Imposter syndrome is real and growing, and here’s how to deal with it

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Back in 1978, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, both renowned American psychologists first described impostor syndrome as an “internal experience of intellectual phoniness”.

What does that mean and what exactly is impostor syndrome? Impostor syndrome, also known as perceived fraudulence which involves feelings of self-deprecation, self-doubt and personal incompetence that persists despite achieving stellar results in terms of education, work experience and life accomplishments.

In other words, people suffering from impostor syndrome will constantly doubt their intelligence and capabilities despite evidence of high achievements thus having this irrational fear that they may come off as a fraud, undeserving of their positions in life although they have earned it through hard work and competence.

Studies have shown that impostor syndrome is extremely common among Asian adolescents to young adults and this is mainly due to their upbringing and culture.

Impostor syndrome is often comorbid with anxiety and depression and it is associated with impaired job satisfaction, performance and burnout in employees. The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter. It is indeed a psychological condition, as the experts put it, “Mind over matter represents the triumph of will over physical hindrance. Our thoughts are our weapon against the world”.

Researchers have found that impostor syndrome are associated with psychological distress through interpersonal shame, for instance, shame arising from worries that a person will be evaluated negatively and thus bring dishonor and disrespect to the family due to their own incompetency and inadequacy.

Young Asians who have impostor syndrome often feel anxious and worried about not being able to maintain their success. They are pressured by their parents, relatives, teachers, peers and the society, having an immense urge to live up to unrealistically high level of expectations and standards, upholding their reputation in fear that others will discover their unworthiness and incompetence if they reveal minor weaknesses.

In addition, those with impostor syndrome are reluctant to attribute their success to their own personal ability and they also find it difficult to internalize their achievements due to the irrational fear of not being able to replicate their success. They are most likely to attribute their success due to external factors such as luck or error.

Impostor syndrome is often associated with individuals who exercise perfectionism. Perfectionists have the tendency to strive toward personal improvement and set extremely high standards for themselves. If they have accomplished 95% of their objectives, they will still feel like something is lacking and any minor mistakes will make them question their own capability. Perfectionistic issues are predominantly associated with rumination.

Furthermore, impostor syndrome can also be seen in individuals who have deep-rooted hunger in knowing every piece of information, researching materials and concepts prior to the start of a project, constantly on the lookout for new trainings and certifications to hone their skills. They cannot bring themselves to apply for a position if they do not meet all of the criteria in the job description, they are also hesitant to raise their hands to ask questions in class or speak up in a meeting because they are afraid of judgments and the fear of looking unintelligent.

One must take action before impostor syndrome goes out of hand and there is an urgency to snap out of it before more individuals experience this unwanted phenomenon.

One of the first steps to combating impostor syndrome is to acknowledge these negative thoughts and put them into perspective. Rather than engaging that thought, one can just observe it and not let it affect their psychological state. Position yourself in a comfortable situation, take a few deep breaths, and encourage yourself to ask this question, “Would this thought actually help me or hamper me emotionally and psychologically?”

Secondly, understand that perfectionism only feeds into an individual’s impostor syndrome, for instance, achieving great results might seem like a great accomplishment for many others but an individual suffering from impostor syndrome may feel like they are a fraud, it is solely because they are making comparisons to an unrealistic perfect outcome. Nobody in this world can do everything perfectly, but constantly holding an extremely high standard can be counterproductive.

Another step that can be taken would be to develop a healthy response in making mistake and facing failures. Henry Ford once stated that “Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” Instead of beating ourselves up for making mistakes or falling short, take it as a valuable lesson, learn from it and move on from the loss.

In the Asian culture, respect and love is predicated on an individual’s achievement, education and performance. Unconditional love seems like a foreign concept in a traditional Asian family. For many generations, one’s reputation is nestled in the Asian family name.

If an individual is from a renowned family within the society, they will be bestowed with respect and acceptance. However, if one were to tarnish the family’s reputation from conducting misdeeds, this legacy will be in jeopardy. Hence, living with such rigid beliefs and principles will ultimately lead to imposter syndrome.

Therefore, it is vital to remember that failure does not make an individual an impostor. No one is perfect in everything they do; people make mistakes, we fall and we get up. Do not let failures in life define and dictate your next move. Learn from these mistakes and move forward and that is how humanity can advance as a whole.