The 5 Types of Impostor Syndrome and How to Overcome Them

Jan 28, 2021

Have you ever felt like your successes are just luck? How about doubting your capabilities, despite evidence of your talents?

An estimated 70% of people experience these feelings, formally known as “impostor syndrome,” at some point in their career. This idea was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.

Impostor syndrome affects all kinds of people from all parts of life. All the smart, successful people that you think have it all together? They are just as likely to have impostor syndrome as you are. In fact, Meryl Streep, Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, and Tom Hanks-among many others-have all suffered from this phenomenon.

That said, the syndrome seems to affect women (70%) more than it does men (52%). Imposter syndrome keeps women from starting a business, speaking up in meetings, suggesting new ideas at work, or trying for higher job positions. Women of color are especially at risk of developing impostor syndrome. A person is more likely to experience it if they don’t see many examples of similar people succeeding.

The 5 Types of Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome expert Valerie Young, author of the book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, has found patterns in people who experience impostor feelings. These patterns shake out into five different types of people who struggle with feelings of inadequacy.

1. The Perfectionist

These people set impossibly high expectations and standards for themselves. They then feel like failures when they don’t reach them, even if they meet 99% of their goals. Any small mistake makes them question their competence. This group can also be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.

Tips for overcoming impostor syndrome if you’re a perfectionist:

  • Learn to roll with your mistakes, viewing them as a natural-and dare we say necessary-part of the process.
  • Make yourself start the project you’ve been planning for months instead of waiting for the perfect time or circumstances.
  • Track and measure your successes to see how much you have accomplished.

2. The Expert

Experts feel they need to know it all and constantly look for new training opportunities to improve their skills. If they don’t know every answer, they feel as though they know nothing. This black and white thinking means they won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet every criteria in the posting. They also won’t speak up in a meeting because they are afraid of looking stupid if they don’t know an answer.

Tips for overcoming impostor syndrome if you’re an expert:

  • Practice just-in-time learning. This means obtaining skills when you need them (if your responsibilities change or you take on a new role).
  • Don’t seek out certifications or educational opportunities just for comfort.
  • Resist comparing yourself to others; instead, focus on your own accomplishments and strengths.

3. The Natural Genius

Ever had a friend who never had to work hard in school, who seemingly has everything come easily to them? They might still have impostor syndrome. The natural genius is used to skills coming easily, and when they actually have to put in effort, they see it as a sign that they are an imposter. They tend to not only judge themselves based on ridiculous expectations, but also on getting things right on the first try.

Tips for overcoming impostor syndrome if you’re a natural genius:

  • View yourself as a work in progress, and focus on lifelong learning.
  • Identify specific skills that you can work on over time, and create a plan for working your way toward the goal.
  • Make a list of your successes that you had to work hard for. Recognize your perseverance and celebrate your strength.

4. The Soloist

This group of people feel they have to achieve their accomplishments on their own. If they need to ask for help, they see that as a failure and feel like a fraud. Some soloists even refuse to take any credit for their successes if they received any help at all.

Tips for overcoming impostor syndrome if you’re a soloist:

  • Remind yourself that it’s fine to be independent, but only so far. You have to be willing and able to accept help from others.
  • Seek out projects that you can work with a partner or a team on, and accept the credit that comes with your success.
  • Practice accepting praise while also acknowledging those who helped you. “Thank you! Mary was a great resource on this project.”

5. The Superhero

Superheroes expect themselves to excel at every role within their lives. They tend to push themselves harder than those around them so that they can “prove” they’re not impostors. This push is not a natural drive, however; it’s a cover-up for their insecurities. Work overload tens to harm their relationships with others, as well as their own mental health.

Tips for overcoming impostor syndrome if you are a superhero:

  • Train yourself not to seek external validation. Take pride in knowing you’ve done a good job, even without praise from others.
  • Learn to take constructive criticism seriously, but not personally.
  • Reject the idea that you can “have it all” and recognize that life’s priorities are a balancing act.

What If You Are a Combination of These?

Most people will see parts of themselves in several of these types. Some general tips that apply to all types of impostor syndrome:

  • Acknowledge your feelings and put them in perspective. Once you realize your imposter syndrome traits, you can get better at identifying harmful thoughts and getting yourself into the right mindset.
  • Talk about your feelings with a trusted friend, or seek out a professional who can help you deal with the roots of these feelings. It can help a lot just knowing that you aren’t alone in your insecurities.
  • Write down or record your accomplishments and the reasons why you have achieved success. Reminding yourself of your hard work will help you realize that you belong in your role. Own your success!
Written by: Sarah Perlman

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