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Imposter Syndrome: Overcoming Feelings of 'I don't deserve to be here' and 'I'm a fraud'

Professional woman standing by her work computer in an office setting

These are common thoughts associated with individuals grappling with imposter syndrome. Initially described by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in the 1970s, imposter phenomenon (often referred to as imposter syndrome) was originally thought to affect mainly women. However, research on the topic has revealed that men also experience the feelings associated with imposter syndrome. Although it is not recognized as a mental health disorder, it is typically observed in high achievers who struggle to internalize and accept their success. Additionally, these individuals tend to attribute their success to luck rather than their abilities and often fear being perceived as fraudulent. Imposter syndrome can impact anyone, regardless of their social status, career, or level of expertise.

According to researcher Dr. Valerie Young, there are five common imposter types:

1. The Perfectionist: This individual focuses solely on how tasks are executed, striving for perfection each time. The fear of failure arises from the pursuit of perfection, making them feel like imposters because their perfectionist tendencies lead them to believe they are not as good as others might think.

2. The Expert: Their primary concern is the extent of their knowledge or skills, which they believe will never be enough. They often feel inadequate because they believe there is always more to learn or that they have not mastered every aspect of their field.

3. The Natural Genius: People with this imposter syndrome type believe that competence should come naturally. If they struggle or take longer to master a skill, they view themselves as imposters.

4. The Soloist: These individuals believe that work should be accomplished independently and may refuse help or assistance. They tend to question their competence or abilities if they need support.

5. The Super-person: This imposter syndrome type feels compelled to excel in every role they undertake. They base their competence on how many tasks they can handle and how well they perform them. They believe they should be able to do it all, and any shortcomings reinforce their feelings of being a fraud.

While some individuals may feel motivated by imposter syndrome, it often leads to persistent anxiety. These individuals may work excessively long hours or over-prepare to prevent others from discovering their perceived incompetence or fraudulence. This sets up a vicious cycle where excessive preparation becomes linked to their perceived success. Unfortunately, with imposter syndrome, achieving success does not usually help reshape these beliefs; instead, it often intensifies feelings of fraudulence.

In the next part of this series, I will focus on potential causes of imposter syndrome along with strategies to cope. Until then, take care of yourselves and practice self-compassion!

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