Imposter Syndrome is a real thing
By Shams Nafiz
As I begin writing this article, I feel a twinge of anxiety, wondering if I am good enough to even put myself in a position to speak with the simplest of authority. You see, I suffer from a phenomenon that makes me feel like a fraud, despite all my accomplishments and accolades I’ve achieved over the years. It is characterized by constant self-doubt, a belief that one doesn’t deserve their achievements, and an overwhelming desire to always do better.
This is a common experience for many high-achieving professionals in leadership positions across various industries, including business, education, and IT. I am talking about the illusive and frustrating state known as Imposter Syndrome. In this article, I will attempt to examine the impact of Imposter Syndrome on mental health, the challenges faced by high-achieving professionals who experience it, and explore evidence-based strategies to overcome it.
IMPOSTER SYNDROME: WHAT WE KNOW
Imposter Syndrome is a psychological phenomenon characterized by persistent feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, and the belief that one’s accomplishments are undeserved or the result of luck or deception. The term was coined in the 1970s by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who initially studied the phenomenon in high-achieving women. Further research revealed that Imposter Syndrome affects individuals from diverse backgrounds and industries, including business, education, and healthcare. While not an official diagnosis, Imposter Syndrome can have significant impact on an individual’s mental health and professional success.
Recent research has shown that Imposter Syndrome is prevalent in high-achieving professionals, especially those in leadership positions. The feeling of being an imposter is often associated with the fear of failure, leading individuals to become self-critical, perfectionistic, and overworked.
THE SURPRISING VARIETIES OF IMPOSTER SYNDROME
Imposter Syndrome manifests itself in different ways, and it’s essential to understand the different types to address it effectively. The following types of Imposter Syndrome are commonly identified:
Perfectionism: Individuals who feel like they need to be perfect in everything they do, leading to a constant feeling of never being good enough.
The expert: Individuals who feel like they need to know everything about their field and are afraid to ask for help, leading to anxiety and stress.
The natural genius: Individuals who feel like they need to excel in everything without much effort, leading to self-doubt and frustration when faced with a challenge.
The soloist: Individuals who believe that success is achieved by oneself alone, and seeking help is a sign of weakness that brings shame. This type of Imposter Syndrome focuses on “who” completes the task.
The superhuman: Individuals who strive to excel in multiple roles, from manager to parent to friend, leading to shame when falling short in any of these roles. This type of Imposter Syndrome measures competence based on “how many” roles they can juggle.
Photo: Artem Kniaz
THE ALARMING EFFECTS ON ONE’S MENTAL HEALTH
People suffering from Imposter Syndrome often experience the feeling that they’re always behind, despite their accomplishments. Intrusive thoughts like they’re not good enough leads to a constant feeling of being overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. These thoughts and emotions can take a significant toll on mental health. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Imposter Syndrome is associated with higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Another study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology in 2017 found that Imposter Syndrome was associated with increased levels of burnout and decreased job satisfaction.
Furthermore, a 2015 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Business and Psychology Found that Imposter Syndrome was negatively associated with career success and job satisfaction. These peer-reviewed papers demonstrate the significant impact that Imposter Syndrome can have on an individua’s mental health and highlight the need for effective strategies to overcome it.
A HIDDEN COST TO EXCELLENCE
In the business world, Imposter Syndrome is a pervasive issue, affecting CEOs, entrepreneurs, and other high-level executives. According to research conducted by Ernst & Young, 40% of executives suffer from Imposter Syndrome. In the education industry, Imposter Syndrome can affect teachers and administrators, leading to decreased job satisfaction and burnout. In the IT industry, Imposter Syndrome can affect software developers and engineers, leading to increased stress and anxiety.
THE ROAD TO SELF-DISCOVERY
Fortunately, it is not all gloom and doom. There are pragmatic steps one can take to combat Imposter Syndrome. Techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, mindfulness exercises, and developing social connections have shown promise in reducing the impact of Imposter Syndrome. These approaches help individuals to reframe negative self-talk and focus on their inherent strengths to develop a more positive self-image.
Moreover, cultivating an inclusive and supportive work environment that values and recognizes individual accomplishments is crucial in addressing Imposter Syndrome. It may seem like a daunting endeavor, but seeking assistance and support is vital. Turning to trusted individuals such as family, friends, or colleagues can provide much-needed encouragement and perspective. Consulting with a trained therapist or coach is also an excellent option to help navigate the challenges associated with Imposter Syndrome.