Imposter Syndrome - what is it and how does it impact us? (Part 1)

Region: Europe
Aug 31, 2022, 9:00:06 AM Published By Wirex Team

If you’ve ever heard of the term ‘imposter syndrome’, you may have been left wondering exactly what this is. Given the fact that 50% of all UK employees experience some degree of imposter phenomenon, there’s also a very good chance that this is something that you can clearly associate with.

Even if you’re familiar with the term, and even recognise certain traits within yourself, how far does an understanding of impostorism go? While the meaning of ‘imposter’ is pretty clear, this is a syndrome that can have a devastating impact on people’s lives. While the likes of autism, sensory processing disorder, and ADHD, which can have an equally large impact, are all recognisable and can be diagnosed, this is where imposter syndrome is lacking. With a lack of recognition and diagnosis comes a lack of support and understanding.

That’s exactly why we’ve put this article together. We want people to understand just what imposter syndrome is. We want them to realise the impact that there is in terms of self-belief and self-worth. We want people to realise just how real this syndrome is and we want people to get the support that they deserve.

What is imposter syndrome?

A great place to start is to take a look at just what imposter syndrome is. Perhaps the simplest way of describing this phenomenon is by saying that someone feels like a phoney. Now, a person doesn’t have to feel like this in every area of their life, and it could quite easily be limited to just one. The problem caused by this syndrome is that no matter what evidence may exist to the contrary, a person can’t overcome that feeling of being a phoney or a fraud.

The term imposter syndrome was first coined back in the 1970s. It came about via the psychologists Pauline Rose and Suzanna Imes. It was put forward as a way of describing people who doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud.

Imposter phenomenon presents itself in various forms. Something that we’ll explore in more depth in a second article are the actual types of imposter syndrome, but for now, here’s a look at the names alone:

  • The Perfectionist
  • The Expert
  • The Natural Genius
  • The Soloist
  • The Super person

Although there are different types of imposter syndrome, there are a range of characteristics that cross between them. Some of these include:

  • A lack of self-belief
  • A lack of self-worth
  • Setting extreme goals that are almost unachievable yet still feeling disappointed when failure comes
  • Being adamant that any success is down to external factors that are beyond the person’s control
  • A constant fear that expectations won’t be met
  • Self-sabotage so that failure becomes the only option
  • Yet, by contrast, others will constantly overachieve

How does imposter syndrome hold us back?

Impostorism, as we have seen, can present in different ways. For some people, the imposter phenomenon serves as a source of motivation. It leads to people working harder than ever and actually, seemingly, excelling in all areas of life. However, while this impact of imposter syndrome may appear to be a positive, it certainly has a downside.

You see, while motivation exists, people push themselves harder and harder. The price of this continual pushing tends to be an almost constant state of anxiety. People work harder than they need to as they will do anything to prevent themselves from being exposed as a fraud. The anxiety builds and then the possibility exists that depression will creep in. It can become a vicious cycle.

The thing with imposter syndrome is that nothing will ever be good enough. No matter what a person may achieve, they are convinced that they are somehow unworthy. Perhaps they got lucky and fluked it or maybe they only came close to achieving as they worked 100 times harder than anyone else. No matter what the end result, the person with imposter syndrome is simply unable to change their thoughts - they still feel like a fraud, they still lack self-belief, and they still question their self-worth.

If you can imagine how these thoughts may be and the feelings that they lead to, it becomes easier to understand how impostorism can so easily corrode at a person’s existence and lead to anxiety, burnout, and depression.

How imposter syndrome affects women and people of colour more

Imposter syndrome is something that can affect us all, yet there is plenty of thought that suggests that women and people of colour suffer disproportionally from this phenomenon. Of course, when you realise what imposter syndrome is, this makes perfect sense. As a society, we have long forced women and ethnic minorities to prove their worth in ways that are far beyond anything that is reasonable.

For a woman to be successful in her career, society created the impression that she’d have to work that much harder than a man to achieve. Even when she does achieve, what does she face? Well, the gender pay gap is still real and women are still getting paid less than men for doing the same job. Just how this fuels a lack of self-worth, self-belief, and even self-respect becomes clear.

Of course, those of colour have also found it tough in the workplace for generations. Yes, we have taken steps towards protecting people through legislation, but the damage is done, and thoughts are so deeply ingrained that they become hard to break away from and this legacy of inequality and discrimination still exists today, with much work still needed to eradicate it from the generations of the future.

The problem of imposter syndrome is real, let’s not hide it!

We need to acknowledge that imposter syndrome exists. We need to recognise the impact that it is having on people around the world. As a society, we need to address the lack of equality and how our previous actions have only gone on to fuel the existence of this syndrome. Recognition is the first step. After this, the time comes when we need to talk about, and we need to start to take action.