My colleague Sneha is a very efficient and enterprising leader. She has been leading huge teams for 5 years now and has always been appreciated for her leadership skills and empathy. But off late, I have sensed some change in her. Inspire of all the accolades and recognition, she does not seem to exude the level of confidence and conviction that she was earlier known for. She is mostly lost during important team meetings and her enthusiasm is clearly missing. I have thought of reaching out to her and offering help.

Finally, I mustered the conviction to extend help. I told her, “ Sneha, you know all your team members really respect you for the authentic leader that you are. I can’t emphasize enough how they all have grown beautifully under your leadership. But, uh, off late, I have observed that something is off. You seem to be zoned out these days and I have heard a few colleagues maligning you. I was really concerned, and I thought of checking with you. Is everything going well personally? “

She pauses for a moment, and after some contemplation, she tells me “ Well, I don’t think I am in the right frame of mind these days. Maybe the pressure of long hours and juggling my family and job has taken a toll on my mental health. I am thinking of leaving. “ 

Well, I can’t deny I was very surprised by this. Not that I did not know there was some issue with Sneha, but her narrative gave a sense that she was losing her confidence and doubting herself without much reason. I mean all of us struggle at some point in our lives, but giving up like this was not something I expected her to do. 

I could make out she was a victim of the “ Imposter Syndrome”. 

Let’s understand more deeply what it actually means. Imposter Syndrome is a condition which makes achiever’s doubt their capabilities, and have a feeling that they don’t really deserve the success and position they are currently having. To put more simply, they feel like a fraud when it comes to their job.

Imposter syndrome is common among 70% of the world population . Following are some major types of Imposter Syndrome:

Perfectionism: Perfectionists are the people who set unrealistic goals for themselves, and not achieving them makes them engage in feelings of self-doubt and incompetence. They also find it difficult to delegate work and think that if something is not done as per their standards, then they need to do it themselves. In short, they are control freaks and believe in micromanaging.

Super-woman/ man Syndrome: The victims of this Syndrome have a limiting belief that they are not as skilled and qualified as their other colleagues, so they tend to push themselves harder to prove their worth. They stay in the office for late hours but that does not lead to an increase in productivity for them, instead, it starts negatively affecting their mental health. They feel that taking time off or breaks means wastage of time, and are addicted to the validation that comes with work. 

 The Natural genius: Such people set their internal bars impossibly high, and tend to judge themselves for not achieving results fast and with ease. They try to get things done right in the first attempt and consider themselves a failure if they don’t. They are used to being a high achiever in their studies and the smartest in their family and circles, so they don’t know how to handle any kind of failure and are overcome with feelings of shame when they fail. 

 The Soloist:   These people try to do everything on their own, and need of getting external assistance makes them feel phoney .Thus they shy away from asking for help or advice even if doing that could make their lives easier.

The Expert:  Experts measure their success by what and how much they know and can do. This tendency makes them take up many certifications to gain knowledge and they hesitate to apply for job roles which do not alight with their qualifications and experience. This could also mean they miss out on good opportunities and then to procrastinate.                                  

Now that we have understood the different types of Imposter Syndromes, let’s look at some of the major factors and causes responsible for this Syndrome:

Nature of the person: People who have a tendency to get Imposter Syndrome are generally self-focused and emotionally reactive. They could very easily fall under the “ Neurotic” personality type. They are generally over-disciplined, organized, and conscientious. 

Childhood Conditioning:  Many of us have been raised to be “ perfect” or “ ideal” individuals in the definition of our families. At times, parents tend to impose unrealistic expectations on their children in context of education and sports etc., and the habit of trying to live up to that develops this tendency of beating ourselves up for not being good enough. 

Bias and exclusion: Some workplaces create an environment that encourages the practice of bias and exclusion of employees on basis of caste, color, gender, etc, to name a few. Employers and their teams of such companies tend to look at all people of a particular caste or gender from a single lease, thus dismissing any of their accomplishments and skills, labeling them as “ not being a good team player “ or “ being under-confident”. This can imbibe self-doubt among employees and feelings of not “ fitting in”. This holds true especially for women and those belonging to minority groups. 

There seem to be some misconceptions, generalizations, and Myths around Imposter Syndrome.

Following are some of them:

It is not real: The society has a bias towards highly sensitive people and if they are victims of this syndrome, they are dismissed as overthinking and asked to develop a thicker skin.  40 years of study and research has proves that Imposter Syndrome very much exists.

It is a mental Heath issue: It is a phenomenon and not a mental health diagnosis. It does not affect every part of your life unlike depression , and occurs under certain conditions at certain times when one faces stressful,  challenging and demanding situations. 

It affects only women: While this Syndrome does affect high-achiever women, they are not the only ones experiencing it. It is prevelant among men, sensitive strivers, and minorities marginalised on account of race, ethnicity  or neurological differences. 

It is fault of the victim: Most people especially sensitive strivers tend to believe that it is a fault on their part if they are not smart enough, strong enough or capable enough. Although sensitive strivers are more prone to it, as they have a rending to deeply process emotions and thoughts, and have a sensitive nervous system which makes them emotionally reactive.

Confident people don’t get this Syndrome: Some of the most successful business tycoons like Sheryl Sandberg and Howard Schultz have experienced it. In fact high achiever’s have a tendency of experiencing it disproportionately. 

Awareness and positive outlook can help cure it:

While wanting out with trusted people can give short relief, it is not the long-term solution, especially for sensitive strivers.

Now that we have crushed the myths around this common syndrome, let’s talk about some effective ways to overcome it:

  • Acknowledging your fear
  • Share your feelings with a trusted friend or family member
  • Look at the bright side of how it humbles you
  • Set realistic and achievable goals 
  • Accept your situation and try to deal with it

like many other obstacles in our lives, Imposter Syndrome is just one issue , but it’s important to acknowledge it and find effective ways to deal with it for one’s long term growth , happiness and peace. So Identify it among your friemds and family and active guide and offer your help to solve it.