You play down achievements. You can't put those achievements down & you can't accept them. It makes you feel like an impostor. You feel incapable & the others just haven't noticed the incompetence. One is afraid to expose at any time & disappoint everyone. One doubts his own achievements & does not believe in himself. If something then nevertheless it was luck, chance or leniency of the other party. Does that sound familiar?
Ever heard of Impostor Syndrome? These thoughts are the daily companion for impostors.
As a rule, people who are plagued by the Imposter or impostor syndrome are not even particularly unsuccessful. They accomplish great things & feel like they don't deserve it. That their success is based on imposture & they could be caught at any moment. Sentences like the following are often heard when someone congratulates an importer on his success:
How does an impostor sound?
- "It was all just a coincidence."
- "That was just lucky."
- "The stars are in my valour."
- "I was just in the right place at the right time."
- "Anyone could have done it."
- "Well, I didn't do that much for it. Don't ask me how I ended up here anyway."
- "I was lucky they only gave me the simple tasks."
- "It just so happens to be the very stuff I revised."
- "I only got here because of connections."
- "They like me, but nothing more."
- "They just don't know that I don't really know anything."
- "Somebody must have made a mistake."
- "I'm always afraid I'll be exposed as a fraud if everyone finds out I can't do it at all."
Many of these arguments do not even make much sense objectively. The Impostor voice always finds reasons why it is just not your credit that this success has come about. As irrational as it is, external circumstances should always be responsible for the success. You feel like you're just bluffing & maintaining a poker face until someone finds out. You are a fraud who only pretends competence. Other people are so much smarter, more talented & more capable - they would have deserved the job, college place or whatever much better.
Things are not what they seem to be like...
The Impostor phenomenon distorts both self-perception and the perception of others. One makes oneself worse than one is, while others are seen idealized. Others are experienced & competent & you yourself have no idea what you are doing. For some people it is sporadically surging panic that this inability/insufficiency/ ... could be exposed, for others a permanently smouldering feeling of fear - independent of objective experiences of success.
Even if you can trace your success back to a lot of work & acknowledge it, you still believe that you have no talent or gift & have to fight for every ability through hard work.
To put it psychologically: You can't internalize successes well, but therefore failures excellently.
In case of failure, external circumstances suddenly no longer play a role. You are solely responsible for your failure. There is no such thing as "It went badly" as the opposite of "I was just lucky". Failures are then the confirmation of your own identity: It is proven that you are not up to it, that you are out of place, that you can't do anything, ... & above all, that you tried to fool others & so now you have fallen over because of your own incompetence.
In case of failure, external circumstances suddenly no longer play a role. You are solely responsible for your failure. There is no such thing as "It went badly" as the opposite of "I was just lucky". Failures are then the confirmation of your own identity: It is proven that you are not up to it, that you are out of place, that you can't do anything, ... & above all, that you tried to fool others & so now you have fallen on your face because of your own incompetence.
Experiences of success usually intensify the feeling of 'that is undeserved' instead of counteracting failures. The more successful you are, the more inadequate you feel and the more it feels as if you have not deserved all this, because your own inner demands increase with every success. The bar is raised higher and higher, the subjective inadequacy increases. A negative feedback loop develops in which you get trapped.
Impostor is many things, but not this
Impostorism is not only a fancy word for self-doubt or a weak self-confidence, but according to ICD-10 & DSM-5 it is also not a disease or disorder, although one might suspect this at the name Impostor Syndrome. Nevertheless such thoughts & feelings are to be taken seriously. Impostor thoughts quickly lead to anxiety, panic attacks, burnout or depression. A low self-confidence correlates strongly with the Impostor-Syndrome, but it differs mainly in the fact that successes are good for the self-confidence & one can be happy about it. In addition, the person is not afraid of being exposed as an impostor or incapable of being exposed. It is also not pure perfectionism, modesty or neuroticism, but a construct of its own.
Wie reagiert man als Impostor dann auf Aufgaben für die man sich selbst nicht qualifiziert genug hält?
These feelings are often expressed in the form of postponing tasks, risk aversion and work addiction. People with impostor syndrome, for example, also do not like asking questions because they are afraid of appearing stupid. This can lead to sleep disturbances and, as a result, to a weakening of the immune system. In addition, the intense fears and stress lead to blurred boundaries between work and private life, because they feel they have to work around the clock to avoid their imagined incompetence being exposed. You are always over-prepared, you want to be prepared for all eventualities, you strive for perfection, you are the first to arrive & the last to leave. Furthermore, it is difficult to say no, as this could be an indication that you are not up to the task & are just an impostor. One tries to compensate for the allegedly missing competence by hard work. If this behaviour spills over into the extreme, we can all imagine that this cannot end well.
Jedoch gibt es auch das krasse Gegenteil: Als eine Person mit Hochstapler-Syndrom ist man bekannt für Prokrastination oder Aufschieberitis. Die Philosophie: Wenn man es gar nicht erst versucht, kann man auch gar nicht scheitern. Man sabotiert sich selbst. Man fühlt sich den Aufgaben & die Verantwortungen, die damit einhergehen nicht gewachsen. Man fährt stetig Misserfolge ein, die einem in der Vorstellung der eigenen Inkompetenz bestätigen.
How does it emerge?
Starting with childhood, a suboptimal approach to appreciating the child's achievements can have an effect. Parents sometimes tend to praise children for every little thing, or the complete opposite, that they do not acknowledge anything. The child never learns a meaningful evaluation of its own successes.
In addition, certain character traits are predestined to cause an Impostor Syndrome later on. For example, people who are inherently very perfectionist, have low self-esteem, are anxious or emotionally unstable, introverted and ambitious on top.
Of course society & the digital madness also does its part.
Various studies have shown that women are more likely to be affected by Impostor Syndrome than men. However, there are also factors that play a role, such as the fact that men generally tend to express their feelings less. Recent studies even show the opposite - men are considered to be more affected by Impostor Syndrome than women.
A major factor is also when a person in the minority wants/must deliver performance permanently. A minority can be based on skin colour, language, gender, social status, sexual orientation or any other characteristic. For example in computer science: being a woman.
In my case I was also one of the first in the family to study & one of the few 'working-class kids' at university & college. In addition, all the others in my family worked mainly in the social sector in clinics, doctors' surgeries, kindergartens, ... This makes me a pioneer & member of a minority in many ways.
Studies also show that the STEM areas increase the risk of importorism. There is a good blog post on the topic here.
Well & well?
Unfortunately there is no quick fix for the impostor syndrome. However, the following four steps will help you to become aware of your own behaviour, so that you can consciously change it in small steps at some point:
Look at the facts & make yourself aware of your strengths. Write down the successes of the last years & look at them carefully. Set yourself a time limit of 20 minutes to not overthink. What was crucial for these successes? Which skills helped you in this situation?
What skills do you have that others do not have that made you successful in these situations? Be proud of them! Question any limiting beliefs that come to your mind. Question your doubts. Write them down, look at them on paper from an outside perspective.
It's never a bad idea when something is on your mind to talk about it! Either people in your immediate environment, or people online. You're not alone in this!
Where can I find out more?
This blog post is based on the following sources, which I can highly recommend (+ an anti-recommendation) if you want to better understand the Impostor Syndrome:
- „Und was, wenn alle merken, dass ich gar nichts kann? – Über die Angst nicht gut genug zu sein“ ~ Sabine Magnet (here on Amazon) unfortunately only available in German
- „First-Generation University Students Are At Greater Risk Of Experiencing Imposter Syndrome” ~ Emily Reynolds (here the post)
- “How to Fight Impostor Syndrome – Study Tips – Mental Health” ~ Socratica (here the video)
- “Beating the Impostor Syndrome” ~ Portia Mount, Susan Tardanico (don't recommend!)
Have you already had any contact with this topic?
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