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.
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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 https://insight.cumbria.ac.uk/id/eprint/2084/1/Chapman_UsingTheAssessment.pdf, https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2015.1062851, and https://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.