A lot of us have probably experienced feeling like a fraud or that you lack the skills or abilities to do something at one point or another. What you might not have realised is this feeling, when it’s relentless, has a name, the imposter syndrome. Well, there’s more. There’s five main flavours of impostor syndrome that can manifest, and I’ll show how each impostor syndrome undermines your quality of life.
The basics of imposter syndrome are that people lack confidence and believe they’re undeserving of success and that they’ve achieved nothing (Sherman, 2013). Sherman says that small doses of feeling inadequate can help keep us on our toes and keep us working on our abilities. However, with imposter syndrome, that feeling can cause crippling self-doubt, a paralysing fear of failure, and stress. This can cause us to need other people’s approval and recognition.
The Five Flavours Of Impostor Syndrome
Being a perfectionist
Growing up, I had problems with this when it came to drawing. Every line had to be exact, and I couldn’t move on until it was. This resulted in me drawing the same line over and over again, but never being happy with it. I stopped drawing all together because of it.
A perfectionist will set themselves extremely difficult goals. But when you do that, you’re setting yourself up to fail, and when the inevitable failure occurs, the perfectionist will experience overwhelming self-doubt. This primes the perfectionist to worry that they’ve never been good enough. Some perfectionist will realise that they have a need for excessive control, that if something needs to be done right, then they will have to do it themselves. However, some will also be unaware of this tendency.
A red flag for being a perfectionist is being a micromanager. Not only does micromanaging not bring the hoped-for results, but it’ll also quickly get on the nerves of everyone being micromanaged, causing work to suffer across the board.
This flavour of impostor syndrome undermines your quality of life because of the inevitable problem with being a perfectionist. Being a perfectionist means that you’re never satisfied with the outcome because you always think you can do better. Sometimes, that might be true. But the real question is, does it matter? Not everything requires 100% perfection, if it did, life would be a nightmare. Could you imagine trying to be perfect in every single thing you do? I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Simply put, this flavour of impostor syndrome means that you think you’re Hawkeye in the Avengers. Everyone else has some kind of power or special ability, and all you can do is shoot arrows. Accept it’s worse than that, Hawkeye may be human, but his ability to hit the target is second to none, whereas you fill like the janitor working at the Avengers tower.
Colourful descriptions aside, your insecurities about being the only person in a group who shouldn’t be there can cause you to overcompensate. To earn your place. This is your classic representation of impostor syndrome. With this version of impostor syndrome, you may display people-pleasing tendencies, whereby you feel you can’t say no to anything asked of you at work. You can find yourself in a position with more work than any reasonable or superhuman person can complete.
Not being superhuman undermines your quality of life because the reason you can’t say no is that you don’t want people to think less of you or realise you’re not good enough to be there. Plus, you need other people to validate you so you can feel like you belong, although you never will feel like you belong, no matter how long you’ve been there. Not if you don’t tackle your impostor syndrome. Needing that constant source of validation means your sense of self is dependent entirely on others, which isn’t healthy.
Furthermore, you take everything personally, even when it’s constructive criticism, and for some, even when it’s not criticism or even about you. I’ve come across people who have taken it personally just because I had a different opinion to them over something that wasn’t even about people. It was so trivial, it may have well been about what sauce you like on your chips (fries for the Americans).
Being an Einstein
For some reason, some people think natural geniuses exist when they don’t. Everyone needs to work hard to become competent. No one is born knowing astrophysics. This flavour of impostor syndrome is about believing that you’re so good at something that it comes with ease and requires little effort. In short, you should be able to master something in no time at all.
More often than not, this means you should get everything right on the first try. But when you can’t get something right the first time, or don’t master something as quickly as your personally set high bar says you should, self-doubts will take over.
The cause of this version of impostor syndrome can come from being told all the time that you’re the smart one in the family. Although such comments come from a good place, they can place a lot of pressure on an individual to live up to the label.
This impostor syndrome undermines your quality of life because you’ll avoid doing certain things because you’re concerned you won’t be a master at it right out of the gate. Instead of taking on a new challenge, experiencing something new, and learning something, you’ll keep yourself locked up in your safe little bubble.
Being a lone wolf
Aka, the soloist. There is nothing wrong with being independent, but being a soloist isn’t about being independent. To avoid feeling like you might exposure yourself as not being worthy of being there, you’ll instead do everything on your own, and avoid asking for help, even when you know you need it.
This impostor syndrome undermines your quality of life because going it alone all the time is lonely. But not only that, there isn’t a person alive who’s never needed help at one time or another. Remember, a wolf doesn’t choose to be alone, they’re a pack animal.
Being the expert
To be an expert is to be someone that knows everything about a particular field, or that’s what people believe at least. This impostor syndrome undermines your quality of life because you won’t put yourself forward for chances, like a new job or a promotion. The belief that you’re not an expert because you can’t quote everything about the field you’re in off the top of your head is not only wrong, but unless you’ve got an eidetic memory, impossible to do.
My Experience With Impostor Syndrome
A study conducted by Chapman (2015) on eight mature students with varying degrees of imposter syndrome during their first year at university, used semi-structured interviews to understand how the assessment process could overcome imposter syndrome. All the participants reported feeling out of place, expressing statements like, everyone else is smarter than I am. Interestingly, the feelings of imposter syndrome helped the participants transition into a positive experience when they sort out help. In doing so, they became more embedded in the student community.
For those that don’t know, in the UK, a mature student is anyone over 21 and I attended university as a mature student at 25 to study my undergraduate degree. Although I wasn’t the eldest person in my course. I can relate to this study because I’ve felt these feelings in both my undergraduate degree and my postgraduate degree (aged 35). Surprisingly, my imposter syndrome was worse during my postgraduate degree. A small class size meant more interaction, and because I struggle with traditional lecture and teaching structures, relying instead on self teaching, I often feel stupid.
My dyslexia affects my short-term memory, phonetics, spelling, and reading, which can make it hard to keep up. Most of the time I just tune out, which doesn’t help. Throughout both my university experiences, but more so in my postgraduate degree, I’ve constantly felt like I’m stupid. Even when I got my dyslexia diagnosis during my first year during my postgraduate, I still felt stupid, and still do, because my recall of information sucks. To me, it was like I was in a room full of superhuman experts and I was just the dumb one that got in by chance.
These feelings of not knowing enough and not being good enough have never left me. In the volunteer role I’m currently in, I constantly doubt my skills and abilities. I’ve been in the role for over a year and I still feel this way every time I’m working. I still feel like I’m fraud among superhumans.
My imposter syndrome stopped me from adding sponsorship advertising slots on my blog for eight months and stopped me from opening my blogs shop for longer than that. My imposter syndrome held me back by turbo charging my self-doubts and focusing me on the things that could go wrong or what I would do if someone complained.
I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome my entire life because people during my childhood made it very clear I was never wanted, making me desperate for acceptance. This led to me becoming a people-pleaser and the development of my imposter syndrome. At one point or another, I’ve experienced every flavour of imposter syndrome.
At university it was being superhuman, but at school it was being an expert and being an Einstein because of my need to not to be seen trying. I needed to be seen as being great at anything I did, even if it’s the first time I did it. Unfortunately, I still have trouble giving myself a learning curve.
Still in school, I also experienced being a perfectionist. If I was great at something, then maybe people would like me and accept me. I would also seek to be a lone wolf, so no one would see my failings. Although now I know that most of that was due to dyslexia. If I was forced to work in a group, I would stay quiet unless brought in by someone in the group to contribute because of my feelings of inferiority among superhumans. I’d already experienced enough mockery and beatings by teachers before for failing to spell in front of my peers. Why open yourself up to more of that willingly?
At every stage in my life, impostor syndrome undermines my quality of life, without fail. Because I’ve been out of paid work for so long, I’m even afraid of putting myself back out there due to how my impostor syndrome undermines my life. But how can I ever expect it to get better unless I do put myself back out there?
To read my article on how you can overcome your imposter syndrome, click here.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with imposter syndrome in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Chapman, A. (2015). Using the assessment process to overcome Imposter Syndrome in mature students. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 41(2), 112-119. Retrieved from http://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/2084/1/Chapman_UsingTheAssessment.pdf, https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2015.1062851, and http://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/2084.
Sherman, R. O. (2013). Imposter syndrome: When you feel like you’re faking it. American Nurse Today, 8(5), 57-58. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rose-Sherman/publication/256475007_Sherman_RO_2013_Imposter_Syndrome_American_Nurse_Today_85_57-58/links/0c960522f53cd9647f000000/Sherman-RO-2013-Imposter-Syndrome-American-Nurse-Today-85-57-58.pdf and https://www.researchgate.net/publication/256475007_Sherman_RO_2013_Imposter_Syndrome_American_Nurse_Today_85_57-58.
62 thoughts on “How The Impostor Syndrome Undermines Your Quality Of Life”
Hit the nail on the head. I’m familiar with almost all the stuff you mention but mostly that being kept small when I was younger. It really makes me mad knowing that it is programmed behaviour really holding me back. I wish I could stop caring and just do without all the overthinking. Look forward to the next post on overcoming.
Our early years are so important in how we’ll function as adults
I hate to admit that I am aware of all the flavours of imposter syndrome. I have spent too much time being a perfectionist until I was really close to mental breakdown. I have tried to hide myself and try new things due to fear of failure. I was in many cases afraid to express myself because I was afraid I might sound stupid. I had a masters degree in creative writing while my main studies were in informatics. All my co students in my master classes were experts in language and I vwas feeling that I was starting to learn the alphabet. Yes, imposter syndrome can affect our lives in the worst possible way and hold us back. I loved all the information you shared and also that you shared part of your history ?
Thank you for sharing your experience. Hopefully you’re learning to stop letting it hold you back
I love that you categorised traits of imposter syndrome. Great post!
Great post, can relate to so much to this but at different stages in my life.
Thanks for commenting
When we are young we are such sponges to the environment. I was taught very early on not to be over-confident, but to be confident, which confused me and destroyed my confidence. Crazy. I use imposter syndrome in my workshops, the movie Three Amigos uses it in the storyline, although not directly, but you can see it in the story. I also found out that people like Tom Hanks suffer from it regularly. It’s a very real thing, and something that I think we fight against every day once you have it. well done for putting this all out there.
Tom Hanks seems surprising, given he’s arguably one of the best film actors of all times
Yes, I was surprised too. It is an interesting syndrome that can seemingly affect anyone.
Indeed it can
Superhuman here, all the way. I have to know, understand and be able to fix everything, be ready and available to help and always happy to do whatever needs doing, I tread on eggshells and avoid confrontation at all costs. It eats my energy at work, preoccupies me out of work and causes me to be anxious if I think I’ve upset someone. Thanks for such a well thought through post. I wish I was brave enough to show it to colleagues and my manager.
Thank you for sharing your experience. That sounds like it must be really exhausting and time consuming. Hopefully my follow up article will help you start to overcome your Superhuman imposter syndrome
Feeling like an imposter can be such a harmful thing for people in all settings. I used to feel like it in University sometimes, and it is a very real issue. Thank you for bringing light to this problem- and how we can try to solve it
Thanks for sharing your experience
This is the first time I am hearing of this syndrome. Found your post insightful.
Glad I was able to introduce you to something new
I’ve always struggled with self-doubt but it got worse when I was a nurse. I did feel that I wasn’t good enough and often felt I shouldn’t have been there. Eventually, I left nursing.
It’s only recently I realised that I could have had Imposter Syndrome; I think I still do!
I hate asking for help because I don’t want to be seen as stupid, for example.
This is something I work on.
Thanks for sharing your insights. ?
Thanks for sharing your experience and I hope you do start working on the issue
I don’t know if this imposter syndrome, but I am such a perfectionist and it’s hard for me to move past anything without it being perfect.
You could be a perfectionist for several different reasons, the underlying reason for what motivates you to be like that will tell you if it’s imposter syndrome or not
Honestly I didn’t know there was so much to imposter syndrome! I struggle with this a lot. Always want to try something new or different but self doubts will always come in the way.
I know how you feel, my self doubts are crippling
Really love this post – I like your comparison to Hawkeye, he was definitely one of my favourite characters in the movies and you’ve made me realise why I related to him so much – he might be overshadowed by others, but his hardwork has made him exceptionally talented at what he does (and he was always so humble with his abilities!)
My own experience with imposter syndrome is I have exceptional high standards (a perfectionist), but that standard I also expect from others, and I guess that is where I have to resist micromanaging tendencies when I ask someone to do a task and they do it in a way that I wouldn’t.
Since reading up on imposter syndrome it’s made me aware of some of the tendencies – with ‘being an einstein’ I’m more careful with the labels I put on my children so they don’t feel like they are typecast like this later in life (she’s the smart one, she’s the headstrong one etc…)
Finally I’d also say I’m a bit of a lone wolf I’d rather do trial and error or spend hours on research to solve a problem rather than just ask someone who knows who can solve it in a minute!
Thanks again for this wonderful post, this is one I’m going to keep in my bookmarks to refer back to.
I see you tick multiple imposter syndrome boxes just like me. I often think in my head how people are doing things the wrong way and how I would do it differently, I keep it to myself though, but it really niggles at me while I keep it to myself.
That’s great that you’re so self aware that you’re making sure not to pass on the same habits to your children. I hope I’m able to do the same should I have kids of my own.
Thanks for sharing your experience and your insights
this was such an informative post about imposter syndrome. i like how you explained the different characteristics / types as well as following up with your own personal experience.
Great post and very interesting to see the different ways it can manifest. As someone that struggles with perfectionism and people pleasing, this definitely hit close to home. It is something that I am actively working on overcoming but like all self-improvement issues, it can take a lot of time and relapse is all too common. Thank you for sharing.
Although you may have setbacks, what’s important is that you don’t give up on trying to make those improvements
I used to have imposter syndrome a lot in my younger years (twenties) but then I watched Gary Vaynerchuck and he has really inspired me to stop caring what other people think. Stop caring what people I one knew think of me now and how our lives compare.
Just go out there and be you because no one else is living your life or going to make money for you.
Trust me life is a lot easier when you let go of these thoughts and just be you.
Thanks for sharing
Ahhh yes, I, too, have felt a bit of each one. I put way too much pressure on myself sometimes and even the most constructive of criticism gets too overamplified. I look forward to the followup!
I’m not very good at handling criticism, I die a little inside
This post definitely resonates with me. I’m the perfectionist, through and through. And I know it holds me back sometimes, especially with my business.
Thanks for sharing your experience
I can relate here so much! I always think I’m not good enough at somethings, especially when I was younger, I would not start something, or give up all together if I didn’t feel as though I was good enough. That bit about micromanaging brings back so many memories of bad managers I’ve had throughout of the years who hang over your shoulder, put you down and make you feel low. So glad I work for myself now 🙂 So you were diagnosed with dyslexia later in life? That’s interesting as I’ve been told by a lots of teachers in the past than I might have it, so I think I need to get tested, especially when I read about the part you said regarding poor memory, which I do have. Very interesting article, thanks so much for sharing. x
My issues that I now know are a result of my dyslexia, always made me feel stupid growing up, which just feed my imposter syndrome. So if you feel you might have dyslexia, then I’d say get tested, as it may you’re self-image and self-doubts
Very true. I felt like such a dumb ass at school, and so I can totally relate. I was just talking to my mum about your article and telling her how it made me think about my short term memory and how the two might be related. I’m going to start getting the ball rolling. Thanks for giving me the kick up the bum I needed 🙂
I hope you get the answers you’re looking for
I did not know there were five different areas of imposter syndrome, so I love that you covered each area and shared how it can undermine a good life by introducing feelings of insecurity, of not being good enough, and promoting goals and activities that often cannot realistically be met.
Perfectionism is the thing that affected me most and it stopped me from enjoying life because all I could focus on were the areas where everything was a mess and unfixable in my eyes. It was tough to start walking away but walking away from certain situations helped me learn it is okay if not everything is perfect.
Thanks so much for sharing!
Breaking that need for perfection cycle is liberating
Good points. I remember being at my first job and having a team meeting, feeling so out of place and behind where everyone else was at. The team leader out-of-the-blue started talking about Imposter Syndrome and how at all levels, it never goes away, you just learn to deal with it and accept that it’s there. That was a wake-up call for me because I struggled with being a perfectionist, being the smart one, and being able to please people by getting everything done. Whenever I couldn’t, I freaked out and thought it was a bigger deal than it was and then shut down. It was probably the reason why I, like you, procrastinated so much. Your post has helped point out the multi-faceted way feeling like an Imposter can affect your life. Good job!
Thanks for sharing, and it was pretty cool it was brought up by your team leader as it needs to be talked about more
I can totally see myself in this post, but more like fear of failure, or being a perfectionist. I never heard of impostor syndrome, this is a very insightful post. Thank you.
Thanks for commenting
Good job here. Overcoming this fear is a definite happiness booster. When we feel good enough, deserving and then, more whole and complete, happiness sprouts where the imposter syndrome and its unhappy rejection, stood.
It’s just getting to that place that’s the hard part
Wow, thank you so much for sharing your experience, I felt like I have got to know you a little bit more and that’s lovely. I think we all suffer from one of the forms you mentioned of the Imposter syndrome st some point and it is so important to talk about it and be educated on it. I think I am a bit of a perfectionist as I like things done a certain way, but I am trying to get better at at this and not feel like I’m always letting people down or seeking their approval. Great content!
Thanks for sharing your experience. You’ve got me wondering, do more people suffer from imposter syndrome nowadays than they did say, 50 years ago. Because it feels like social media may have made it worse
Yes! Good question, I think they must do, trying to live up to a fake expectation of reality. Good topic, maybe for a future post!
This is so good!! I feel so many people struggle with this and the interesting thing is I remember once I read even Oprah admitted having imposter syndrome as well. Love your points here great read 🙂
I didn’t know that about Oprah
I completely get this. I’ve been really wanting to go for an entirely new career than previously planned after finishing uni, but I finished uni in May and still haven’t felt able to go for it due to imposter syndrome. This was a great read.
Thanks for sharing your experience. I hope you’re able to pursue the new career you want for yourself, because if that’s what you want to do, then it’ll likely be the route that brings your the most happiness
Wow… this bought tears to my eyes as it really hit home. I didn’t know there was a name for it, but now I do, I want to research it more as it’s something I feel I’ve been struggling with for many years. Thank you X
I hope your research provides you with the information your looking for
I have heard a bit about this, but not much so this was a really interesting and helpful blog post to read. Sometimes I do feel as though I am not good enough or worthy of some of the opportunities I have. I didn’t know there was a name for it though. I just assumed it was low self-esteem or confidence.
Lauren – http://www.bournemouthgirl.com
It generally a result of having chronically low self-esteem