By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Could you have imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a term probably everyone has heard recently. The term, and probably its prevalence, is a lot more common now than in the past. One way to understand this is to imagine someone who looks like they have a skill, they know they’re wearing the uniform of the job, but they don’t actually know how to do what they’re supposed to do. Many people with professional credentials or who have been hired to do a particular job may feel like imposters because they lack confidence in their ability to do the job adequately.
Imposter syndrome is a common reason people seek counseling.
Officially imposter syndrome is not a recognized diagnosis. But imposter syndrome and some related conditions result in high levels of anxiety and often depression. What we used to think was that it was primarily a problem of women working in male-dominated professions. We now see this phenomenon almost universally. We find similar insecurities among children and adolescents who feel they don’t measure up and have the abilities of their classmates.
In the past studies of several professions, we found that almost 100% of people in a given vocation rated themselves as above average. However, because of higher job stress and the increasing rate of burnout, we find more people today who believe they are in over their heads and don’t measure up to the abilities of their colleagues and coworkers.
Imposter syndrome is common.
One survey concluded that roughly 75% of people in certain occupations feel like they are imposters pretending to be competent at their jobs but not really having the skills they require. Of course, many professional licenses or certifications call for only a minimum level of competency. So, when the people in a profession compare themselves to famous practitioners, they are likely to feel that they don’t measure up.
Even at elite universities and colleges, students feel like imposters. They can see other students getting all A’s apparently with these. While they may have gotten admitted, the students frantically study, trying to keep their grades up to the level of their peers. The saying at some colleges is there only two grades. You either get an A, or you get the other grade. In this way of thinking, if you’re not a straight-A student, you’re a failure.
Imposter syndrome is more than a fear of failure.
Many people experience a fear of failure. Even the most talented people sometimes fail. People with imposter syndrome not only feel like a failure, they believed they don’t measure up. The belief that you don’t have the skills or talent needed to perform the job you’re doing satisfactorily is a significant part of imposter syndrome. People with imposter syndrome believe they are essentially defective.
People with imposter syndrome feel like frauds.
They often suffer from a high level of anxiety about their job performance and life in general. Since they don’t feel capable of doing the jobs they are performing, they live in constant fear of being found out.
Imposter syndrome has increased with more online work.
Constantly being on camera, whether working from home or being a student taking online classes, has created an incredible pressure to always be perfect. Many clients I’ve worked with have reported that the stress of working online has been overwhelming. I’m hearing increasingly common reports that students become so self-conscious that they will turn their cameras off and would rather take a failing grade than have to be constantly in the view of all their classmates. Getting teased and bullied about your appearance also contributes to an increase in anxiety.
Online work isn’t the only reason for an increase in imposter syndrome.
As more and more people become accustomed to working online were developing new skills and competencies for doing work this way. I’ve seen some outstanding teaching and counseling being done in the online virtual format. I was hearing of cases of imposter syndrome well before the Covid pandemic. With 24-7 media coverage and the ability to live stream, everything anyone does can be quickly recorded and rapidly disseminated. This feeling that you can never make a mistake or misspeak has resulted in many people feeling inadequate for today’s world.
Comparing up is one reason you may experience imposter syndrome.
Social media has been especially damaging to self-esteem. Someone with ten friends on social media compares themselves to someone with 500 or 1000. That upward comparison makes you feel inadequate. Very few people ever compare themselves down to someone who only has one friend.
You can overcome imposter syndrome.
Even in high-stress jobs, people do overcome their feelings of vulnerability and beliefs that they are inadequate for the job they’re doing. Counseling can help. Working on improving your skills also contributes to overcoming the feeling. And most importantly, accepting that you’re a fallible human and sometimes will make mistakes can take you a long way towards overcoming imposter syndrome.
In an upcoming post, I want to talk to you in more detail about specific techniques you can apply to overcome insecurities, feelings you don’t measure up, and overcome imposter syndrome.
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