Imposter Syndrome and the Fear of Being a Fraud

What is imposter syndrome? It's the idea that you have succeeded only due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications. This article explains the five patterns and strategies to help manage anxiety.

Imposter Syndrome and the Fear of Being a Fraud

As a student in professional school, there have been times when I felt like I do not actually deserve to be in the field of optometry. What if I disappoint my professors? Or even worse, what if I disappoint my patients? What if they think I won't be a good doctor?

These feelings are known as imposter syndrome, and according to an article in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, about 70% of people have experienced this at some point in their lives.

This phenomenon, first described by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, is the idea that you have succeeded only due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications.

The Five Types of Imposter Syndrome

Dr. Valerie Young has identified five patterns in people who experience the feelings of being an imposter.

  1. Perfectionists. These people set high expectations for themselves, and any small mistake makes them feel like failures.
  2. Experts. They feel the need to know everything before they start projects and constantly look for new ways to improve their skills.
  3. Natural geniuses. These people were told from a very young age that they were smart. They are used to performing well easily, but when they are not able to do something quickly, they become anxious.
  4. Soloists. Even though being independent can be a good thing, soloists feel like they have to do everything on their own. They see asking for help as a weakness.
  5. Super(wo)men. This group tends to work harder than everyone else to hide what they believe is a lower level of competence.

The constant worry that comes with imposter syndrome can take a toll on people's mental health. In addition, it does not help that for many who suffer from the phenomenon, secrecy is the rule. After all, the imposter syndrome is about notbeing found out. However, there are ways to deal with it.

How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

Even though there is no magic cure for imposter syndrome, there are a few strategies to help manage the anxiety.

  • Celebrate your achievements. Every time you reach a milestone or even a micro-win, celebrate your hard work.
  • There's no shame in asking for help. If you struggle to solve a problem, ask a coworker or your boss. Asking good questions is a great skill to have, but it takes practice.
  • Practice internal validation. Even though it can feel cheesy to talk to yourself, nurture your confidence with positive affirmations. No one should have more power to make you feel good about yourself than you!
  • See yourself as a work in progress. Life is a trial-and-error process. Growing as a person involves making mistakes, and if you are not making mistakes, you are probably stagnating.

Imposter syndrome can come and go depending on the situation and environment, but recognizing the signs is the first step to combat it.

Real Imposters vs. Imposter Syndrome

Interestingly, there is evidence that suggests imposter syndrome correlates with success and that high levels of self-confidence may not correlate with actual abilities. Some famous people who have experienced imposter syndrome include Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Neil Armstrong, Stephen Colbert, and Michelle Obama. If you are fighting imposter syndrome, at least you are in good company.

"No matter what we've done, there comes a point where you think, 'How did I get here? When are they going to discover that I am, in fact, a fraud and take everything away from me?'” — Tom Hanks

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, how do you overcome it? Let me know in the comments below!