Wednesday, May 25

Imposter syndrome: what is it and how to get rid of it


It happens on many different occasions. Someone gets a promotion at the company they work for, or is given an important assignment, or wins an art competition, etc., and their feeling is: “I’m being overrated, I’m not that good, I’m just having fun.” Good luck, this isn’t going to work out.”

The psychological phenomenon that leads some people to have this feeling on a recurring basis has a name: impostor syndrome. And it is much more common than you might think. Those who suffer from this problem are unable to recognize and accept their own achievements, and experience a persistent fear that others will “discover” that they are actually liars, frauds, that is, impostors.

The expression was coined in 1978 by the American clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, in a Article in which the doubts and fears expressed by many women with great academic and professional achievements about their own merits were highlighted.

Over time, however, it has been accepted that impostor syndrome affects both women and men, of different ages and conditions, and it is not necessary to have achieved great successes to suffer from it.

The figures for the incidence of this problem vary considerably depending on the tools used to measure it. But one review of studies carried out in the United States and published in 2020, indicated that up to 82% of people could suffer from it at some point in their lives.

Such a review analyzed the results of 62 previous works, half of which had been published from 2014 onwards. A fact that shows the attention that this so-called syndrome -which is not really a disease nor is it registered in mental health manuals- has gained in the last decade.

Signs of impostor syndrome

How does impostor syndrome manifest itself? It has some specific symptoms:

  • Feeling of unworthiness in light of the successes achieved. People with this problem believe that their achievements are only due to good luck, help received from others or other causes external to themselves.
  • Distrust towards their own abilities and low self-esteem.
  • constant fear until the supposed “truth” is discovered (that is, the person with impostor syndrome believes that they do not deserve to be where they are, that they are not as competent in their activity as others think, etc.).
  • failure expectations in situations in which their performance is generally good or very good.
  • -High levels of self-criticism and perfectionismwhich can even be equivalent to giving up personal well-being in order to work more and thus “demonstrate” that it is up to the assigned tasks.

Due to all this, according to the aforementioned meta-analysis, impostor syndrome is often associated with other problems, such as a state of permanent dissatisfaction or mental health conditions that can lead to anxiety or depression. It is also related to poor job performance, exhaustion and ‘burnout’.

Who is most exposed to this problem?

One of the main risk factors for impostor syndrome is having, as already mentioned, low self-esteem: perceiving yourself as a worthless person, without talent or with fewer positive qualities than you actually have. If someone like this gets a hit, they are likely to be “in disbelief” and chalk it up to a stroke of good luck. or to other causes beyond their own merits.

Another element that contributes to this problem is emotional insecurity, which may be due to developmental circumstances of the person (such as having received a lot of pressure or criticism during childhood or adolescence) or to very high expectations placed on him or her by others. .

Likewise, traumatic episodes – such as abusive relationships or psychological abuse – also affect self-confidence and can lead to impostor syndrome.

However, anyone can be a victim of impostor syndrome. But the groups with the highest propensity to experience the syndrome are listed in the book How to overcome impostor syndrome, by Aída Baida Gil:

  1. People who have reached a quick win and in a sense unexpected. They fear they won’t be able to repeat that success, because in many cases they aren’t even sure how they did it the first time.
  2. people of the first generation of a family who go to university or obtain a certain job achievement. The expectations placed on them can represent too much pressure.
  3. people with successful parents or older siblingsdue to the requirement (explicit or not) of being up to the task.
  4. Students, due to the pressure exerted by the constant evaluations.
  5. People who are self-employed or lonelywhich in many cases leads to excessive self-demand.

Tips for overcoming impostor syndrome

Psychologists such as those at the Fuensalud Clinic, based in Madrid, offer some guidelines and tips that help overcome impostor syndrome. The most important are the following:

  • Try to see the real facts. There are concrete data of reality that are undeniable, beyond individual assessments and opinions. For this purpose, it can be useful to make a list of achievements and goals achieved, and then analyze as honestly as possible how much personal merit there was in each one.
  • Avoid comparisons. An insecure trait is always measuring your own performance against that of others. These comparisons tend to magnify one’s weak points, further enhancing that insecurity and the difficulty in seeing one’s own merits in their true magnitude.
  • Reduce the tendency to perfectionism. Nobody is perfect: relaxing the levels of self-criticism and self-demand is essential. In this sense, it is good to be aware that other people are not so attentive to how you solve problems, if you make mistakes, etc.
  • Accept congratulations and compliments. When people with impostor syndrome receive complimentary comments, they tend to respond with clarifications, justifications, explanations, excuses, etc. One step to overcome the problem is to propose simply to thank them and accept them, without further ado.

For the rest, if you feel that impostor syndrome is affecting your work or social life, it is advisable to seek professional help. Psychological therapy can be key to finding the roots of this discomfort and working on its solution.

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