Imposter syndrome has become increasingly prevalent in our social media society. Many sufferers are completely unaware that their feelings are shared by so many others.

Individuals with imposter syndrome doubt their own accomplishments and abilities. They carry with them an internalised fear that others will consider them a fraud.

Studies show an increased prevalence of imposter syndrome in young people. In particular, research shows how individuals react to specific events or stimuli with severe self doubt.

Yet when you’re young and facing tough life-changing decisions, feelings of self doubt are par for the course. Everybody has their doubts. That doesn’t mean it’s imposter syndrome.

Even if you have never heard of this term, it’s important to be aware of the phenomenon, especially as a young person finding their way in the world. This article explores why it occurs and how you can avoid it.

What Brings On Imposter Syndrome?

Psychologists consider this to be a phenomenon, therefore it is something brought on by a specific event or stimuli. However, those who have suffered from imposter syndrome will tell you that it was brought on by a cluster of events that built upon each other.

A feeling of inadequacy or that you are not good enough doesn’t come overnight. It builds up over time. So it’s more realistic to think of imposter syndrome as the consequences of many years of events.

Researchers have also made a wide variety of connections, proving a relationship between imposter syndrome and many potential elements of a personal or work environment.

  • Low self esteem and confidence
  • High family expectations and or overprotective parents
  • High personal expectations
  • An ongoing pursuit of perfection
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Personal identity, particularly the feeling of being excluded
  • An obsession with self evaluation and to satisfy self worth.

What Are the Signs of Imposter Syndrome?

The challenge with any diagnosis is to separate cause from effect. These are the common signs of imposter syndrome – note the similarities to the bullet points above.

  • A lack of self confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Doubts about personal thoughts and decisions
  • Doubts about personal achievements and accomplishments
  • Negative self talk
  • A feeling of inadequacy
  • A tendency to dwell on past mistakes
  • Attributing success to luck
  • Attributing success to deceiving others

It’s far more common than you may think, especially among young people who are enjoying greater success than their peers.

  • I’m more successful than my peers – what a stroke of luck!
  • I’m more successful than my peers – how did I get away with that!
  • I’m more successful than my peers – but I have no idea what I’m doing!
  • I’m more successful than my peers – I don’t deserve this!
  • I’m more successful than my peers – I’m a fraud!

Why Is It Also Called Fraud Syndrome?

People suffering from imposter syndrome have a continual, internal fear of being exposed as a fraud.

  • I’m not good enough – my success was due to luck
  • I’m not good enough – I’ve cheated people into thinking I’m better than I am
  • I’m not good enough – people will find out that I’m not good enough
  • I’m not good enough – people will think I’m a fraud
  • I’m not good enough – my success is because I am a fraud

These are all incorrect attributions of success. Individuals suffering from imposter syndrome are unable to connect their achievements and success with their personal ability and skill.

This culminates in a powerful, life-limiting feeling: I am a fraud and everyone is going to find out.

Is Imposter Syndrome a Mental Disorder?

No. Current psychological thinking considers imposter syndrome to be an experience or phenomenon related to specific stimuli or events. It is not considered a diagnosis by psychologists.

How to Avoid Imposter Syndrome – Acknowledgement

Everybody has doubts, especially young people who are going about huge changes in their professional life. Even the most successful business owner will have woken up one day and thought “maybe I’m not good enough.” Seth Godin admits to feeling like a fraud all the time, even after all his successful books and business success.

Actresses have also opened up about their feelings on the subject. Michelle Pfeifer and Kate Winslett have both said that throughout long and successful careers they have never considered themselves to be good enough: “Before going off to a shoot I think I can’t do this. I’m a fraud” (Kate Winslett).

There’s a difference between having internalised self doubts and never believing you are good enough, even when success is forthcoming. The big telltale sign is thinking that you are a fraud or are running some kind of game that will soon be uncovered. Way before that, it’s the resolute conviction that you are getting away with something and you will be found out.

Perception is key. Reread the bullet points above and consider how you internalize success and failure. Is success down to something else? Or is success all about you?

How to Avoid and Overcome Imposter Phenomenon

These thoughts and suggestions are taken from a variety of blog posts and personal suggestions of how to avoid imposter syndrome. If any of the above bullet points are part of your thinking, remember that…

  1. Being wrong or unsuccessful doesn’t make you a fraud. So why the other way around?
  2. Nobody knows what they’re doing all the time. Life and career is about trying, failing, changing, tinkering, adapting, and discovering that there is something else to learn.
  3. You are responsible for your own success. Sure, everyone has a little luck along the way but you were responsible for acting upon any luck that came your way.
  4. You are changing all the time. You today will be different from you in six months time. That’s not being a fraud – that’s just being you.
  5. Every situation requires a different you. Rather than searching for the perfectly authentic and genuine you, recognise that you can be a different person dependent on every situation.
  6. Studies show that people are more likely to feel like fraudulent when advancing their own image of perfection. Be realistic – you are not perfect and you never will be. Nobody is.
  7. Stop comparing yourself to the most successful person in your line of work or industry. You don’t compare yourself to Mo Farah when going for a run. Remember, there’s space for many successful people in every industry and on every course.
  8. You deserve to be here just as much as everyone else. Of course you have doubts and those will be magnified at crucial moments, such as starting a new job. Just remember that you are here because of what you did.

Networking and Sharing Stories

Fledglink provides an inclusive platform for young people to connect with each other. You’ll find that other people share your fears and a great way to overcome them is to talk about them.

Join the network and help provide a voice for people with imposter syndrome. This is a phenomenon that can be overcome by sharing stories and making new connections.