yesDo you think you haven’t finished the race? Do you have repeated nightmares in which you repeat an exam? What begins as a simple symptom of insecurity can trigger impostor syndrome, a psychological disorder that has multiplied due to the versatile profiles that are claimed in jobs andn increasingly competitive labor market. The minds of those who suffer from it do not rest with recurrent thoughts such as “I do not deserve what I have” or “they are going to catch me, they are going to realize that I am a fraud”. And they are not thoughts that haunt people who ‘really’ are a fraud or are not qualified, but those who are more demanding with themselves.
Famous people such as Michelle Obama or Kate Winslet have recognized that they suffer from this syndrome that affects 7 out of 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the study ‘The impostor phenomenon’, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. Even Neil Armstrong, the first human being to set foot on the Moon, aerospace engineer, war pilot and university professor, confessed at a convention with scientists and explorers that, being surrounded by such a display of talent, he felt ‘little’: « I look at all these people and think, ‘What the hell am I doing here? They have all done amazing things. I just went where they sent me.
It is true that Armstrong was measured against the most prestigious researchers in the world, but although the competition is not at that level, the new circumstances of the labor market do not help to consolidate self-esteem. Among young people, job offers are not abundant, and those that exist require versatile profiles and multitasking. It is easy to feel that expectations are not being met. If that insecurity is not controlled, it can trigger a true lockdown. What does the person suffering from impostor syndrome feel?
«He feels that he is not and will not be sufficiently prepared to carry out certain tasks and, if he is successful in them, it is due to chance and not to his own merit. Although it is closely linked to the professional field, it also occurs in other areas of life, such as the couple, the family or friendship”, explains Begoña Díaz, a general health psychologist. “This feeling can end up blocking or triggering more extreme anxiety pictures.”
“Those who suffer from the syndrome feel that they are not and will not be prepared for certain tasks. This feeling is paralyzing and can trigger extreme anxiety pictures»
General health psychologist
Telecommuting, which skyrocketed during confinement, and social networks do not favor self-confidence either. The networks, due to the pressure they exert on both personal and work performance; teleworking, due to the feeling of isolation and helplessness in the face of setbacks. In that environment it is easier to feel cheated, but also to feel like a scammer.
«Culturally, we live in an environment where success is closely linked to the result of our professional performance and salary; an environment in which the idea of ’if we want, we can’ is installed –explains Díaz– and that is not always true. On many occasions, we cannot do anything to change a situation and the only thing we can do is accept the circumstance, even if it is not favorable.
Nor is it about avoiding the problem and looking the other way. «The more we avoid what makes us uncomfortable because we feel impostors or insufficient, the more anxiety and stress will increase. We can then fall into a low mood or hopelessness, feeling that there is nothing more we can do to stop being a fraud », he maintains.
But there is. The first thing is to be aware of the degree. Some fear and insecurity are positive, as long as they stimulate us and take us out of the comfort zone. The problem is when that fear of ‘not measuring up’ overwhelms you.
It affects women more because they tend to lower expectations and attribute achievements to effort. Men have higher ambitions and, if the result is not satisfactory, it is due to bad luck
Are women more insecure?
«We live in a permanent race to be ‘better’ in everything – insists Díaz – and, although the impostor syndrome affects men and women equally, the latter can be more affected by the culturally attributed roles in the professional and personal area, that usually involve a lot of overexertion.
In 1978 the psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, in an investigation with women who had had successful professional careers, verified that many of them thought that their success was not deserved. In fact, they described the impostor syndrome: their achievements were a hoax and they would be found out sooner or later.
They concluded that women and men show different attitudes towards success. Feminine thought –they pointed out– tends to reduce expectations and attribute achievement to effort; the masculine is the opposite: most of them have great expectations and, if the result is not satisfactory, it is due to bad luck.
Young people are cannon fodder, vulnerable to a new labor market for them and aware that employment is not as abundant as it used to be. According to a study by the consultancy Access Commercial Finance in the United Kingdom, young people between 18 and 34 years of age are the most likely to suffer from impostor syndrome; 86 percent of those surveyed felt that he did not deserve the position he held.
“Young people feel they have to ‘come up’ and show the best image of themselves. If that pressure is excessive, the problem should not be neglected. Companies must adopt preventive measures in the work environment”, explains Raquel Gómez, psychologist and senior technician in Occupational Risk Prevention. “Promoting the recognition of personal work, promoting an environment of cooperation and camaraderie, establishing conflict resolution procedures…” are some of the measures that Gómez defends from the company’s point of view.
“Young people feel they have to ‘come up’ and show the best image of themselves. If that pressure is excessive, we must not neglect the problem»
Psychologist and Senior Technician in Occupational Risk Prevention
How to overcome it? life is not an exam
At first, you have to understand that it is not something unique. It happens to many. But if that is not consolation –and it usually is not–, we must delve into what is happening to us; understanding the process makes us feel better. First of all, you have to avoid the ‘exam mode’. Every assignment or task at work is not an exam. You have to set reasonable goals and deadlines, which are developed in a process.
To guide this process, it is convenient to look for a mentor. Your mind can be your worst enemy. In many cases, thoughts of failure are inevitable, but when this ‘job blindness’ blocks you, it is best to look for an example to follow, a mentor to advise you. In this way, you give the mentor more credit than your own negative thoughts.
And as important as accepting one’s own imperfection, is throwing flowers. If you succeed at something, celebrate it, even write it down for future moments of insecurity. Give yourself that pat on the back you’ve earned so much.
“After my first film, I thought it was over. The hardest part was clicking, going from thinking ‘this is out of my league’ to ‘yes I can’.” These are the words of Isabel Coixet, collected in the book Impostors and wonderful (Ed. Encourages), by Neus Arqués. Since he made that ‘click’, Coixet has shot 25 films, some already classics of cinema, he has won eight Goyas and the National Film Award. «But it is not something definitive –Coixet confesses–, sometimes I still think that what I do is useless».
What kind of impostor are you?
The foremost expert on imposter syndrome is Dr. Valerie Young, author of the book The secret thoughts of successful women: why capable people suffer from impostor syndrome. In his research, Young differentiates five groups of people prone to this disorder.
They usually set such high goals, so they always think they could have done better.
They don’t want help because they see it as a sign of weakness. They feel that if they ask for help they are not showing their worth.
They tend to think that they have known how to sell ‘too well’, that they have not been honest in the selection and they fear that it will be discovered.
They are not patient, they get stressed and overwhelmed if they don’t do things smoothly, quickly and the first time.
They work even harder to keep up and continue to measure up. Your health and your social life are usually the first to be damaged.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.