What is imposter syndrome and how to identify it?

What is imposter syndrome and how to identify it?

Posted by Jef Gazley, M.S., LMFT, DCC on Oct 14th 2022

What is imposter syndrome and how to identify it?

A person can achieve valuable objectives and, despite this, not feel comfortable with the goals accomplished. From this perspective, different limiting beliefs about success arise. For example, the professional relativizes his or her merits and, therefore, downplays his or her own talent. The way in which a human being is perceived by an outsider can be very different from the way he/she analyzes him/herself.

Some success stories show a repeated pattern. Despite the triumphs achieved, the professional lives with the feeling that at some point he will be caught in a major mistake. In other words, he fears that he is not prepared to face new challenges. 

What happens when someone does not objectively recognize his or her own merits?

He has difficulty in assertively  receiving praise, a positive caress or a compliment. When this situation is prolonged over time, the level of suffering increases for those who live with frequent tension. As a result, not only may someone not fully enjoy the work he or she is doing. They may also postpone projects or avoid certain situations.

Today's society is very competitive and it may happen that the level of personal demands is excessive. From this perfectionism, no achievement seems really relevant for those who focus more on their mistakes than on their successes. In order to consciously celebrate major objectives, we must first cultivate the art of valuing the smallest steps.

Every human being has strengths and weaknesses; however, those who suffer from the impostor syndrome attribute the positive events that have occurred in their career to luck. In other words, they do not objectively value their involvement, their perseverance or their talent.

From this point of view, the tendency towards comparison grows. The talent of others seems infinite. On the other hand, one's own abilities go unnoticed.

Why can psychological support help those who suffer from imposter syndrome?

Because the first step to overcome it is to identify the limiting beliefs that are repeated in an internal dialogue that is conditioned by fear. Fear of not being valuable enough, fear of not living up to others' expectations or fear of failure. And, while focusing on results, the person does not truly enjoy the process.

It is worth remembering that successes, like unmet goals, do not define a human being. But we feel deeply fragile when we identify with positive or negative outcomes that are ultimately changeable and temporary. That is, when we believe that these successes or failures say absolutely everything about ourselves.

Moreover, a failure is not definitive. There is always the possibility of trying again. However, those who suffer from imposter syndrome try to avoid the risk of error for fear of being discovered in their vulnerability.

Any scenario of personal or professional change requires a process of adaptation. In the initial stage of a new path, it is possible to feel a greater discomfort before a different scenario. But, as time goes by, this new scenario becomes familiar and close. Insecurity continues to accompany those who, as a consequence of the imposter syndrome, feel as if they are deceiving others in some important aspect.