Imposter syndrome is often associated with the workplace – that is, feeling like you don’t deserve a role, promotion, or praise within your career. However, imposter syndrome can be felt across many other settings besides just at work.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome describes the emotional experience of self-doubt turning into harmful feelings of inadequacy. While imposter syndrome initially began as a concept intended for high achievers, it’s grown to an incredibly common experience for people of all backgrounds, personalities, careers, and identities.
When someone experiences imposter syndrome, they feel like they don’t belong or deserve their situation. They may give all credit for their achievement to luck or circumstance, without internalizing their role in what they’ve accomplished. It’s called imposter syndrome because many people who experience it feel like they’ve fooled everyone else, that when others find out who they really are, they will no longer belong. These assumptions are often warped views of reality, though they can heavily influence someone’s emotional state.
Origin of imposter syndrome
People develop imposter syndrome for various reasons. When a person has trouble believing in their own accomplishments or hard work, it can be the result of the internalization of harmful societal stigmas or narratives. People who face discrimination from their communities may have learned that people who look like them, act like them, or love like them do not succeed at work, in relationships, or otherwise socially. These social scripts become roadblocks to feeling comfortable taking credit for hard work.
Another reason for the development of imposter syndrome is a person’s personality. People who have perfectionist tendencies often discredit themselves in all areas of their lives. They believe that they don’t deserve nice situations, relationships, or experiences. This could be an innate personality feature, though it can also be a learned behavior. People who were raised with intense pressure for achievement by their caregivers – or unfairly punished for average behavior – might have learned thought patterns that repetitively tell them they are not enough.
Symptoms of imposter syndrome
No matter the reason for imposter syndrome, it can be a debilitating feeling that negatively impacts a person’s daily life. People with imposter syndrome may find themselves feeling anxious. This anxiety may manifest into a social anxiety, with the fear that others will judge them or not like them if they knew the “real” you. The anxiety may instead be a constant self-pressure that leads to intense stress, burnout, or even depression. Imposter syndrome often results in feeling on-edge or extra vigilant, which can be emotionally and physically exhausting.
A key symptom of imposter syndrome is the thought patterns that result from feelings of self-doubt. People who have Imposter syndrome subscribe to cognitive distortions, warped ways of thinking that aren’t based in reality. They may make assumptions about other people’s behaviors. They might misassociate positive situations to external forces rather than internal ones. Often, there is negative self-talk which leads to low self-esteem, low self-worth, and a lack of confidence.
Therapy for imposter syndrome
It can be difficult to recognize negative emotional reactions to events, people, or situations as imposter syndrome. Credentialed therapists help clients identify instances of imposter syndrome. They’ll give clients a safe space to talk about their feelings and their beliefs. Therapists may challenge clients to do away with negative thought patterns or self-judgments, instead replacing them with healthy habits and self-compassion.
The goal of therapy for imposter syndrome is for clients to start taking credit for their own accomplishments and to feel more comfortable in various settings in their lives. If you experience imposter syndrome, you’re not alone – it’s a common experience that can be treated with the support of a trained mental health professional.