Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which we doubt our accomplishments and fear being exposed as a “fraud.” Researchers have estimated that nearly 70% of us will experience signs and symptoms of imposter phenomenon at least once in our lifetimes. According to research by Access Commercial Finance, two-thirds of women and 56% of men in the U.K. have suffered from imposter syndrome within the last 12 months, and according to Google Trends, there are almost 100 times more searches of “imposter syndrome” now than there were five years ago.
While it is common for people to experience these feelings, most of us are unlikely to speak up about them. We tend to believe that people will judge us unfairly if we show a lack of confidence or if they realize we can’t do something. Imposter syndrome can lead to mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, as we try to live up to some image of success, fearing that we might be exposed as unworthy and incompetent.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
Access Commercial Finance’s research identifies four major causes of imposter syndrome:
- Self-generated self-doubt (38%).
- Being criticized (23%).
- Having to ask for help (20%).
- Self-comparisons to high-achieving colleagues (16%).
When we cultivate humility and an awareness of gaps in our knowledge, skills or abilities, we have a better understanding of how we can improve and where to focus our efforts. We can also mange any inclination we might have to become arrogant. However, when this awareness becomes negative, and we question our abilities, we may start to feel inadequate, and this lack of confidence can hold us back. It can impact our career, our willingness to take on new challenges and our relationships.
Sometimes, changes in circumstances can bring about imposter syndrome, even when people have never experienced it before and when doubts in their abilities have not previously caused them problems. Losing a job and starting a new one, ending a relationship, or entering a new academic session are some triggers for these insecure feelings that can lead to imposter syndrome.
The Importance of a Growth Mindset
The concept of the growth mindset is useful to people who experience imposter syndrome. When we know that intelligence is malleable and that we continue to learn and develop, it helps us understand that even if we do have gaps, it’s OK, because we’re always learning how to fill them.
Stanford lecturer Carol Dweck has developed the growth mindset concept over decades of research. She has found that high-performing individuals tend to have a growth mindset, which means they are driven by the need to learn. They focus on mastering tasks and perceive failure to be a part of the learning process. People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, see intelligence as a fixed entity and tend to be motivated by performance goals. They are driven to prove their intelligence, blame themselves for failure, and frequently experience anxiety and shame.
Sometimes, “good enough” is all that we need to succeed. For instance, Donald Winnicott, a British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, came up with the concept of “good enough parenting,” which recognizes that it is unhelpful and unrealistic to demand perfection. When we do, it undermines the efforts of the vast majority of parents, who are, in all practical respects, “good enough” to meet their children’s needs.
Adopting the same philosophy at work removes much of the pressure we put on ourselves and makes us less likely to feel like a fraud. When we recognize that the internal voice telling us we are not good enough is not real, we can become more compassionate with ourselves and more objective about our inner monologue.
Are You Suffering From Imposter Syndrome?
Do you ever question your ability or competence? What is it about yourself that you question? Is it a voice from your past that’s now on repeat?
Do you seek validation from the people around you? When is that behavior most prevalent?
What are you good enough at? How could you apply the “good enough” idea to other aspects of your life?
Making Friends With Your Inner Imposter
- Many people experience imposter syndrome, yet much of that experience stems from believing that others have better control over their work and their lives and that they are more intelligent and more competent. Realize that everyone is just trying to project the best version of himself or herself.
- Believe in “good enough.” When you lower the benchmark for what “good” looks like, you remove the pressure of trying to be something you don’t need to be.
- Show yourself some compassion. Letting yourself off the hook when it comes to knowing all of the answers can be liberating. When you believe that you are still learning — just like everyone else — you can be kinder to yourself.