If you have regular moments of fear thinking about the eventual day when everyone will find out what a huge fraud you are, you’re not alone.
Impostor Syndrome is real and a lot of us have it. Its adverse effects can go beyond just limiting our mental health to changing the very ways that we feel about ourselves and our potential for success.
Even though an estimated 70% of us will experience Impostor Syndrome during our lives, historically, we’ve been terrible at being open about how we’re suffering and sharing ways to overcome it.
Impostor Syndrome is subtle and complex. Psychology Today lists symptoms including generalized anxiety, depression, lack of self-confidence, worry, extreme introversion, a need to look “smart” to others, and a tendency to feel shame. It’s an overwhelming belief that everything you’ve achieved is because of luck and not your actual talent or skills. It’s the deep-down belief that you’re only able to accomplish something because you’ve faked it.
Left unmanaged, your invisible impostor can have a genuine impact on your life. It can lead to you self-limiting your habits, believing you’re not able to make positive health changes, or shying away from taking care of chronic conditions because you think you’ll fail.
Over time, Impostor Syndrome can hamper your overall curiosity around not just learning new habits — it can change the way you think.
The five types of Impostor Syndrome and how to address them
Dr. Valerie Young is an expert on Impostor Syndrome and has spent decades digging into the reasons why people so frequently end up feeling like frauds.
In her research, Dr. Young has identified five common “competency types.” These are the sets of rules and beliefs people with Impostor Syndrome tend to build for themselves as a coping mechanism. By looking into which type you relate most closely with, you’ve got a starting point to becoming aware of the day-to-day patterns that you’ve used to cope with your feelings of inadequacy.
Dr. Valerie Young
“The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.”
Try to be honest with yourself about any of these behaviors. You can observe that you have an impostor thought without engaging with it.
Being more aware of how you’re thinking is the first step to changing your thoughts, starting with some of these actions from The Muse.
1. The Perfectionist
With this tendency, you protect yourself by setting expectations of success and perfection that are impossible to reach. Even if you hit 99% of your goals, you’ll feel like a complete failure and beat yourself up over missing the last 1%. Even a small, understandable mistake will make you question your abilities and doubt your competence.
What to do next:
Success can always feel empty because you think you could have done better no matter how much you achieve. Try to own and celebrate your achievements. Make a list of everything you’ve accomplished and look it over whenever you feel tempted to doubt yourself. You’ll never be 100% flawless — nobody ever is — but you can train yourself to feel growth over failure.
2. The Superperson
Superpeople believe the only way to succeed is by working harder and longer than anyone else, no matter how unrealistic or unhealthy it is. The antithesis of “work smarter, not harder,” they’re driven by a need to accomplish all of their goals in all aspects of their life simultaneously. When one ball drops, they feel unworthy of everything else they’ve achieved and focus on their failures above everything else.
What to do next:
Superperson impostors can be addicted to the feeling of external validation that comes from the way they’re working instead of getting joy from the actual work itself. One of the healthiest steps any of us can take is to look for validation internally rather than externally from others.
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3. The Natural Genius
On the surface, Natural Geniuses have it lucky. Typically intelligent and highly skilled, they’ve attained a lot of success in life, but this has led them to feel vulnerable and afraid of working hard or trying new things. They’re not used to feeling positive about hard work. Whenever they struggle, they can’t see it as an opportunity to achieve more but proof of their hidden inadequacy.
What to do next:
Try to see yourself as a work in progress. Look for specific and changeable behaviors that you can use to get more skilled at something over time rather than feeling you need to be immediately perfect or else you’re not capable of it at all. Skill-building is part of a lifelong learning process that you can break down into smaller, more achievable micro-tasks. It’s not all or nothing, and nobody will be able to do anything the first time they try it.
4. The Soloist
Some alone time can be nice, but Soloists take it to the extreme. They believe they should be able to do absolutely everything on their own. They see asking for even a small amount of help as a failure. They’re not able to see the tremendous amount of work they do get accomplished on their own.
What to do next:
Break the silence around what you’re feeling. Shame can keep many people from speaking up, but for a Soloist, knowing that there’s a name for what you’re feeling and that others experience it too can be incredibly freeing. If you’ve believed that it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help, reframe this as a way of asserting your right to ask for something you deserve. Recognize that you’re worthy of having others help you and that asking for it is a sign of strength.
5. The Expert
Experts are deeply afraid of feeling stupid or embarrassed. To make up for feelings of not being experienced enough, they feel a deep need to know absolutely everything before they’ll speak up in class or a meeting. They find it challenging to start a new project and use the need to continually gather further information to procrastinate and feed their Impostor Syndrome. This leads them to avoid trying new things or enter into situations they can’t control.
What to do next:
A positive attitude toward lifelong learning is essential. There’s always more to learn if you can figure out how to have a healthy approach to building knowledge driven by curiosity instead of fear. Think about becoming a mentor or volunteer to others to share knowledge and experiences in a way that feels safe to you and benefits others.
If you want to dive more deeply into any of these feelings, Dr. Young recommends one-on-one time with a career coach, counselor, or psychologist. Check your Digital Wallet in the League app to see the mental health benefits you might already have available to you. If you don’t have direct benefits, you can also chat live with a care navigator to get personal mental health recommendations for providers in your area.
Ready to tackle your internal impostors? Our Positive Thinking in 7 Days Health Program will help you become more aware of how you think so you can treat yourself with kindness and compassion.