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Imposter Syndrome

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

People who struggle with imposter syndrome believe that they are undeserving of their achievements. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them. Those with imposter syndrome are often well accomplished; they may hold high office or have numerous academic degrees.

Why do they feel like frauds even though there is abundant evidence of their success? Instead of acknowledging their capabilities as well as their efforts, they often attribute their accomplishments to temporary causes, such as luck and momentary effort.

This tendency was first discovered in high-achieving women in the 1970s. While imposter syndrome is more prevalent among women, men are also susceptible to developing this mindset. Whether in the areas of academic achievement or career success, a person can feel pressure and personal expectations.

Imposter syndrome is also related to perfectionism, in which people feel pressure to perform at their absolute best 100 percent of the time, and when they don’t, they feel incompetent and anxious. It’s helpful, although difficult, for people to change the way they see perfection, especially if it’s coming at a cost to their health.

How Do You Overcome Imposter Syndrome?

Overcoming imposter syndrome involves changing a person's mindset about their own abilities. Imposters feel like they don’t belong, so acknowledging their expertise and accomplishments is key, as is reminding themselves that they earned their place in their academic or professional environment.

People should stay focused on measuring their own achievements, instead of comparing themselves to others. Similar to perfectionists, people with impostorism often put a lot of pressure on themselves to complete every task flawlessly; they fear that any mistake will reveal to others that they aren’t good or smart enough for the job.

They perpetuate this excessive pressure because they believe that without the discipline they won't succeed and, instead of rewarding themselves, they only worry about the next task ahead. This cycle can be hard to break, but part of doing so involves reminders that no one is perfect and that a person can only do their personal best.

Good support can help. In certain situations, turning to a colleague or mentor who understands one's feeling of insecurity can be advantageous. But research suggests that reaching out to people outside of one's academic or professional circle may be a better tool to combat impostorism. Those individuals can put the person's concerns into context, recalibrate their perspective, and offer support and love.

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