Have you ever noticed a glimmer of doubt flash across the face of your most assured, valued, and adept colleague? Even the most confident-appearing of people can suffer from imposter syndrome; 70% of us will suffer from it at some point in our life, according to Dr. Pauline R. Clance, who first identified IS as a clinical phenomenon in 1978.
"Despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persists in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise," wrote Clance with Suzanne Imes in a paper at Georgia State University. "These women find innumerable means of negating any external evidence that contradicts their belief that they are, in reality, unintelligent."
In fact, although Clance and Imes identified the issue as primarily affecting women due to gender expectations, more recent research suggests that men experience it nearly as frequently.
Five types of "imposter"
Dr. Valerie Young was one of the first to pick up on what Clance and Imes had identified. While still studying at the University of Massachusetts in 1982, Young realized that what they said applied to her – and set out on a lifelong career of researching, writing, and educating about the phenomenon. Young discovered that "impostors don’t all experience failure-related shame the same way" because "they don’t all define competence the same way."
She identified five types into which IS-sufferers tended to fit. The "Natural Genius', for example, values the "how" and "when" of accomplishments: they define competence as the ease and speed at which tasks are achieved. When a project seems to take too long, they feel like a phony for being in a position to take on the work in the first place. In fact, they probably got where they are for good reasons – but would benefit by identifying the specific skills that make up the task in question, and recognizing that some of these skills need to be learned and improved over time.
A tool for conquering imposter syndrome
At resume.io, we believe that it’s important for everybody to acknowledge that they might suffer from impostor syndrome. By its nature, it can be easy to dismiss IS as a cause of low self-esteem – because if you have low self-esteem, you believe that you’re truly an imposter and not that you have the syndrome. And crucially, as Dr. Young asserts, the journey to recovery requires self-knowledge because "you can’t share your way out of impostor syndrome."
Our new infographic provides a flowchart to help you identify which type of imposter syndrome you have, and the best steps to overcome your particular category. We’ve gathered academic research from leading journals and from the writings of Drs. Clance, Imes, and Young, to create a snapshot of the syndrome today and advice on how to get past it and back to the real, excellent ‘you.’
Imposter syndrome may begin in the workplace or in your relationships, but it can soon have knock-on effects that compromise every aspect of your life. Get to grips with IS by learning to understand it better, and you can return to your life as an accomplished professional and move on to even bigger and better things.
To battle imposter syndrome, you can also try one of these career aptitude tests. Sometimes you simply need a reminder of your top skills, so you gain the confidence that you are on the right career track.
Though first recognized in 1978, impostor syndrome has only come to the fore in research terms in the last decade. For this project we sourced academic research from the International Journal of Behavioral Science, American Nurse Today, the University of Notre Dame and Medical News Today.
As a psychological condition much insight was also given in the works of the leading professionals in the field, Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes who initially described the syndrome and Dr. Valerie Young, through various articles and lectures, and through her. book, How To Feel As Bright and Capable As Everyone Seems to Think You Are.
Helpful suggestions for overcoming IS were also provided by lifestyle sections of popular publications, such as Forbes, Inc and the Independent newspaper from the UK.
- Access Finance. 2018. National Study: 62% of UK adults experiencing imposter syndrome at work. accesscommercialfinance.com
- Alexander, J. & Sakulku, J. (2011). The Impostor Phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 2011, Vol. 6, No. 1, 73-92
- Badawy, R. L. et al. Are all impostors created equal? Exploring gender differences in the impostor phenomenon-performance link Personality and Individual Differences. Volume 131, 1 September 2018, Pages 156-163
- Gopal, S. 2018. There Are 5 Types Of Imposter Syndrome, So Which One Are You? whimn.com.au
- Jakarta Post. 2018. Feel like you don’t deserve success? How to overcome impostor syndrome. thejakartapost.com
- Johnson, W. B. & Smith, D. G. 2019. Mentoring Someone with Imposter Syndrome. hbr.org
- Kalinosky, E. 2010. Feeling Like A Fraud: Living With Impostor Syndrome. forbes.com
- Leonard, J. 2018. How to Handle Impostor Syndrome. medicalnewstoday.com
- Sherman, R.O. (2013). Imposter Syndrome. American Nurse Today, 8(5), 57-58.
- Vergauwe, J. et al. (2015). Fear of Being Exposed: The Trait-Relatedness of the Impostor Phenomenon and its Relevance in the Work Context. Journal of Business and Psychology, September 2015, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 565–581.
- Wilding, M. 2017. 9 Telltale Signs You Have Impostor Syndrome inc.com
- Young, V. How to Feel as Bright and Capable as Everyone Seems to Think You are: A Handbook for Women (and Men) who Doubt Their Competence-- But Shouldn't ImpostorSyndrome.com, 2004.
- Young, V. The 5 Types of Impostors impostorsyndrome.com
- Young, V. The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It Crown Business, 2011.
- Revuluri, S. 2018. How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome chronicle.com
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