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The Ever-Present Doubt: Imposter Syndrome

By Yuan Cheng

Highlights

  • Imposter Syndrome is way more common than people realize.

  • Causes include stressful family life, perfectionism, etc.

Introduction


You walk into the room and immediately think that everyone in it is smarter and cooler and more deserving of this opportunity than you are. You rationalize getting a prestigious award as sheer luck even though you prepared for the competition for months. You count the seconds before your teacher or your boss finds out that you are a “failure” or a “fraud” even though you are an excellent student or a proficient employee. The root cause of all these unsolicited worries could be Imposter Syndrome, a psychological phenomenon that afflicts 82% of the population.


Causes


Causes of Imposter Syndrome include tense or stressful family dynamics such as high expectations from parents/guardians, or cultural emphasis on success and perfection. Frequent comparisons between yourself and others can also lead to Imposter Syndrome. Women and women of color, because they often hit glass ceilings in corporate environments dominated by peers who do not support or relate to them, can experience Imposter Syndrome as well, as they might feel alienated.


Effects


The five main categories of “imposters,” identified by Dr. Valerie Youn, are as follows: the soloist who views seeking outside help as unsuccessful; the perfectionist whose self-esteem is directly linked to the amount of mistakes (no matter the size) that they make; the expert who views every gap in their knowledge as some sort of failure; the natural genius who feel threatened whenever there is a lack of ease, speed, or quality with which they do a task; the super-person, whose self-perception hinges on the number of abilities and tasks they take on.


Most people with Imposter Syndrome have consistent feelings of being a fraud (even when their achievements suggest otherwise), being able to achieve whatever they did solely because of luck, and an inability to fit in. Shame and guilt about previous successes is also something they experience.


Conclusion


Treatment

While Imposter Syndrome is not a clinical disorder on its own, therapy can certainly ameliorate these feelings of distress. To manage such feelings on your own, try to stop unhealthy comparisons with peers, build a support system comprising friends and/or family, and determine a few areas you truly love and excel in without overloading yourself.


Interesting Fact

Famous and incredibly successful people such as actress Tina Fey, activist Maya Angelou, and singer Lady Gaga all struggled with getting out of the Imposter Syndrome mindset.


References

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