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“I’m Just A Fraud”: an Insider on Imposter Syndrome


Photo by Christopher Ott

When people earn achievements – like ranking top of their class, getting a promotion, or being praised for their work – the tendency would be to feel proud and celebrate them. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, people feel apprehensive or undeserving of their success and that they don’t belong in their current position. This experience is known as imposter syndrome, and it is more common than you may think.


What is Imposter Syndrome?


Imposter syndrome was first coined by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. It is also known as imposter phenomenon which is the feeling of self-doubt towards one’s own capabilities and successes. It is also the feeling of being a fraud and the fear of exposure for being one. People with imposter syndrome believe they don’t deserve their achievements or commmendations towards their abilities, thus attributing their current standing to factors besides themselves such as luck or outside influence. Furthermore, they may feel that they’ve fooled others into overstating their abilities and that they are inadequate or unworthy despite objective evidence stating otherwise (Huecker et al., 2023; Joshi & Mangette, 2018).


Imposter syndrome is more prevalent in women, marginalized or minority groups, students, academics, and people with high-stake occupations like healthcare workers (Huecker et al., 2023). Regardless, anyone can experience imposter syndrome. It’s also important to note that imposter syndrome, despite the term, is not officially classified as a disorder or disease even in the DSM-V, which is why the term ‘imposter phenomenon’ was used to avoid the connotation (Gadsby, 2021).


Inside the Mind of a “Fraud”


What are some of the experiences people with imposter syndrome go through? Clance identified six characteristics that a person with this phenomenon may have, and they may exhibit some, if not all, characteristics (Huecker et al., 2023):


  • Imposter Cycle – When faced with a task, they feel fear or anxiety which causes them to over-prepare or procrastinate the task. Upon completion, they briefly feel success, but they fail to internalize it or credit themselves. This leads to feelings of fraudulence, fear, or anxiety which is carried over to the next task, repeating the cycle.

  • Perfectionism – This is the need or desire to be the best. It can cause them to impose unrealistic, unattainable standards upon themselves which can lead to a lack of self-regard and harsh criticism towards oneself.

  • Super-Heroism – This is related to perfectionism and the imposter cycle. In order to appear more capable and reach their impossible standards, they over-prepare for their task. This leads to added stress and workload which can be harmful to mental health.

  • Denial of Competence and Capability – They often undermine their own talents and abilities while also internalizing their failures. If they do succeed, they tend to attribute them to other factors like luck or outside influence despite evidence that they succeeded on their own.

  • Atychiphobia – It’s also known as the fear of failure. When faced with a task, they become afraid or anxious that they will be exposed as a fraud if they fail or do worse than someone else.

  • Achievemephobia – People with a fear of failure can similarly feel a fear of success. They internalize their failures but not their successes since success could mean more expectations and tasks to do.


In addition, Gadsby (2021) argues that imposter syndrome is a form of self-deception. Self-deceivers hold a belief about themselves, like being an imposter, which isn’t justified by current evidence, and they continue upholding this belief by being biased towards the evidence, like supporting proof that their success is not their own and discrediting proof of their excellence. However, there is an underlying motivational aspect to this. People with imposter syndrome may have a strong desire to succeed in a context where the pathway to success is unclear (e.g. Do I need good grades? Good reviews? Plenty of finished tasks?). In such cases, they believe that they can make up for a lack of abilities with effort. As such, even if they may lack the abilities to succeed, they are motivated to work hard because they believe they can compensate with effort.


The Burden of Feeling Like a “Fraud”


Imposter syndrome can have several negative effects on your mental health. For example, it can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression as well as lower your self-esteem. It encourages workaholic behaviors which can lead to burnout and stress. These negative experiences become associated with achievements and recognition, so you may connote them as unpleasant or undesirable. Additionally, you may possibly develop a maladaptive personality in which you are driven to avoid adapting to or experiencing new things regardless of how stressful they may be (Huecker et al., 2023; Joshi & Mangette, 2018).


What Can Be Done About It?


Overcoming imposter syndrome may seem like a daunting task, but simple changes to your mindset can help you do. While changing your mindset is easier said than done, it becomes easier with practice and with support from others.


  • Change your perspective on your role.


  • Learn from constructive criticism.

 

  • Practice gratitude.


  • Talk about it with others.

 

  • Seek professional help.


We at Fidecita wish you the best in your mental health endeavors. Click here to know more about Fidecita HR Advisory’s Mental Health Care services.



References

Abdelaal, G. (2020). Coping with imposter syndrome in academia and research. Biochem (Lond), 42(3), 62-64. https://doi.org/10.1042/BIO20200033 


Chapman, A. (2015). Using assessment process to overcome imposter syndrome in mature students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 41(2), 112-119. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2015.1062851


Edwards, C. W. (2019). Overcoming imposter syndrome and stereotype threat: Reconceptualizing the definition of a scholar. Taboo: The Journal of Culture and Education, 18 (1). https://doi.org/10.31390/ taboo.18.1.03


Gadsby, S. (2021). Imposter syndrome and self-deception. Australasian Journal of Philosophy, 100(2), 247-261. https://doi.org/10.1080/00048402.2021.1874445


Huecker, M. R., Shreffler, J., McKeny, P. T., & Davis, D. (2023). Imposter phenomenon. StatPearls [Internet]. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK585058/


Joshi, A., & Mangette, H. (2018). Unmasking of imposter syndrome. Journal of Research, Assessment, and Practice in Higher Education, 3(1), Article 3. https://ecommons.udayton.edu/jraphe/vol3/iss1/3


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