5 min read
Natalie Hilton is a Digital Marketing Coach at Multiverse.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

When we’re struggling with imposter syndrome we doubt our own abilities and accomplishments - believing that they’re not enough - and we fear that we're going to be exposed as a fraud. We believe we're an inadequate and incompetent failure, or that we lack intelligence, skills or competence to do our job well. We feel like our accomplishments, and our achievements are undeserved - that we’re frauds and everything we’ve achieved is down to luck.

We can feel all of this despite evidence, like receiving positive feedback and clear successes, that shows we’re skilled and successful.

Imposter syndrome can show up when we’re thinking about a promotion, asking for a pay rise, taking on a new project, or just in our day-to-day roles.

Imposter syndrome is all about fear.

We feel like imposters when we fear what is expected of us exceeds what we are capable of.

Essentially, the expectations that we or others put on us, are greater than the ability that we think we have.

Perceived expectations > perceived ability

It's: “I don't know enough to do this”, or “I won't be good enough for this job”, or “I don’t have enough experience to lead this”.

Imposter syndrome is normal

There's nothing wrong with us when we're struggling with imposter syndrome.

In fact, it's really common: 70% of people have experienced it.

And in some ways, imposter syndrome is a useful thing. We often use it as a defense mechanism against failure and disappointment. If feeling like you’re not good enough stops you from doing something, then you can’t fail. You won't be disappointed if you don't get a yes, or feel shame if you make a mistake. No one will know that you're not capable, because you won't have even tried.

So imposter syndrome is protecting you from failure, shame, disappointment, ridicule. But it's also stopping you from succeeding, from knowing what you’re truly capable of, or stretching yourself to reach the goals that you care about.

How does imposter syndrome affect us?

Often we don't know we're struggling with imposter syndrome. There are some clear ways it affects us, and we can use these to recognise that we’re feeling like an imposter:

  • Chronic self doubt
  • Feelings of fear and shame
  • Stress, anxiety and constantly worrying
  • Creeping sense of dread
  • Not enjoying tasks or successes
  • Even have physical symptoms, such as exhaustion and physical tension.

Ultimately, although imposter syndrome protects us from failure, it affects us in pretty bad ways as well.

Different types of imposter syndrome

Interestingly, there's not just one type of imposter syndrome; there’s five! Knowing which group you fall into can help you recognize it, counter it and, ultimately, overcome it.

The first type of imposter syndrome is the perfectionist.

  • The perfectionist has high standards, very high standards. They believe they should deliver 100% 100% of time, all of the time.
  • Their best efforts are not good enough. They must always go above and beyond.
  • Perfectionist believe that they know best. They can be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.
  • They rarely feel satisfied with success because they always focus on where they could have done better, not when they've done well. They could’ve always done better.

Our second type of imposter syndrome is the natural genius.

  • The natural genius judges themselves on whether they get things right the first time. There is never any room for development.
  • If they struggle to master something new. They don't believe that they're good enough and that they have failed. They believe that if they have to work hard at something, they must not be good at it. So, often, they give up very quickly on learning a new skill or new knowledge.
  • The natural genius is also optimistic about how much they can get done in time, overly optimistic.
  • They're often thrown off by setbacks, because of course, if there's a setback. They can't have done it right the first time.

Now the soloist, is our third type of imposter syndrome.

  • They believe that competence is being able to do something on their own without any outside help.
  • They actually actively turn down help as they want to prove their worth as an individual. They believe that needing help is a sign of failure, and may only reveal their incompetence.They value independence, above all else.
  • And all of this makes the soloists struggle. And when they get stuck, it leads to avoidance of the things that they need to do, and the avoidance of asking for help.

Now the expert, our fourth imposter syndrome group. 

  • They believe that they know it all. And that competence is knowing everything. If the expert was really talented. They would already know everything.
  • They fear being exposed as inexperienced and lacking in knowledge. The expert often seeks out more information. They continuously research and look into themes before starting. This tendency to endlessly seek information before taking action is a disguise for procrastination.

Finally, we have the Superman or the Superwoman.

  • The Superman or Superwoman pushes themselves to work harder than everyone else.
  • They believe that competence is how many roles and how well they do in those roles.They believe that they should be able to handle everything.
  • They have unrealistic high standards in every area. They work overtime to do it all. And they believe they can do it, the Superman or Superwoman is unable to say no.

Those are the five imposter syndrome: The perfectionist. The natural genius, the soloist. The expert, and the Superman or Superwoman.

Now, I suggest that you take a step back for a minute and think about which group you fall into. You may fall into multiple categories. Which ones resonate with you?

For me, I'm the perfectionist. I'm a natural genius. And I can often fall into the soloist trap.

Take a moment and think about which groups you fall into. How does this show up for you?

And over the next few days, start to recognize and label when you notice yourself, being one of these imposters.

What can you do about it?

Now you know which imposter you are, let's talk about what you can do about it. Check out these slides.

For more help on tackling imposter syndrome, check out this event recording:

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