58% of Employees in Technological Giants Suffer From Impostor Syndrome – International Journal of Behavioral Sciences
The International Journal of Behavioral Sciences published a report which said that nearly 70% of individuals despite their gender, age and work role will suffer from Impostor Syndrome at least once in their career or lifetime. A recent research report with over 10,000 blind participants who were asked to answer a questionnaire proves that nearly 58% of employees in technological giants like Expedia, Google, Apple, Lyft and so on suffer from impostor syndrome and are often afraid that their co-workers will discover their fraud. The study presented comprehensive data on which companies rank the highest with employees suffering from impostor syndrome.
The top three companies are Expedia (73% employees suffer from impostor syndrome), Salesforce (67% employees suffer from impostor syndrome, one employee claimed to feel like a fraud despite 14 years of working at the organization), Amazon (64% employees suffer from impostor syndrome). It turns out that Apple Inc. has the lowest number of employees suffering from impostor syndrome at 45%. Due to such high number of feeling going through this undue stress, the American Psychological Association suggested some ways to deal with impostor syndrome, these steps involved speaking to a mentor, recognising an area of expertise, and realizing that no one is perfect.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
Also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome, or the impostor experience, this feeling is generally reported by people who are high achieving but have not yet come to terms with their success, even when everyone else around them has started appreciating them for their achievements. People suffering from impostor syndrome often feel inadequate about the appreciation they receive and feel like they are posing as being more capable than they truly are. This insecurity always keeps them under the illusion that should they fail or fall short people will see through their farce, making them behave like perfectionists. People suffering from impostor syndrome also believe that they don’t deserve their availabilities, as they got them by fooling others or through luck, often feeling guilty about being better off than their peers. This kind of low self-esteem, though not completely debilitating, prevents individuals from taking up challenging roles or moving ahead in life easily, it makes them doubt their strengths, obsesses over self-created unavoidable failures and enter a cycle of constant self doubt.
This syndrome was discovered by Dr. Suzanne Imes and Dr. Pauline Clance in high achieving women in 1978. Clance and Imes studied 150 high achieving women before publishing their study in the article, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”. Clance and Imes argued that this syndrome was specific to women, blaming the root of this feeling of inadequacy on socialization of women as well as the structures of society. However, later studies conducted by researchers have led to a split opinion, where one faction believes that while this syndrome appears in both men and women, it is higher in women, and the other believes that it appears equally in men and women but varies in specific aspects, like men are afraid of failure, while women are not able to process success.
In 1985, Clance designed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale, to measure impostor syndrome. The scale included dimensions like:
- Doubting or denying ability and praise.
- Trying to be superhuman.
- Impostor cycle.
- Phobia of Failure.
- Feeling guilty or afraid of success.
- Denial of ability and discounting praise.
- Living under the constant pressure of being the best.
Of these dimensions, the most important characteristic is the “Impostor Cycle”. Clance explained that when a person who suffers from impostor syndrome is subjected to a deadline specific challenge, they respond in one of the two ways, i) Procrastination, ii) Over preparation. If the individual procrastinates, they would ultimately make a wild dash to finish the work on time, and if they get appreciated for the work done, they would brush it off as luck.
On the other hand, if the individual decides to over prepare and the result then is obviously much better than desirable, then the success is brushed off as hard work and good planning. It should be noted that luck or hard work are not seen as any concrete markers of personal ability, leading the individual to believe that they never had any talent or acumen, to begin with. Over time, a person’s responses to challenges as well as praise become so routine, that they lose all belief in themselves.
Impostor Syndrome: Causes
There are no clear writings and studies on what may or may not trigger Impostor Syndrome. We, for now, don’t even know if the syndrome is acute or chronic. However, several researchers have put forward the following reasons as possible triggers for Impostor Syndrome.
It is postulated, under heavy opposition, that some individuals are born slightly more sensitive than others, which means that some people are naturally inclined to feel guilty about their success over their peers or those they deem as equals, making them feel like poseurs or impostors. Such individuals are generally more self- reflective, and reactive, they are especially quick at discounting their own abilities.
Impostor Syndrome: Symptoms
Impostor syndrome is a very fancy term for a very unpleasant experience, it is the feeling of disharmony between our projected image and how we perceive ourselves. This dissociation between the external and internal worlds of an individual gives one the sense that they are “faking it” because they are painfully aware of the disparity between their self-concept in public and private. Here is a peek into the often asked question “what does impostor syndrome feel like inside the mind of the sufferer?”:
Inability to Accept Praise
Individuals suffering from impostor syndrome, show a categorical aversion to praise. Someone being humble and contradicting their praise once in a while, is different than being continuously and genuinely surprised at receiving a praise and then quickly rationalizing and discounting it.
Fear of Being Exposed
People who feel like poseurs live with the constant fear that they are just one step away from being exposed. This means that they are afraid of failing as they believe that failure would be a strong indication of their con and lies. However, success is as much of a fear, as more success means more time in the public eye with people scrutinizing their path to success, leading to this unwarranted paranoia that they would realize that the success was undeserved and they would fall from grace.
Persons with impostor syndrome have this inexplicable urge to negate their own abilities. When they succeed despite their self-sabotage, they are quick to dismiss it as not being praiseworthy. They are often heard spouting excuses like, “If I can do it, anyone can do it” not realizing that maybe their success is not achievable by everyone else. Other excuses include, “I had helped” even when the help given was 10% of the total effort, “I lucked out” even when their hard work and talents had more to do with their success than luck, “I just winged it” or “It was really an accident” or “I have no idea how I did, it was a mistake, a fluke really” despite the fact that they had worked obsessively to achieve a sophisticated level of quality and accomplishment. The most common thing people with impostor syndrome tell themselves is that, “People are just being nice”. Their success is attributed more to the goodwill of people rather than their own efforts into achieving it.
As we mentioned before, persons with impostor syndrome have this paranoia of being exposed, which means that they are constantly under the pressure to make sure that they have paid attention to every detail so that their farce continues. On the plus side, it means, that such people have an in depth knowledge of every project they take over, on the other hand, it also means that they obsessively spend more than an adequate amount of time in finishing, grooming and fine tuning a project.
Again, as people with impostor syndrome are afraid of being found out, they tend to be perfectionists. This also means that they set impossibly high standards for themselves, standards which are not humanly possible for them to achieve. This adds on to their anxiety, putting them under pressure to be perfect at all times, and any failure convinces them further that they are faking it.
Displaying Lack of Confidence
As it turns out, high achieving individuals are often full of disruptive original ideas and creativity and such abilities can take them way ahead in life. However, self-doubt means that when such individuals are called upon to describe their ideas, they may use minimizing language, like “I am not sure but this might work”, “I think but I could be wrong”, “You would know better” and so on. They tend to put more faith in some else’s abilities even when that person is markedly less talented, this lack of confidence is a form of self-sabotage, as it tends to hold them back.
We have already talked about how individuals suffering from impostor syndrome can compare themselves unfairly with their peers and feel like they have achieved nothing in life. There is a flip side to this unhealthy comparison too, as such individuals tend to compare their struggles with the struggles of others too. To their mind, their own hurdles are larger than those faced by people around them, most of these hurdles and challenges are self-created, however, instead of realizing this self-sabotage the primary thought in such an individual is that there must be something inherently wrong with them, for them to face and fail at dealing with so many problems, proving their worthlessness.
More Focus on Unfinished Tasks
As the behavioral pattern might now be clear, such individuals judge themselves too harshly. They believe that their success is justified only when they finish more than 100% of the task handed to them. This means that even when they finish 90% of the tasks handed to them, which is more than the expected level of productivity, they will focus on the tasks they weren’t able to finish. Such compulsive focus would again convince them of their worthlessness as well as increase their paranoia of being caught in their con.
Types of Impostors
In 2011, Dr. Valerie Young published a book called “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It”. This book was her study and understanding of the impostor syndrome, and to this day is a popular book in understanding impostor syndrome. In this book, she pointed out that nearly 70% of people suffer from impostor syndrome at least once in their lives. However, the problem becomes detrimental when it is persistent. It should also be pointed out that since impostor syndrome is not formally treated as a mental illness, the scientific viability of these classifications may be suspect and, it is always better to seek a professional’s opinion. However, just for reference, here are 5 types of impostors, although an individual may show signs of belonging to more than one type, and it should be remembered that these types are not set in stone:
1. The Perfectionist:
Perfectionism is a trait that goes hand in hand with impostorism. This is because an impostor would always be careful of playing his/her part as well as executing his/her task with perfection to ensure that no one has caught onto the con. If you know someone who is always stressed out because imperfectionism reflects their inadequacy, they may belong to this type. Perfectionists set unachievable, high standards for them and constantly fall short, even when others perceive their work as near perfection. This falling short of their goals reconfirms their belief that they are worthless.
2. The Superhuman:
Since self-proclaimed “con men and women” are perpetually busy comparing their lives with their peers and feeling inadequate, it also means that they work twice as hard to ensure that no one catches them on their fibs. This pushes them to behave like superhumans, shouldering more than their share of responsibility and feeling guilty and fraudulent for not being productive enough. This tendency to act like a superhuman almost always means these individuals are compromising personal healthcare in order to be there for everyone and everything.
3. The Expert:
Such individuals feel that their act would be exposed if they are caught unaware, especially, at their workplace. This means, that such individuals will never apply for a project even when they possess 90% of the required skill set. They need to fit the requirement 100% and then some to feel secure enough to even consider applying for the project. Such individuals spend a lot of time in gaining in-depth knowledge of the projects they are working on, giving them extensive knowledge about the subject at hand.
4. The Natural Genius:
Natural geniuses are quite a curious bunch. They judge their abilities based on the amount of effort they invest in finishing a task. If it takes them more effort and more time, in completing a task, they believe that they are completely inept. With age, as processing and absorbing new skills and techniques become challenging, their self confidence plummets, till they are convinced that they are not enough.
5. The Rugged Individual:
The rugged individual is the ego. He/she feels that asking for help, or showing any kind of inability in completing a task alone is reason enough to expose their con. Such individuals are constantly under stress about doing everything on their own and are more often than not wary of any help offered to them.
How to Deal with Impostor Syndrome
“I am a fraud and when people find out, they will hate me.” This one emotion is the guiding force in the life of an individual suffering from impostor syndrome. Sometimes, this syndrome is so severe that individuals may start loathing themselves for being the con-people they are. They may also be in constant fear of being abandoned for not being perfect or hard working enough. If you suffer through such feelings, it is not a happy existence or state of mind but no one can help you if you don’t take steps to help yourself, here are 10 ways to deal with Impostor Syndrome:
The most common trait among most impostors is that they are convinced that they are faking being afflicted. Some are even scared of seeking help because they are convinced that a counselor will catch up on their act and expose them. Please understand that this affliction is only limiting your potential and preventing you from leading a more satisfied and peaceful life. If you feel that you or someone close to you shows signs of impostor syndrome, it would be a great help to take them to a counselor.
Accept Your Role in Your Success:
This is probably one of the most difficult steps. To say, “Thank you, I really applied myself to achieving this” is probably the most alien thing someone who is used to discarding his/her own efforts in their success can say. But start small, if someone compliments your hair, don’t, brush it off as nothing special. Just thank them and grow from there. Learn to say a simple thank you for any compliment and fight the urge to rationalize away your own efforts and talent.
Keep a File of Compliments:
One practice that helps people gain much self-confidence is positivity. Every time someone says something nice about you in writing whether online or penned down, save them. Maintain a file or folder of the same and whenever you feel like a con-person, go back to this folder. Look at the words written about you and for you and remind yourself, that so many people cannot be lying. This helps gain self-confidence.
End Unhealthy Comparisons:
You need to stop comparing yourself to others and playing yourself down. Yes, someone else may know something better than you, but there are several things you know that the other person hasn’t even begun to comprehend. It is not a rat race and your knowledge makes you unique. Learn from their knowledge but refrain from telling yourself that you are a lesser being. Try and contribute to the conversation or situation with your knowledge, your extensive knowledge may surprise you.
Face Your Fears:
This is probably the most fun and difficult exercise. Take a piece of paper and admit to all your fears, all your pain, confusion, weird beliefs, reasons why you think you are a fraud and why you think that people around you would abandon you. Take a five minute break and read what you have written down. If you read objectively, you would realize that the faults you blame yourself for, are not really that serious or severe or that only you see them as faults.
Being Wrong Does Not Mean You Are Fake
Chant this like a mantra every minute of your waking hours. If you get a fact wrong, it is not the end of the world. People will not judge you as anything less. You are entitled to your opinions, being you, you have read enough to be more knowledgeable than the average person. So, it is okay if you get something wrong, you can always learn from it and add to your pool of knowledge.
No, it is not the same as facing your fears, here you have to make a commitment of writing something non-stop for 30 minutes even when you are blank or all you can think of is “This is so stupid”. Write the line again and again, till you find something to write about. This exercise is cathartic and helps one decompress and get a realistic view of oneself, which is that you are not expected to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.
Learn to Say “No”:
Don’t overshoot. Learn to say no. Learn to draw a boundary and learn to say the things you know of, people respect that kind of honesty. Nobody will think less of you if you say that you feel overworked or overwhelmed and that you can’t entertain a new demand right now. You will see that people will respect that just as much and no one will think of you as a fraud.
Realize that Everyone Is Struggling:
While it may seem that everyone else around you has sorted their lives out, remember, that no one really knows what they are doing. In a sense, everyone is winging it in life and to some, it may seem that you have it together more than anyone else in the world. You probably do, so, listen to people’s struggles and realize that you are all in this together.
Labels Do Not Define You:
Just because someone calls you or someone else an “expert” does not mean that you or the other person know everything about the thing you are deemed experts of. It simply means that when compared to others in the same position, you know better, or much more. You shouldn’t let labels prevent you from succeeding.
Impostor Syndrome and Anxiety
Impostor syndrome is not recognized as a mental illness, however, more often than not, persons suffering from impostor syndrome are also diagnosed with other mental illnesses like depression or anxiety. Commonly, Impostor syndrome brings with itself one or the other form of Generalised Anxiety Disorder. This can be easily deduced since impostor syndrome is more about anxiety of being found out or paranoia of being caught, it generally leads to the development of anxiety disorder.
There are varied views on the relationship between Impostor syndrome and generalized anxiety disorder. Writer Sarah Schuster argues that impostor syndrome is the new form of “high functioning anxiety”. She supports her beliefs by arguing that this constant connection through social media has put pressure on many a millennial to keep on achieving more and more. This pressure to be successful, perfect and glamorous all the time has ultimately led to this chronic self-doubt and persistent feeling of being a fraud.
Several researchers have also pointed out that impostor syndrome may closely be related to Social Anxiety Disorder. The chronic anxiety about socializing or being in social situations may arise from the fear of being exposed as frauds and subsequent abandonment that comes with it.
Celebrities with Impostor Syndrome
As it has been said time and again that increasingly successful people suffer from impostor syndrome, so it would be but obvious that some of our more beloved celebrities and world leaders would suffer from the same syndrome. Here is a small list of famous people who suffer from impostor syndrome:
1. Maya Angelou:
The author of many famous, inspiring and perception shattering books. A movement in herself, Maya Angelou has been quoted as saying that despite writing 11 successful books she has often been afraid that her game was up and people around her have realized her scam.
2. Dr Margaret Chan:
Dr Margaret Chan, is the two times head of WHO, an officer of the British Empire, and has also been ranked as one of the 30 most powerful people in the world in 2013. You would think these achievements along with her academic success would be enough proof of her potential, but she has been quoted as saying that she is often surprised that people consider her an expert, especially when she is aware of the many things she knows nothing about.
3. Emma Watson:
World icon since the age of 9, Emma Watson has been the ideal for an entire generation that grew up with the Harry Potter franchise. She has finished her education, has acted in some more successful movies like Perks of Being a Wallflower, Bling Ring and so on, is the UN Ambassador for the HeforShe Campaign. These accomplishments alone are more than enough to tell the world of her mettle however she has confessed that the more successful she has become in life, the more she feels like a fraud.
4. Ryan Reynolds:
The Deadpool heartthrob. He is a skilled actor, a crowd favourite, not to mention his social media has informed everyone of what an excellent father and husband he is. It seems like this man has it all and yet he has been quoted as feeling like a freckled teenager who is faking it till he makes it.
5. Meryl Streep:
You would think that the academy award winner, Mamma Mia actress, the evergreen Meryl Streep would be the last person to suffer from any kind of self doubt. She has a history of mind blowing performances, not to mention she is an ageless beauty, however, Meryl Streep has confessed to never believing that she was beautiful and that she still feels like she is a character artist.
6. Kate Winslet:
The Titanic star has come a long way from the cult classic she starred in. She has proved her mettle by performing a variety of challenging and different roles, her more iconic films include Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland, Divergent series and so on. Her prowess and talent have shone through in all her works, and yet she was quoted as saying that there would be days when she would wake up and feel like she can’t do it because she was such a fraud.
7. Tom Hanks:
The Forrest Gump actor has performed several iconic roles. He has received many awards for his work, along with a huge fan base and yet the actor has confessed that he often feels like a conman.
Impostor syndrome is an intense internal struggle if a loved one is trying to tell you that they are afraid of making a mistake because that would mean that everyone would realize their scam, instead of losing your cool, be patient. The individual is facing immense self loath and doubt and is really trying to shake off this impostor feeling and needs emotional support. On the other hand, if you feel like an impostor in your skin, talk to a person you trust. Don’t be afraid of being vulnerable. It is the first step to healing.
For more information on impostor syndrome please refer to www.medlife.com syndrome impostor . Thanks to smashingmagazine.com for the pictures