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5 Imposter Syndrome Types: How to Identify & Challenge Yours

Imposter syndrome can take many forms, but most of us will feel it at some point in our lives. Constantly feel like you’re about to be ‘found out’? That someone will pick you out of a crowd at work or a party and ask what you’re doing there. That’s imposter syndrome – and it can strike anyone (including Lady Gaga, Sheryl Sandberg and Maisie Williams), at anytime, but it’s particularly prevalent among women.

Imposter syndrome refers to those unfounded feelings of self doubt and incompetence that we can feel at any point, and in any aspect of our lives – from work to friendships. It describes someone who feels they aren’t as capable as others think and fears it’s only a matter of time before they are exposed as a fraud.

Even if you’re an expert in your field, have trained for years and seen success, it can still creep up – because, it’s not based in reality, but insecurity. Women are more susceptible to imposter syndrome in the workplace because we’ve been conditioned by patriarchy and society to believe that our male counterparts have more right to be there. If we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field of work, then that can create unease.

Even Michelle Obama feels it. Speaking at a North London school for the UK leg of her book tour, she said: “I had to overcome the question ‘am I good enough?’” adding that “I overcame that question the same way I do everything – with hard work,” she continued. “I decided to put my head down and let my work speak for itself. I felt like I had something to prove because of the colour of my skin and the shape of my body, but I had to get out of my own way.”

According to Dr Young, the five kinds of imposter syndrome personalities are:

1. The perfectionist
2. The natural genius
3. The rugged individualist
4. The expert
5. The superhero

While they have a great deal in common, each of these groups experiences the phenomenon in a slightly different way and will require slightly different methods to overcome the impact of imposter syndrome on their lives. In the next few pages, we’ll outline the five types of “imposters” and explain how to tailor your approach to suit your own type.

Type 1: The Perfectionist

Perfectionism” is often listed as a key indicator of imposter syndrome, so it’s common that people who experience one also experience the other. In her book, Dr Valerie Young explains that perfectionists typically set very high expectations for themselves and that even if they meet 99% of those goals, a small loss will feel like a large failure. When mistakes happen, perfectionists question their core competence, which can easily translate to feelings of imposter syndrome.

What to do if this is you:

The most important approach for this group is to learn to accept your mistakes or to see them as an inevitable part of larger successes. Try tuning in to the podcast How to Fail with Elizabeth Day, a series that interviews celebrities on their three biggest “failures” and in turn explains how they were crucial to the success they’ve achieved today. Celebrating your achievements is also key to maintaining perspective and avoiding emotional burnout.

Type 2: The Natural Genius

The “natural genius” has been top of the class for as long as they can remember, and in their school days, success came relatively easily. As they grow and mature, however, they are bound to encounter scenarios where achievement doesn’t present itself as second nature, and hard work or struggle is required for their desired results. As they aren’t used to this, natural geniuses tend to suffer from imposter syndrome, feeling that the struggle to meet their goals is a sign that they lack ability and aren’t “good enough.”

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