The Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents and accomplishments. It is accompanied by a persistent fear of feeling exposed as a fraud, and feelings of self-doubt. These feelings are not always there. Typically they come and go, regardless of the success you are already experiencing.
I know of coaches working with high executives who have an arrogant persona to the outside world, but in one-to-one meetings express the sentiment that they too feel like a fraud. It’s important to recognize that the Imposter Syndrome is the result of thinking. You will experience it as a feeling, but that feeling is just the outcome of some unconscious thought about the nature of the world you live in and how you should be doing things. This thinking can be divided in several types (Nada Elawdan, 2020):
Perfectionists often set impossibly high standards for themselves that they often cannot reach. They will feel inadequate if they cannot achieve every goal, excel at every skill, or check off every task. Any setback can result in self-doubt, excessive worry, or feelings of incompetence. No matter their level of success, it will never feel satisfying.
Supermen/superwomen push themselves to work harder than those around them just to prove themselves. They set high expectations that they need to measure up to. These high expectations can include taking on too much responsibility, work obligations, and family tasks. They feel the need to do it all; otherwise, they are a fraud. There is a need to succeed in all aspects of their lives.
• NATURAL GENIUS
Natural geniuses believe that their self-worth is tied to how naturally they pick up a skill. They often view themselves as an imposter if skills do not come easily to them, or if they have to exert more effort to be proficient. They struggle to begin something or grow insecure if it takes a long time to succeed. If natural geniuses are not good enough from the start, they might even abandon that activity due to shame or embarrassment.
A soloist feels they must always accomplish tasks independently. Soloists view themselves as failures or frauds if they ask for assistance. They believe that they can achieve everything alone without help from others. Asking for help fills them with feelings of shame, embarrassment, or incompetence. Soloists value their sense of worth by their level of autonomy and independence.
Experts believe that before they begin anything, they must know everything going in. They continuously seek new certifications, information, or training throughout their lives to improve their competency. Experts measure their self-worth by how much they know. No matter how much information they know or how skilled they are, this group will continuously feel unprepared, unknowledgeable, or inexperienced.
If I am completely honest to myself, I will need to admit that in my earlier years, I was a soloist. I believed that I should figure out everything by myself, without any help or interference. Needless to say, this didn’t work out and I learned the hard way the value of asking for help or working together with others in order to achieve a goal. I think this often goes together with the natural genius, in the sense that there is an underlying belief that you should be naturally good at certain things, and therefore able to do them all by yourself.
How about you? What type of imposter are you? Do you recognize yourself, or people around you, in any of these types?