
- The Soloist
Soloists struggle to ask for help, believing to do so reveals their phoniness or failings. While independence is important, refusing assistance to prove your worth is never a good idea. There’s no shame in asking for help when you need it.
- The Superwoman/man
People in this group are convinced they’re frauds living and working amongst the real-deal. In an attempt to measure up, they push themselves to work harder and harder. But this is just a false cover-up for underlying insecurities. This group tend to be workaholics, but they’re addicted to the validation that comes from working rather than the work itself. In the long-run, overworking can harm their mental health and lead to burnout.
- The Expert
Experts base their self-worth on what and how much they know or can do. At the same time, they believe they can never know enough. Ultimately, they fear being exposed as inexperienced or unknowledgeable.
No matter which group you fall into, chances are at some point imposter syndrome has been holding you back. If not, you’ve probably been attributing your accomplishments to chance, luck, who you know, or other external factors. That’s what imposter syndrome does. It prevents us from recognising and embracing our true capabilities.
You’re Not Alone
‘I still have a little imposter syndrome… It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.’ – Michelle Obama
Yes, you read that right. Michelle Obama struggles with imposter syndrome. Celebrated author Maya Angelou did too.
‘I have written 11 books but each time I think 'Uh-oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out.’
So, you’re definitely not alone. There are also steps you can take to manage and overcome imposter syndrome. Discover three tips to help you believe in yourself here.
If You Do One Thing This Week
Look at the five imposter types above. Can you see yourself, or any of your habits and behaviours, in the descriptions? If so, spend some time journaling about how this makes you feel. What strategies could you adopt to manage these feelings when they arise?