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Mental Health

Types of Imposter Syndrome and How To Deal With Them

‘Imposter Syndrome’ is a term thrown around a lot but rarely understood. Simply put, imposter syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy that stems from an incessant psychological pattern of not feeling “good enough”. The syndrome can manifest itself in many forms depending on a person’s background and circumstances.

Also, imposter syndrome is particularly problematic to navigate because it doesn’t have specific symptoms. People affected feel as though their inadequacy is going to be “found out” and there will be consequences once they are. Individuals who suffer from this syndrome often struggle to celebrate their achievements because they believe as though they have hoodwinked people into believing they’re competent. 

Imposter syndrome can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Dr. Valerie Young found that there are often sub-types of the imposter syndrome and there may or may not be overlaps between them. The following list states the types of imposter syndrome(s) and how you can overcome them:

1. Perfectionism 

Perfectionism (the need to be perfect) and imposter syndrome are actually in harmony with each other. These people are susceptible to the syndrome due to their very intrinsic (perfectionist) nature. They set incredibly high standards for themselves and push themselves too hard to achieve them, often at the cost of their mental health. They often punish themselves if they fail to achieve the goals they set which leads to a vicious cycle of self-blame in every facet of their life. 

These people may be misconstrued as overly authoritarian due to the fact that they believe that only they can produce flawless work; one minor flaw at the hands of themselves or their peers can lead to failure. As a result, these groups’ motivation and power to delegate burn out much faster. 

In order to alleviate the detrimental impact of this form of imposter syndrome, owning and celebrating your (pre-existing and imminent) achievements is integral. Understanding that it’s human nature to sometimes lose motivation and dip performance-wise will help you garner greater self-confidence. Try not to let perfectionism become procrastination; start work ahead of time and accept that no task can be completely unblemished.

2. The Superwoman/ Superman 

This group of people are popularly known as the “workaholics”, trying to juggle a myriad of tasks and pushing themselves to go above and beyond the realm of their capabilities. Attempting to sustain a high level of energy, whilst also having increased amounts of workload, can often create pressure and strain relationships with loved ones.

It’s well-known that “Superwomen/ men” are actually not addicted to work but the extrinsic validation they receive from completing the work. If they fall behind, they feel as though they have failed themselves. 

To treat this form of imposter syndrome, it’s important to acknowledge that extrinsic validation means nothing if you are internally unhappy. No one has the power to make you feel less-than unless you let them do so. Take constructive criticism positively and make sure you designate well-deserved “me-time” for yourself.

3. The Natural Genius

Young claims that people that fall under this category usually not only struggle with perfectionism but also compulsively push themselves to steer clear of making any mistakes. For these people, competence is equated with ease and speed. The need to be “naturally” adept often leads to complacency and if (and when) these individuals are unable to get tasks right in the first go, they feel unworthy and inadequate.

To overcome this feeling of inadequacy, try to see yourself as a work in progress – nobody can produce flawless work when attempting something for the first time. Accomplishing your goals means that there will (inevitably) be hurdles and accepting this as a universal fact is beneficial in the long run. Progress should be incremental as opposed to inconsistent.

4. The Soloist

Individuals who feel as though asking for help reveals their “phoniness” are typically categorized as Soloists, Young claims. While independence is definitely a positive trait, refusing help solely for the purpose of proving competence is dangerous. 

To overcome this form of imposter syndrome, try to reflect on the idea that “no man is an island”. Even as a leader, inputs and opinions are important and asking for help will help accentuate the quality of your work. Asking questions and listening to people’s opinions fosters positive relationships as it shows your willingness to learn and to be heard. 

5. The Expert

Lastly, The Expert believes that they never know enough. Their measure of competence comes from how much they can know and do. These individuals often feel like they will be exposed for not being knowledgeable enough. However, trying to know everything can be problematic in the long run as it might deter you from seizing other opportunities that could be beneficial. This form of the syndrome is actually counter-intuitive since it may actually serve as a form of procrastination.

In order to overcome this compulsive need to know everything, treat learning on a should-be-deemed-necessary basis. That means learning when it’s necessary or if a skill will be useful in the foreseeable future. Understanding that learning new skills only provides temporary comfort is integral!

Ultimately, it’s important to realize that there are treatment options you can seek out in order to manage imposter syndrome. Although imposter syndrome isn’t characterized as a mental illness, it can still have a debilitating impact on one’s mental health. Thus, if feelings of inadequacy and frustration overwhelm you often in work or school, make sure you reach out to a trustworthy colleague and/ or family member to talk about it. Remember, you’re not alone with your problems and sharing them will definitely help ameliorate them.

Mental Health resources that are available to you can be found at https://www.uwo.ca/health/crisis.html

Check out Dr. Valerie Young's book here

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Hey! My name is Diya Motwani and I am from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I am a first-year student at Western majoring in MIT and I am so excited to be part of the 'Her Campus' team! As for my hobbies, I enjoy cooking, debating and drinking coffee!
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