Everyone experiences self-doubt and low esteem at some point in their lives, but many grapple with an ever-present feeling that they don't deserve the successes they have rightfully earned. When these feelings occur on a regular basis and impact your ability to move forward or make decisions, it may be time to take a closer look. This type of self-doubting behavior is a psychological phenomenon referred to as "imposter syndrome."
Not surprisingly, it is estimated that approximately 70 percent of people will experience at least one episode of impostor syndrome in their lives. Sometimes the effects are short-lived, such as when you embark on a new career or a major project -- but other people suffer from it throughout their lives. Many people avoid discussing it for fear they may be "found out" and considered a fraud. Celebrities who have spoken openly about their struggle with imposter syndrome include Jodi Foster, Denzel Washington, Emma Watson, Meryl Streep, and Tom Hanks.
Regardless of how successful you are or how abundant the external proof there is of your skills and competence, self-doubt can cripple your ability to move forward in life and may cause you to turn down challenges and growth opportunities in your career or personal life.
Dr. Valerie Young, an expert on imposter syndrome, has characterized five prevailing "competence types" that define the behavior. If you identify with any of the following traits you may have experienced some form of imposter syndrome:
If you are a perfectionist, you put an excessive emphasis on the mechanics of how something must be done and executed, impeccably. One minor flaw or "misstep" may make you feel let down and embarrassed.
The primary concern of the expert is collecting knowledge and knowing the facts. Because of these high expectations, you beat yourself up, if and when you don't know all the answers. Failure and shame can result.
"Who" completes a task or activity is vital to the soloist. To be success-worthy, the soloist must complete the task alone. Because of the need to figure out everything on our your own, asking for help may humiliate you and make you feel like a failure.
The Natural Genius
"How" and "when" accomplishments are carried out is prominent for the natural genius. Competence is measured in terms of ease and speed. Therefore, if you are not able to immediately master a particular subject or skill on your first go-round, feelings of disappointment and humiliation set in.
The Super Woman/Man
The super woman/man measures success by their expert ability to juggle many roles and responsibilities at the same time. Falling short in any role, whether it is career related or personal, creates feelings of unworthiness when you don't live up to your own standards of excellence.
Research says that imposter syndrome tends to affect high-achievers and women the most. Setting unreasonable expectations may lead to feelings of not being "good enough." Be aware of negative self-talk and build on emotional resilience and better communication skills that can boost your self-esteem and eventually free you of these feelings. If you feel as though you identify with imposter syndrome behaviors, be sure to talk it over with a trusted friend, coach or therapist to help you explore realistic expectations. Journaling may also be help you identify patterns and record achievements so you can look back on your accomplishments. Remember that your perceptions do not always reflect reality; so be kind to yourself.