Imposter Syndrome: Definition, Signs, and Prevention Tips

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud." Despite evident success, those experiencing it struggle with inadequacy and believe they don't deserve their achievements.

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Imposter Syndrome: Definition, Signs, and Prevention Tips
4 Min Read December 4th, 2023

Imposter syndrome is a harsh feeling of being inadequate and doubtful about your capabilities regardless of your success in different areas. Anyone experiencing this syndrome struggles to enjoy their success because of the impending fear of exposing their inadequacy, which would paint them as a fraud. The imposter syndrome has mostly been prevalent in professional women but not so much in men. It is associated with high achievers with big capabilities. It can be traced back to perfectionism, societal expectations, and cultural influences.

Symptoms and Signs of Imposter Syndrome

At its core, the syndrome manifests as one's inability to accept their accomplishments because of the conviction that they do not deserve it. It is fed by the internal fear of exposing one's weaknesses, especially in the face of huge accomplishments, and underpinned by self-doubt and inadequacy. A person suffering from imposter syndrome also has maladaptive perfectionism and an unavoidable fear of responsibility and failing at it and filling in.

In the face of a promotion or recognition, someone with imposter syndrome will downplay this success. They fear their cover being blown and the achievement being termed as sheer luck and not competence. They pay more attention to their flaws and mistakes to feed their perception as an incompetent person. They struggle with intrinsic validation and a constant need for external affirmation, which eventually results in anxiety.

Preventing the syndrome requires a combination of approaches to deal with its emotional and cognitive aspects. Below are some expert tips on how to go about it.

Tips of How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome

  • Get a Mentor

Different people have gone through similar situations and come out through the other end. Having such role models speak openly about their struggles, something you probably relate to is invaluable. Getting a mentor who has suffered from imposter syndrome also helps reduce the likelihood of having it. Mentorship provides guidance and fresh, actionable perspectives to lead you away from taking the wrong path.

While you can find a mentor from your inner circle of friends and family, Leadar is a viable option for finding professionals online. You can look them up based on location, skills, contact information, etc.

  • Recognize and Celebrate Your Successes

Due to a person's inability to accept praise and recognition for their success, they easily attribute them to external factors. However, when it comes to failure, they tend to shoulder all the blame in a quest to feed into their inadequacy. Accepting and celebrating big and small successes helps reinforce a positive self-image. It challenges the need to downplay your abilities. Celebrating achievements is a tangible reminder of what one is capable of and shields from feeling inadequate.

  • Create a Vision of Success

Harnessing the ability to envision yourself as capable of high achievements and able to fulfill goals and dreams is a preventative measure against imposter syndrome. A vision of yourself being responsible for positive results and being capable of fulfilling desires helps create a more positive mindset. Doing so consistently diminishes doubts in your ability and helps build confidence and resilience, which are powerful tools against this syndrome.

  • Visualize Growth

Embracing a mindset that views setbacks as grounds to move forward and challenges as chances to learn and be better is important in the fight against imposter syndrome. It helps to reframe your mind in a way that enables you to create a positive self-outlook that negates any doubts. This also means recognizing growth opportunities and immersing yourself in them.

  • Acknowledge Your Feelings

Imposter syndrome festers around feelings; hence, it is important to understand what you feel and what causes it. One way to do it is by creating a journal documenting negative feelings. It is vital to capture the events that lead to these feelings so that you can spot a pattern if there is one. For example, you might realize you get these feelings every time you are put in leadership positions. Take it easy on yourself and reduce self-criticism, which is a doorway to imposter syndrome.

  • Accommodate Imperfection

Although it is very hard for a perfectionist to overlook their standards of perfection, it is important to set realistic standards. Challenging flawlessness means accepting that mistakes are not always a reflection of professional incompetence but an unavoidable part of the learning process. By pursuing unrealistic standards of perfection, you are missing out on chances to grow and improve.

  • Focus on Things You Are Great At

Start by recognizing that you are good at some things and acknowledging your talents and unique strengths that pave the way for success. Believing in your abilities and yourself helps shift the focus from needing external validation to becoming more comfortable with yourself. Once you find what is natural to you, it is easy to perfect it and use it to justify your successful journey and opportunities. When you can honestly link your success to hard work, you automatically hush any negative thoughts.

  • Find Accountability Partners

Being surrounded by healthy friendships at work and away creates a buffer against all the feelings that result from imposter syndrome. A supportive team, family, and friends are always there to celebrate your wins, which helps affirm your capabilities even when you doubt yourself. They create an environment where you can openly discuss your feelings and be heard and encouraged. A good network of friends will also offer great reassurance when needed.

  • Set Reasonable Goals

Realistic and workable goals are a great source of inspiration and confidence. Break down huge and complex tasks into smaller, manageable ones, and whenever you check a box, it adds to your confidence. If you have tried and failed, do not let it get to your head; it is just a delayed goal, not denied. Avoid all kinds of self-deprecating thoughts that would make you feel like an underachiever or inferior to your mates regarding life goals.

Conclusion

The imposter syndrome is a growing concern among professionals today. However, you are safe if you understand its signs and symptoms and can implement deliberate action to prevent it. Self-confidence is a surefire way to beat this vibe killer. Get a mentor and accountability partners, set realistic goals, and celebrate wins, no matter how big or small. While it is easy to feel like other people are more deserving than yourself, it does not hurt to believe the opposite.

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Editor's Note

The impact of Imposter Syndrome (IS) on aging is complex and multifaceted. While there is no single definitive answer, research suggests that IS can have both positive and negative consequences for older adults.

Potential negative impacts of IS on aging:

  • Increased anxiety and depression: IS can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression, which are known to be detrimental to physical and mental health in older adults. These negative emotions can lead to social isolation, decreased physical activity, and poor sleep quality, all of which can accelerate aging.
  • Decreased self-efficacy: IS can lead to a belief that one's accomplishments are due to luck or external factors rather than skill or effort. This can decrease self-efficacy or one's belief in one's ability to manage challenges and achieve goals. A lack of self-efficacy can make it difficult to adapt to the changes and challenges associated with aging.
  • Reduced engagement in healthy behaviors: IS can discourage older adults from engaging in healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise and a balanced diet. This can lead to a decline in physical health and an increased risk of chronic diseases.
  • Social isolation: The fear of being exposed as a fraud can lead older adults with IS to withdraw from social activities and relationships. This can further exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation, which are known to be detrimental to mental health and well-being.

Potential positive impacts of IS on aging:

  • Motivation for continued learning and growth: IS can motivate older adults to continue learning and growing in order to overcome feelings of inadequacy. This can lead to increased cognitive engagement and intellectual stimulation, which can benefit brain health and cognitive function.
  • Humility and self-awareness: IS can foster humility and self-awareness, encouraging older adults to acknowledge their limitations and seek help when needed. This can lead to more realistic expectations and a willingness to accept support, which can be beneficial for managing the challenges of aging.
  • Increased resilience: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome can build resilience and coping skills, enabling older adults to better manage stress and adversity. This can help them adapt to the changes associated with aging and maintain a positive outlook on life.

Additional factors to consider:

  • The severity of IS: The severity of IS can play a significant role in its impact on aging. Individuals with mild IS may experience some negative consequences, but they may also be able to leverage the positive aspects of IS to achieve personal growth and fulfillment. Conversely, individuals with severe IS may experience significant challenges to their mental and physical health.
  • Coping mechanisms: The effectiveness of coping mechanisms can also influence the impact of IS on aging. Individuals who develop healthy coping mechanisms, such as positive self-talk and social support, may be better able to manage the negative effects of IS and experience positive outcomes.
  • Individual differences: The impact of IS on aging will vary depending on individual differences, such as personality, social support network, and life experiences.

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