Are you ever plagued by feelings of being an imposter in the job you're doing? You aren't alone. For some people, these feelings of self-doubt are fleeting. But, for many of us, they are more — they are indicative of a common, yet rarely discussed psychological phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. If you were to ask your mom, your sister, your best friend, your aunt, or even your favorite hairdresser the same question, you can almost undoubtedly expect nearly all of them to identify with the twin fears of failure and success that plague people with this syndrome. So how do you know if you are one of those people?
There isn't much in the way of definitive information on imposter syndrome. In fact, the diagnosis isn't yet listed in the DSM-5. However, more research emerges every day on the phenomenon, which was first documented in the '70s by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD. In fact, recent research first published in 2014 and recapped on Thursday in the Harvard Business Review (which I stumbled upon via New York Mag's Science of Us blog) discovered a specific habit to correlate with people suffering from imposter syndrome: At work, employees without it are more likely to volunteer for tasks or responsibilities that might lie outside their actual job description than those with it. Interesting, no?
But although the research is somewhat scarce, that's not the only sign that you might be suffering from imposter syndrome. Do any of these 12 traits and habits apply to you? If so, it might be rearing its negative little head for you. The good news is that there are measures you can take to combat it. Be kind to yourself, OK? You deserve it. We all do.
1. You Have Difficulty Accepting Praise
While plenty of people aren't good at accepting compliments, "imposters" actually have trouble internalizing their success to the degree they can't accept praise as valid. They are nagged by a feeling they aren't worthy of the praise they receive or that they were recognized in front of more worthy peers — and it isn't a display of false modesty. They truly don't believe they deserve the due credit they are being given.
2. You Tend to Discount Your Success
Similarly, since those with imposter syndrome have trouble accepting praise as valid, they have a tendency to relate their success to external factors or attribute it to somewhere else entirely, i.e. "This was really the result of Molly's hard work; I just helped it along."
3. You're an Overworker to a Fault
If there were a trait of imposter syndrome I identify with the most, it would be this one. Overworking — which is both an observed and self-perceived pattern of IP — is the person's tendency to keep investing energy and effort into a project, long after it has reached the point where it would be more than acceptable to someone else. Imposters recognize this pattern, but they're essentially powerless to stop it.
4. You Feel a Compulsion to be the Best
There's a reason this phenomenon is most commonly attributed to over-achievers — people with imposter syndrome live with a driving need to be the very best. Many of those with IP were straight A students in grade school and, upon entering higher academia or the work world, felt a heightened compulsion to excel in the company of the new influx of smart and talented people surrounding them.
5. You're Often Described as a Perfectionist
This goes hand-in-hand with the compulsion to be the very best, and this trait is often referred to as "the superman/superwoman aspects." To that end, imposters hold themselves to impossible standards of perfection — they expect themselves to accomplish any task they set out to achieve flawlessly, lest they consider it a failure (which, naturally, only fuels their perfectionistic tendencies).
6. The Fear of Failure Can Paralyze You
Not only is failure not something you enjoy, it's honestly not an option. You have to tell yourself that to keep yourself from falling into a tailspin of anxiety and doubt. You expect so much of yourself that pressure blankets your every move. This only gets worse the more successful you get, because the stakes of failing are far greater. You internalize failure, which perpetuates this toxic cycle.
7. You Sometimes Avoid Showing Confidence
More common in women, avoiding displays of confidence plays into an imposter's feelings of inadequacy. She either believes that by expressing confidence people will assume she is overcompensating, or she doesn't feel as though she has the intelligence and talent to back the confidence.
8. You Actually Dread Success, in Some Ways
The fear of failure people with imposter syndrome experience is multi-pronged. They feel anxious about success because they don't feel worthy of it. They feel guilty about success because their drive for it often distances themselves from their family and peers. And they feel ambivalent about it because they recognize it may lead to more responsibility and advancement they're uncertain they merited in the first place.
9. You Can't Help Comparing Your Struggles
Although some part of you knows and accepts comparisons are subjective and that everyone's journey is different, the persistent voice in your head assumes everyone is getting by with life with much less struggles than you are. This leads you to believe there must be something inherently wrong with you — you're the problem — which feeds your insecurities.
10. You Chalk Things Up to Your Charm
Often, women with imposter syndrome are highly intelligent and boasts a great deal of intuition about other people. They rely on this perceptiveness to interact with others, who find them charming. But because imposters have such deep-seated insecurities, they tend to use this charm to curry favor with supervisors and other authority figures. Only, when said supervisors actually praise the imposter's work, the imposter assumes the praise must be due to their charm as opposed to any legitimate ability.
11. You Focus More on What You Haven't Done
Ugh, if I had a dollar for every time I was guilty of doing this, I'd be a rich woman. Because the standards people with imposter syndrome set for themselves are so high, they rarely meet the milestones they've created. As such, they dwell not on all they have accomplished — which is often a lot — but instead on what they haven't check off their accomplishment bucket list.
12. You're Convinced You're Not Enough
And herein lies the hallmark of imposter syndrome: The persistent and overwhelming feeling that you are a fraud. A phony. That one day everyone is going to wise up and reveal you for what you really are — an imposter. There's the not so great news. But here are a few more comforting facts. This phenomenon is actually quite common. It afflicts both men and women, and researchers believe that up to 70 percent of people have suffered from it in some form in their lives. And there are things you can do to curb these feelings in a healthy, proactive manner. So don't go worrying your big, beautiful brain about it too much — you've got enough on your mind.