What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imagine someone getting an amazing grade on a test. Instead of feeling excited and congratulating themselves, they become overwhelmed with doubt and convince themselves that they don’t deserve it or they just got lucky. This strange sensation is called “Imposter Syndrome.” Imposter Syndrome is the psychological cause of high-achieving people feeling as though they’re frauds. No matter how successful they are, those who suffer at the hands through this complex are tied to the mentality that they’re an incapable phony.
The different cases of Imposter Syndrome are all outcomes of one’s environment and personality. Minor imposter syndrome is very common, and many people experience some form of it at a point in their career. The serious side surfaces when it starts to get obsessive, and imposter syndrome habits occur often. There are five specific types of Imposter Syndrome: the perfectionist, the overworker, the natural, the soloist, and the expert. People with Imposter Syndrome can be just one of the types, a few, or even all.
When someone has imposter syndrome, it’s common for them to be quite an extreme perfectionist. They place too much stress on themselves in general and apply too much pressure when it comes to projects or tasks. When the work they’ve done falls short of their expectations, they’re frustrated and disappointed despite the outcome being more than sufficient. While attention to detail is a positive trait to have, an intense degree of it can lead to an unnecessary amount of worry and unhappiness. With this type of Imposter Syndrome, it’s very possible that they never feel as though what they’ve done was enough. It’s as if the mentality has blocked out all of the signs of success and “tunnel visioned” them to only see their mistakes.
The overworking/superhuman type of Imposter Syndrome circles around the idea that one is inadequate and therefore needs to do the absolute most in order to feel as though they’re reaching a high bar. Somewhat like perfectionism, hard work and ethics are wonderful until it hits an unhealthy range. For example, a scientist might work extra hours at the lab because he or she doesn’t believe that they’re truly smart or as extraordinary as their co-workers. The workaholic lifestyle only makes them crave validation more and more to act as a temporary remedy for insecurity. It also puts other positive aspects of life at risk of being cut out. People may stop socializing or quit hobbies in order to make more time to work. Downtime and rest is looked at as a waste compared to the extra work they could be doing to “catch up” to their colleagues or classmates. However, downtime and out of work activities are actually major parts of a balanced life. Extreme work habits may seem helpful in the short term, but it can have very harmful long term effects.
On the app TikTok, creators have made many jokes about individuals being told they’re special and getting good grades easily as a young child until they reach higher education (high school/college) and start to struggle. While this might seem like a funny anecdote, it actually relates to a type of Imposter Syndrome called the “natural.” This can be caused when people are used to having things easy and succeeding with little to no effort. Living a significant part of one’s life without having to work hard to get good grades, accomplish great things and master new subjects, makes exerting oneself to reach a goal a strange sensation. Since they tend to measure worthiness and success based on how easy of a time that they’ve had completing something, they can feel ashamed and useless when it takes lots of energy, effort, and time to reach a goal. What they need to learn is that life is never going to be easy 100% of the time. Hard work isn’t something to be ashamed of, and, instead of being sad that it took you lots of time, be proud that you did something difficult from start to finish!
Have you ever felt too shy or embarrassed to ask a question in class? Some with Imposter Syndrome feel this way too, except with anything and everything. Even if it is such a small matter like asking a friend to send them notes from a class that they’ve missed, they still refuse to ask for assistance. This is called the soloist form of the syndrome. In simple terms, soloists will do everything on their own regardless of the task’s difficulty. Soloists feel that if they ask for help, they’ll be found out and labeled as imposters. It may sound slightly odd, but soloists see themselves as a phony and dread the idea of people seeing the same.
From a young age we are taught that being independent is good -- and it is! However, learning to accept help when it’s necessary is equally important. Working alone at all times can also lead to poorer results, leading to more insecurities and pressure to do better.
Lastly, the expert version of Imposter Syndrome occurs when someone places his or her value on how much he or she knows. For example, before going to a party, such people may spend hours on end trying to think of funny things that they can say or racking up knowledge on a sport to fit in. If they’re about to do research in a group for a project, they may do extreme research prior to the actual class in order to be completely prepared.
A bit of pre-event preparation is always useful, but overdoing it can be dangerous for one's mental health. The extra time that they put into appearing flawless is once again because they refuse to be discovered as the “fraud” they think they are. Panicking about an upcoming event can cause them to spend their days in a pit of anxiety, trying to become as skillful as they can. At a certain point, doing things when it’s the right time to do it is part of a happy life. Hours that could’ve been spent on a walk or reading a good book are thrown down the drain, spent overlearning and overthinking a subject.
Imposter syndrome isn’t taken as seriously as it should be. Others might see someone with this illness and assume that they just love to keep things in order and overthink a bit. Unfortunately, it can be much more dire, inflicting psychological damage and taking joy out of their life.
Taking time to do simple acts such as taking a deep breath or a small break can slowly help relieve the self-induced pressure. Another big part of overcoming Imposter Syndrome is acceptance: accepting one's abilities without denial, accepting imperfections and accepting help.
Asking for aid or needing more time to complete something doesn’t mean that someone’s inadequate or incapable, it just means that they’re human. It’s also crucial to make time to spend with loved ones and do things that you genuinely enjoy.
Life itself is a work in progress, and you don’t have to judge yourself as though you’re a robot programmed to be utter perfection. It’s unfair to yourself to undermine your success. Enjoying your life is just as vital as doing well at school or work.