What are the different types of imposter syndrome?

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is something that is discussed frequently at women conferences, personal development courses or leadership events for women. Imposter syndrome is described as a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour. This pattern of behaviour is where people self-doubt their accomplishments and are often afraid of being exposed as a fraud. Imposter syndrome is not an actual disorder but affects a lot of people, especially women in the technology industry.

The term was created by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that although they had evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome were still convinced that they didn’t deserve the success they had achieved. Those who have imposter syndrome claim that their success is down to good timing or luck and do not believe that it was down to them doing a good job or being intelligent. The syndrome has been found to affect men and women in equal numbers even though the research was initially focused on high achieving women.

What are the different types?

Imposter syndrome has various forms depending on an individual’s personality, background and circumstances. If you find yourself relating to the description of imposter syndrome, then it may be helpful to consider what type of imposter you are so you can deal with it accordingly.

Expert Dr Valerie Young has categorised the subgroups through her decades of research studying the feelings amongst high achievers. Through her research she revealed several internal rules that people who struggle tend to follow. These competence types all help in identifying bad habits or patterns that you may see in yourself.

The Perfectionist

Being a perfectionist and imposter syndrome go hand in hand. Perfectionists tend to set unreasonably high goals for themselves and experience self-doubt when they fail to reach those goals. Perfectionists, without realising can also be control freaks and feel like if they want something done correctly, they have to do it themselves.

Success is rarely satisfying for perfectionists because they always believe that they could’ve completed the job better. But this way of thinking is neither productive nor healthy as celebrating achievements is essential if you want to avoid any burnouts. There will never be a perfect time to start something and the work you produce will never be 100% flawless. So, learn to take your mistakes in stride and view it as natural because the sooner you start to accept them, the better off you’ll be.

The Superwoman/man

People who are found under this competence type are convinced that they aren’t as good as their colleagues and often push themselves to work harder to fit in. However, this is just a cover up of their insecurities and the work overload may harm their relationship with others along with their mental health.

The superwomen/men are actually workaholics who do not want validation from the amount of work they are producing but are addicted to the validation that comes from working. It is important to remember that no one should have more power to make you feel good about yourself other than you. Therefore, you should start training yourself to move away from external validation and learn to try and not take constructive criticism personally.

The Natural Genius

The natural genius is self-explanatory in terms that they believe they need to learn something in a short amount of time. If they feel like they have taken longer to master something, this is where they feel shame. People with this competence type set their internal bar extremely high, similar to perfectionists. However, they don’t just judge themselves on extreme expectations but also judge themselves on getting things right on the first try.

For those who see themselves as natural geniuses, to move on from this they should try to see themselves as work in progress. Rather than beating yourself up when you don’t reach your goals, it is important to remember that accomplishing things in life involves learning and skill building which takes time. Identifying specific changes to your behaviour and approach can help you to improve over time.

The Soloist

Individuals who fall under this competence type, often feel that asking for help is their imposter and are known as soloists. Of course, it is acceptable to be independent but not to the extent that you refuse any help so that you can prove your worth.

Moving forward, if you see yourself as a soloist it may be useful to start accepting help from others when you are in need. Constantly doing things on your own can have you left in the dark and can have an impact on your working relationships and mental health.

The Expert

This competence type is based on how much or what an individual knows. If they believe they do not know enough, they fear that they will be seen as inexperienced or unknowledgeable. Experts often shy away from applying to jobs unless they match every educational requirement which is similar to what past studies have shown about the women applying for roles.

There is always more to learn and wanting to expand your skillset is something you should be proud of as it helps you to stay competitive in your job. However, when focussed on this too much, it can turn into a form of procrastination. Learning new skills when you need to for example can help prevent this. Seeking advice from co-workers shouldn’t be seen as a flaw, if anything it shows your determination to learn without constantly putting yourself down.