INDIA: The imposter syndrome is centered on unwarranted emotions of inadequacy and incompetence that drag a person down and eventually lead to self-doubt.
Even as the 21st century becomes more liberal and understanding in its approach toward the sensitive treatment of mental health issues and personality disorders, many have discredited the imposter syndrome as a need for attention and not a cry for help.
The imposter syndrome revolves around unfounded feelings of self-doubt and incompetence, which weigh down the individual, eventually prompting him or her to detach themselves from family and friends and exist in a comfortable bubble of guilt and sorrow.
Those who fall prey to imposter syndrome can treat themselves through conversations with family, friends, and close ones, even seeking professional help from a therapist to help identify helpful coping mechanisms.
When diagnosed with imposter syndrome, some of the most prominent thoughts that arise are, “What am I doing here?” “I don’t belong,” and “I’m a total fraud, and sooner or later, everyone’s going to find out.”
As per a 2019 review of 62 studies on the syndrome, anywhere between 9 and 82 percent of people report having thoughts along these lines at some point in their lives. This affects anyone in any profession, from graduation students to top executives.
Imposter Syndrome arises out of a number of predominant factors that trigger the psyche of individuals, prompting them to feel overwhelmed with emotions of doubt. Potential underlying causes may be:
- Parental pressure to excel in academics, comparison with other siblings and their achievements, being controlling and overprotective, emphasising the child’s natural intelligence, and sharply criticising their mistakes.
- Personality traits linked to perfectionist tendencies, low self-esteem, or a serious lack of confidence are associated with higher scores on the measure of neuroticism and lower scores on conscientiousness.
- Any existing mental health symptoms like an intense sense of failure, anxiety, depression, a sense of not being enough, and a vicious cycle of self-loathing and guilt.
- Weight of new responsibilities, which makes one feel overburdened and anxious.
Renowned imposter syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young signifies five main types of imposters in her leading 2011 book, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.”
- Perfectionist: The individual focuses far too much on being a perfectionist in everything they do, and when efforts fail to achieve goals and objectives in a pitch-perfect manner, one feels a sense of self-loathing and even feels demotivated to ever try new things again.
- Natural Genius: The individual has a great penchant for easily picking up on small details and skills with minimum to no effort, so that when he has a hard time progressing in new projects, he feels like a fraud.
- Soloist: When the individual has a hard time asking for help and juggling a project all on their own for fear of appearing weak, they adopt the “imposter syndrome.”
- Expert: The expert feels the need to be updated on every little detail for the upcoming project to be a huge success and ends up using so much time that the actual task needs more brain time. If the expert does not have all the answers, it becomes an issue of self-doubt and an area of concern.
- Superhero: A superhero links competence to the degree of one’s ability to succeed, and so, failing to successfully navigate the demands of these responsible roles becomes a sign of weakness. Even the maximum effort put in by the superhero feels inadequate, and he might think, “I should be able to do more” or “This should be easier.”
How to handle Imposter Syndrome?
The imposter or fraud has to work diligently towards humanising the self in order to overcome these feelings of being a fraud, believing that pushing oneself beyond a humane point at the cost of mental health is never a good option.
The individual must acknowledge his feelings, because the only way to resolve a problem is to recognise and admit that there is one. Speaking to a trusted friend, close peer, or close family member is always a good option because it can alter one’s self-image and self-perception.
One must also avoid giving in to the urge to be all on their own and handle things solo; it is healthy and completely natural for a person to falter at certain moments and ask for help. Asking for help is never a sign of weakness; it is only a reminder that even a superhero like Batman needs a trustworthy sidekick like Robin.
The individual must seek out connections, cultivating a comfortable relationship with people who can offer guidance and support, validate their abilities, and encourage their strengths.
The fraud in question must inculcate the belief that comparison is not a healthy parameter to determine self-worth. Everyone has unique abilities. One may not always excel at tasks that others have easily perfected, and it is perfectly alright to take some time to learn something new.
The “imposter syndrome” is now a well-known mental health issue that has gained traction among therapists and mental health professionals who offer their support and guidance to those in need.
If you are feeling any emotions of being burned out, overwhelmed with perfecting every single detail, or harbouring feelings of self-loathing or guilt, reach out to family and friends or seek the professional advice of a mental health expert.