First off, let me just say that I was truly overwhelmed by the response to my post last week about Imposter Syndrome. I was amazed that my post seemed to resonate with so many people, and that so many of the people that I heard from were people that I never expected to feel the same way. Since there was such a response, I have decided to dedicate the next few weeks to taking a deep look at imposter syndrome and how it changes my life.
Let’s start off with actually defining what imposter syndrome looks like. The common characteristics (according to verywellmind.com) include:
- An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
- Attributing your success to external factors
- Berating your performance
- Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
- Sabotaging your own success
- Setting very challenging goals and feeling disappointed when you fall short
For some people, imposter syndrome serves as motivation to achieve something larger than what they are currently achieving. I happen to have this as one of the ways it manifests. It causes me to work harder than necessary and push harder than I probably should in an effort to keep other people from finding out I am a “fraud” and sets me up that I see the reason that I succeed as the direct result of my extra effort. I ask myself (on a more than regular basis) what gives me the right to be doing the things I am doing. One of the funnier things about this is that I just got my degrees hung in my office after Christmas, and I am continually looking at them for reassurance that I really am qualified to be doing the things I am doing. Doing things well doesn’t even make me think that I am qualified because I keep going back to the only reason that I succeed is because I worked my way or lucked my way into it.
It is said that 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in life, even though it isn’t an officially recognized disorder in the DSM-5, but it appears to show up in multiple different ways. Strangely enough, I can recognize parts of each of these in my own journey.
The first one is called the perfectionist. I definitely fit within this one most of the time. I tend to focus on flaws I see in myself or mistakes that I have made. I am the first to look at something I have done and see the 5 ways I could have done it better. I also tend to set very high goals for myself, even though I go totally off the track towards my goal when I first make a mistake or don’t make the progress that I think I should have made.
Another “personality” of imposter syndrome is the expert. This manifests by never being satisfied with the level of skill or understanding that I have and continually writing my own expertise and experiences off as not enough. This is one of those spots where I jokingly say I am looking for the adultier adult in the room or looking for the person that is supposed to be teaching the class only to realize that I am the one who is supposed to be teaching and I am the one in the room that is supposed to be the one with the most knowledge or responsibility. It is important to realize that this is very different that just seeking more knowledge. Seeking more knowledge on the topic is something that I feel I should be doing just as a responsible person.
Another way it shows up is as the “natural genius.” The way this one shows up is that it hits people who are used to succeeding or things coming to them “naturally” but when there is something that they can’t figure out quite as easily or they don’t get quite as fast as they perceive others to be getting it. It often leads to thoughts along the lines of if I was smarter, this would be easier or if I was better, it would come more naturally. The natural genius tends to have a hard time when they don’t succeed at the lofty goal they set on the first try.
The soloist tends to looks at everything as something that should have been accomplished with no help from anyone else. These people tend to prefer to work alone, and perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence, regardless of how much it could benefit them.
The last one is the superhero. The superhero has an overwhelming need to be the one that does it all. They need to be the “fixer” of anything that has gone wrong and feel compelled to push themselves to work as hard (or harder) than humanly possible. These people (and I am one of them) tend to have a need to feel as if they are indispensable to others, and use that thought process as proof that they have to work harder to get to the same spots as others. They also have a hard time taking a break, can shut down from the smallest pieces of criticism, and think they should be great at everything.
Like I said, I can see myself in all 5 of these at any given point in my life (or sometimes in my day). I can’t say that it makes it easier to get past this by knowing this is what I am doing, but I am trying to get a little better each day about recognizing what my thoughts about myself are doing to me. I have also started trying to make an effort to at least label which of the 5 types I am in the middle of when things happen. My hope is that drawing awareness to what I am doing and how I am thinking will help me to move beyond those thoughts. That being said, how do you see these “personalities” manifesting in your imposter syndrome? Is it helpful to know about the different types? Next week, I am going to look at ways to cope and start moving beyond imposter syndrome.