Essentially, Impostor Syndrome is a total buzz kill for success. Because I work with many high-achieving perfectionists, Impostor Syndrome runs rampant in my practice. As best-selling author on authenticity Margie Warrell puts it, "Impostor Syndrome is the domain of the high-achiever." I continually see both men and women who have worked incredibly hard and steadily for their successful careers, successful relationships and successful sense of well-being experience the rude, incessant and bullying backlash of this uninvited guest. So what is Impostor Syndrome, exactly?
Impostor syndrome is a massively common psychological phenomenon wherein, despite objective mounds of evidence to the contrary, you feel like you have no idea what you're doing, that other people in similar positions are having an easier time than you are and that you're going to be "found out" as a fraud.
Coined in the 80's in this journal article, Impostor Syndrome was first identified in high achieving and well-respected women. Since then, a ton of additional research has verified the very real psychological threat that experiencing impostor syndrome poses to your well-being, particularly for young adult women (because millennial women don't have enough on their plates already). There's even a test you can take which can help you understand how much Impostor Syndrome impacts your thought patterns.
The bottom line is this: whether you're building a career as a lawyer, banker, mom, artist, doctor, entrepreneur (the list goes on), it can infiltrate your thoughts and mess up your happiness. More seriously, Impostor Syndrome can be incredibly disruptive to your mental health by exacerbating pre-existing social anxieties, depressive tendencies, negative self-talk and internalized criticisms. Doing the mental acrobatics involved in managing a healthy sense of identity while dealing with the misguided sense that you're faking it, getting by, and duping everyone with your duplicitous ways drains you of your precious energy and unnecessarily stains the personal success you've worked so hard to achieve.
Here are common signs of Impostor Syndrome:
- You feel like you're going to get fired almost every day.
- You often experience an internal, scrambling sense of, "I have no idea what the expletive I'm doing," despite the fact that you continually perform well, meet your goals on time and garner praise from those around you.
- The scrambling is kept private -- on the outside, you make sure to appear calm, together and confident.
- You feel like you got hired by some sort of strange fluke or accident.
- During meetings, you sometimes try to 'lay low' in some vaguely sketchy way, as if you snuck into the movies through the service entrance and you can't fully relax because you're waiting to get "busted."
- You feel that your past achievements are a result of luck or fortuitous timing and that your good fortune is bound to run out sooner or later.
- You constantly feel as though you are submitting work/performing your tasks with some major error that you're not noticing, because deep down you believe you're not qualified and are obviously going to mess up in a major way.
- It seems to you that other moms/lawyers/writers/whatever are better at balancing everything than you are.
- In your romantic relationships and/or friendships, you often encounter the thought, "If he/she really knew how ____ I was, they'd leave me."
You get the idea. The thoughts associated with Impostor Syndrome reflect a reality that you intellectually know isn't accurate, but that you can't seem to reconcile emotionally.
So what am I supposed to do now?
This article is a great starter resource for how to conceptualize and deal with Impostor Syndrome in a healthy way, and I'll be bringing it up more and more on this blog. The main takeaway in successfully dealing with Impostor Syndrome is that the mere recognition of it is enough to catalyze positive change. You can't change what you're not aware of, which is why identifying and calling out these common mental health snares is so helpful. This is a thing, officially. It's not reflective of any secret black holes in your self-esteem or some dark, underlying self-sabotaging tendency you haven't been able to shake. Everything that's ostensibly positive has an equally ostensibly negative underbelly. When you encounter success, you also encounter the underbelly of success, which for some people shows up as Impostor Syndrome.
Needless (hopefully) to say, if you continue to feel dis-empowered by Impostor Syndrome, just align yourself with a little more support. You didn't get to wherever you are by accident, you worked for it. At the very least, you deserve to enjoy it without a looming paranoia, so I hope that you do.
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