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Here’s Why You Have Impostor Syndrome (Even Though You Shouldn’t)


Do you feel like a fake? If so, you might be suffering from impostor syndrome, the feeling of intellectual or professional fraudulence that manifests as severe self-doubt. Even when all evidence indicates that they are competent, someone experiencing impostor syndrome can’t shake the feeling that they don’t know what they’re doing professionally, and that soon enough someone is going to find out that they’re faking their way through their job and they’ll be fired.


(Photo Credit: stevevoght/Flickr)

If you’ve ever dealt with these feelings, you know it’s not a lot of fun. But, there are things you can do to help you get past impostor syndrome and move forward professionally. The first step is knowing that these feelings are not unique to you and your circumstance. But, just how prevalent is impostor syndrome, and who is more prone to it – and why? Let’s take a closer look to find some answers.

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1. It’s very common.

Researchers believe that up to 70 percent of people have felt these feelings of inadequacy at one point or another. That number might sound surprising, because these feelings aren’t something everyone is comfortable talking about. But, if you ask around, consult some trusted friends and professional contacts, you’ll find that the phenomenon is a lot more common that it may seem.

2. Women report symptoms of impostor syndrome more than men.

It’s not news that feelings of impostorism are more often reported by women than men – in fact, this is one of the many reasons why institutions match younger women academics with high-achieving female mentors. But, it’s likely that men actually experience impostor syndrome just as much as women; it’s just that they’re less likely to own up to those feelings:

“I think it’s equally rife across gender, ” said Stephen Brookfield, author of 16 books on adult learning, critical thinking, critical pedagogy, etc. “However, women are far more willing to own up to it and make public disclosure. For men it’s very difficult to do that.”

3. Even if women do suffer more…

Experts have discovered that impostor syndrome is most common when competition is intense and when there are few mentors to help navigate the waters. Maybe, despite women’s education and experience, the internalized messages about their lack of qualification still nag at them. Then, upon entering their profession, women suffer from feelings of inadequacy that can persist without female mentors (formal or informal) to look to for guidance and support.

4. How you grew up matters.

Pressure to achieve has a role to play in all of this. Many people who suffer from impostorism grew up in families that placed a big emphasis on achievement, says Suzanne Imes, who first discussed the syndrome in the 1970s. She found the phenomenon to be particularly acute when parents sent mixed messages – praising and criticizing alternately.

“In our society, there’s a huge pressure to achieve,” Imes said. “There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.”

5. It happens to students as well as professionals.

Embarking on a new endeavor can call up feelings of inadequacy, which can lead to more pronounced impostor syndrome. Therefore, college students, graduate students, and people new to their profession are most likely to suffer with these feelings of professional fakery.

6. Perfectionists are prone to impostor syndrome.

Perfectionism is linked to impostor syndrome. Perfectionists tend to set high, unrealistic goals that turn to self-defeating thoughts when they can’t reach the excessively high bar they set for themselves. In fact, it’s possible that perfectionism that shifts into impostor syndrome is the root cause of being a workaholic.

Understanding the causes and consequences of impostor syndrome is a great first step toward healing the wound and moving forward professionally. Also, sharing your feelings with others and building your understanding of why you feel the way you do should make it easier to cope. Just remember, a lot more people feel this way deep down than they let on. It’s actually super common, and it’s something you can move on from.

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