What It Means To Have Imposter Syndrome And How It Can Affect Your Mental Health

Have you ever questioned if you're really good enough at your job? Do you often worry that one day your boss is going to realize that you don't actually have the skills to cut the mustard? Across the country, many individuals are experiencing overwhelming fear and anxiety that despite any measure of success, they aren't quite deserving of the praise they receive. An experience referred to as imposter syndrome or the imposter phenomenon occurs when an individual feels or believes that he or she is an imposter in their life (via American Psychological Association).

This experience is not one that occurs from an actual lack of skill or experience. On the contrary, imposter syndrome occurs when a person feels like they have convinced others around them that they are adept at the activity when they think they're not good enough. According to Psychology Today, individuals suffering from imposter syndrome often attribute any success as a product of luck, good fortune, or other external influences — rather than their own abilities. They feel as though they are a fraud and may ceaselessly worry about being "discovered" for who they truly are.

Imposter syndrome can have an impact on both an individual's performance and their overall mental health. Understanding how imposter syndrome can present and its effects can help you determine when it's time to seek out help.

Causes of imposter syndrome

Psychology Today explains that imposter syndrome is commonly experienced among individuals who are high performers, achievers, and those with high intelligence. Though it is not an official psychological disorder that can be diagnosed, imposter syndrome often accompanies other psychological disorders like anxiety or depression. Many individuals who experience imposter syndrome will attempt to work harder, longer, and more diligently to avoid being discovered as a fraud or to make up for their perceived shortcomings, according to Healthline. While any success may be attributed to luck or good fortune, any mistakes, regardless of their size or cause, are often perceived to be a direct reflection of their incompetence.

Though there's no clear or singular cause identified for causing imposter syndrome, there are a number of factors that are thought to contribute to the condition. These can include the type of parenting environment an individual is raised in, existing mental health conditions, personality traits, and even some aspects of bias. For example, imposter syndrome appears to present more frequently in women and individuals of color. These groups may experience unfair judgment and treatment in the workplace — which can contribute to imposter syndrome.

How can imposter syndrome affect you?

Imposter syndrome can affect individuals in different ways, Time explains, with five common archetypes of imposter syndrome being presented. They are the perfectionist, the expert, the natural genius, the soloist, and the superman/superwoman. As their names suggest, each of the imposter syndrome types is characterized by a type of behavior. Where perfectionists strive to achieve an unattainable perfect status, the expert feels as though they haven't learned or experienced enough to be labeled as such. The soloist has a difficult time asking for help, feeling like a failure when tasks require assistance. The natural genius may have experienced an easy time in learning earlier in life, but feels like an imposter when something doesn't come naturally or easily. And the superman/superwoman struggles with trying to accomplish everything and keeping everyone happy (via Time).

Healthline explains that for individuals with existing mental health symptoms, imposter syndrome can further increase feelings of anxiety, self-doubt, depression, and guilt. WebMD explains that experiencing imposter syndrome can also lead to burnout, poor job performance, and lower work satisfaction. 

If you or someone you love is considering suicide, contact the Crisis Text Line by texting "start" to 741-741. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or The Trevor Helpline, which specializes in LGBTQ+ suicide prevention, at 1-800-850-8078.