imposter syndrome is common among students and professionals

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome, first identified by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in 1978, refers to a psychological phenomenon where high-functioning, high-achieving individuals doubt their skills and accomplishments and fear being exposed as unqualified or a fraud. This condition affects people of all genders across various stages of life and is particularly prevalent among students and professionals.

Research shows that about 70% of people will experience some form of imposter syndrome in their lives. Neuroticism and perfectionism are personality traits that significantly contribute to its development. Moreover, it is commonly associated with other psychological issues like depression and anxiety, which can impair job performance and increase the risk of burnout.

What causes imposter syndrome, according to a psychologist:

Individuals with imposter syndrome can indeed feel a sense of joy after completing a task but the success isn’t completely internalized as something the individual earned or achieved on personal merit. Despite evident successes and qualifications, affected individuals struggle to internalize their achievements, fearing that others will unmask them as unqualified or fraudulent. Those suffering from imposter syndrome often experience intense feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, depression, and anxiety. Below are some psychological explanations of imposter syndrome:

  • Individuals are perfectionists and their goals are unrealistically high. They strive for an unattainable ‘best,’ which leads to self-sacrifice, excessive self-criticism, and an exaggerated sense of mistakes. Mistakes get perceived as a personal shortcoming. Individuals feel like they must constantly push beyond limits, leading to burnout and self-destructive patterns.
  • Individuals feel the need to be the best; that there could be no suboptimal or subpar version of anything. This is a binary way of thinking. Individuals over-prepare for tasks to be perceived as competent. Over-preparation can be stressful.
  • Individuals have a fear of failure. They fear failing an external task or fear the internal feeling of being a failure. Individuals experience anxiety, shame, humiliation if they fail or perform sub-optimally compared to a peer. Failure is perceived as being an imposter.
  • Individuals with imposter syndrome commonly discount personal competence and capability. They don’t feel smart, skilled, or experienced enough to complete a task. Failure gets internalized as a part of the self. Success is externalized as a part of environmental influence or chance, despite proof that they have core capacities to succeed.
  • Individuals have a fear of success or cannot recognize their victories. Success is seen as a burden that could invite higher expectations of others and create a bigger workload.

Common behaviors associated with imposter syndrome:

Imposter syndrome is linked to several behavioral patterns:

  • Over-preparation: Individuals may feel the need to work harder than their peers to achieve similar outcomes, reinforcing their doubts about their competence.
  • Procrastination: This arises from the belief that one has to rush to complete tasks at the last minute, risking exposure as a fraud.
  • Perfectionism and Fear of Failure: Those with imposter syndrome set unrealistically high goals, leading to self-criticism and a heightened fear of failure, perceived as proof of being an imposter.

overcoming imposter syndrome will increase success

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome:

Seek Support

  • Seek professional counseling
  • Engage in discussions with mentors, supervisors, or trusted friends who can provide constructive feedback and support.
  • Share your feelings with others to avoid isolation and gain perspective on your achievements.

Self-Reflection and Acknowledgment

  • Regularly assess and acknowledge your qualifications and successes to reinforce your self-worth.
  • Challenge negative thoughts and reframe your perspective to foster a healthier self-image.

Embrace Imperfection and Learn from Failures

  • Recognize that perfection is unattainable and that setbacks are natural and valuable learning opportunities.
  • Practice self-compassion and adjust your standards to make success more achievable and satisfying.

Outgrowing Imposter Syndrome to Embrace Your True Potential

Understanding and addressing imposter syndrome is crucial for personal and professional development. By recognizing the signs and implementing effective coping strategies, individuals can learn to value their success and embrace their true potential without undue self-doubt or fear of exposure.

If you are seeking support with addressing imposter syndrome, perfectionism, anxiety, or depression, contact PCI today. Our clinicians are specialized in guiding you through these challenges at different stages of life. We put you first.


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