How to Recognize Imposter Syndrome?

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Imposter Syndrome can strike any of us at any times. Ever questioned if you belong in the room or around the table? Worry about not having all the answers or getting something wrong? Being held back by your fears about your competence? If any of these sound like you, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome. It’s more common than we realise and is an equal opportunity condition. Those in high flying jobs and are in the limelight are just as susceptible than those of us in the wings. It’s been found to be particularly prevalent in women; but can also be experienced by men. And, as we know, if something is less common it can be harder to talk about, feel less alone or seek support.

For What is Imposter Syndrome read here.

If you’re wondering whether you’ve experienced imposter syndrome, check out the 5 types below.

1. The Perfectionist

This is one which automatically resonated with me. Despite the fact I wouldn’t consider myself a perfectionist. Those who experience this kind of imposter syndrome can hold themselves up to an impossibly high standard. Because of this the risk of falling short is high; and viewed as an indication of failure. This can have a huge impact on our self-esteem and self-view.

Therefore perfectionists put a huge amount of pressure on themselves to get things right the first time. Being hesitant to try something without knowing what to expect or how to succeed. They may feel the need to be in constant control and find it hard to delegate. Rather than asking for help, they tend to do things themselves. All with the ultimate goal of avoiding failure. This constant drive for perfectionism, maintaining appearances and being self-sufficient puts them at risk of exhaustion and burnout.

Perfectionist Pro Tip

If this sounds like you…it’s essential to celebrate the successes no matter how big or small. Owning these achievements is paramount too. Perfectionists are likely to brush them off. Alongside acceptance of success, spend time understanding mistakes as a natural part of life and that failure happens to us all. But it doesn’t mean we aren’t competent or capable. But rather an opportunity to learn. It is often only when we sit with failure that we stop fearing it and are able to learn from it.

2. The Super Person

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Elsewhere the superman, I’ve widened this for [hopefully] obvious reasons. The super person feels like an imposter. Waiting for the moment when the truth will be revealed to those around them. Their insecurities can take over and they fear being seen for who they are. They may brush off promotions or congratulations; convinced that they have not earned them. As a result they expend their energy to maintain the façade. Living in constant fear of being found out. Like the perfectionist, they work harder and but themselves under considerable pressure to measure up. Worried that they never do or ever will. This laser focus on work or other pursuits can leave other parts of their lives, such as relationships or hobbies, by the wayside.

Superperson Pro Tip

If this sounds like you…consider whether there are any places or any people who see you for who you are. If not, are there opportunities to experiment with this. Taking small steps, whatever those may be for you, to let the mask slip a bit. It’s only when we give ourselves the chance to be who we are that we may realise how exhausting it is to be pretending. Try reaching out to others for support and feedback, commit to believing the positives. Write them down and keep them for another time. You may also wish to explore the idea that good enough is good enough. Notice yourself going the extra mile, can you take a step back and leave things they way they are?

For How to Successfully Challenge Negative Thoughts read here.

3. The Natural Genius

This form of imposter syndrome realises on almost instantaneous competency. They have the expectation that things will come easy to them. And that they complete actions swiftly and effortlessly. Any actions that require time to learn or require effort to achieve can be viewed as failure. Similar to perfectionists, they are setting impossibly high standards for themselves. Their expectation to get everything right the first time, but critically without effort or preparation unlike the other two types of imposter syndrome, is exhausting. And, again, the margin for failure is huge. Natural geniuses may avoid activities or situations that they will find challenging or they’ve not tried before in case they’re not good at it. You may be at greater risk of identifying as the natural genius if historically things have come easier for you than your peers. Or if you have an academic, professional or personal history of high achieving.

Natural Genius Pro Tip

If this sounds like you…consider that no-one is perfect. Whilst a cliche, it’s also true. Sitting with the discomfort this realisation brings won’t be easy. Try channelling it through art, music, writing or talking to someone you trust. Remember that the most resilient and often successful individuals haven’t avoided failure. But learnt from them. It’s a vital part of life. Acknowledge the value of putting in effort and accept that this will be part of your journey at times. But it’s also ok to stay in your comfort zone when needed. Experiment in small steps outside your comfort zone with things which may require some effort. And celebrate those small successes as you go along.

4. The Soloist

This form of imposter syndrome was the other one which resonated with me. I’ve always feared asking for help, imagining that it would call into question my competence. And that’s the root of the soloist. Whilst fiercely independent, it can come at a high cost to ones wellbeing or even relationships. They avoid asking for help or support; viewing it as a failure. Rather than a form of courage or an important skill. If you feel like you have to everything yourself. Or avoid asking others for help even at risk of burnout yourself. Then this one is for you.

Soloist Pro Tip

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If this sounds like you…query why you find it hard to ask for help. Do you feel like a failure or that it’s an admission that you can’t cope? If so, be curious about why you feel like that. Challenge negative thoughts by taking your thoughts to court. If you believe no-one will help you, ask yourself is that is true. Is there no-one you can ask? If you think people will think you’re a failure, push back – surely people have asked for your help. And you don’t feel that way about them. Encourage yourself to view asking for help as a strength. Acknowledge that we do things better with help. Try asking for help at times, start small and ask someone you have a good relationship with. Remember, you don’t have to be struggling or unwell to ask for help. You can ask if you need a break or some downtime to look after yourself.

For How to Recognize Burnout read here.

5. The Expert

Similar to the natural genius, the experts want to know everything. They put high value on professional and personal development and are driven by it. Despite the time and energy they put into expanding their knowledge base. It will never feel enough to them. Being an expert is aspirational but never achieved. Rather, like the superperson, they fear being exposed or their façade dropping. As a result, they are unlikely to apply for a job or task unless they meet all the requirements. They’ll want to undergo consistent trainings. You may be surprised if they express doubt about their competencies when they always achieve well.

Expert Pro Tip

If this sounds like you…consider the balance between wanting to achieve and know more and this form of imposter syndrome. The pursuit of knowledge is admirable and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to feel competent or comfortable in what you do. However, for the expert this pursuit becomes self-defeating. Exhausting us along the way and possibly preventing us living life to the fullest and holding us back rather than pushing us forward. Think about skills you will need and whether you have them. Consider there are times when you know enough to perform. And that further qualification isn’t necessary or efficient. Sit with the discomfort of not being the expert. You can experiment by reaching out to others to help you learn something new. Owning the gaps in your knowledge and learning with someone. Offer to share that knowledge with someone else. Learning along the way that some things we know, and someone else doesn’t. And vice versa. That’s the normal pattern of life.

What are your experiences of imposter syndrome? Do any of these make you think or pause? Have you discovered any ways to help battle imposter syndrome? As always, let us know below!

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