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Types of Imposter Syndrome

Do you ever feel like you're just pretending to be competent, fearing that others will discover your true lack of abilities? If so, you may be able to recognize imposter syndrome. But there are different types of imposter syndrome that you should be aware of so that you can recognize it and combat it.

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Imposter syndrome refers to the persistent belief that you’re a fraud, despite evidence of competence and success. Most of us have experienced imposter syndrome at one point or another but understanding how it manifests personally is the first step to understanding how to change it.

This article might feel like a bit of an attack. Yeah, I’m writing it and I feel it. It’s tough when you see yourself in so many of these types of imposter syndrome. But stick with me because the more you can understand about yourself, the easier it will be to find strategies to change this thought process.

If you need someone in your corner join my Facebook group, Executive Function Support for Women. I will be your cheerleader.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

The Classic Perfectionist

One type of imposter syndrome is the Classic Perfectionist. These people set incredibly high standards for themselves and are constantly striving for flawlessness. They often fear making mistakes or falling short of their own unrealistic expectations. Despite achieving success, they attribute their accomplishments to luck or external factors rather than acknowledging their own capabilities.

To combat the Classic Perfectionist imposter syndrome, you need to challenge the belief that perfection is attainable. We all know this logically, but you need to really believe it.

Recognize that making mistakes is a natural part of growth and learning. Remember all the talking I’ve done about having a growth mindset? This is where it comes into play. 

A mistake isn’t really a failure. It’s a learning experience. Embrace the concept of progress over perfection and celebrate your achievements, no matter how small.

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The Expert

Another type of imposter syndrome is the Expert. These individuals constantly seek knowledge and feel compelled to be the authority in their field. They believe that they must know everything and fear being exposed as a fraud if they don't have all the answers. This mindset can be overwhelming and lead to feelings of inadequacy.

To overcome the Expert imposter syndrome, remind yourself that it's impossible to know everything. Luckily for me, this is something I learned early in my career. As a teacher, I learned that it was okay to not have all the answers.

In a lot of ways, my students respected me more because I could admit that I didn’t know it all. But we would find the answers.

Embrace the idea of being a lifelong learner and focus on building expertise in specific areas. Surround yourself with a supportive network and seek guidance when needed. Remember, being an expert doesn't mean having all the answers, but rather knowing where or how to find them.

The Soloist

The Soloist imposter syndrome manifests as the belief that one must accomplish tasks and goals entirely on their own. These people have difficulty asking for help and fear being perceived as incompetent if they seek assistance. They place immense pressure on themselves to be self-reliant, which can lead to burnout and feelings of isolation.

Raise your hand if you despised doing group work in school. Maybe you were the one everyone wanted in their group because they knew you would just take over and do the whole thing. Personal attack much? Yeah, that’s me. 

I’m still working on this. Asking for help is tough. Especially when you’re supposed to know how to do something (or believe that you’re supposed to know).

To combat the Soloist imposter syndrome, it's important to recognize that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Build a network of support and surround yourself with individuals who can provide guidance and assistance. Delegate tasks when possible and remember that collaboration often leads to better outcomes.

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The Superwoman/Superman

The Superwoman/Superman imposter syndrome is characterized by the belief that one must excel in every aspect of life. These individuals juggle multiple roles and responsibilities and feel immense pressure to succeed in all areas. They fear that any perceived failure or vulnerability will expose them as frauds.

If you’re of a certain age, you might remember the ads, commercials, and articles about how the true modern woman could have it all. Fabulous career, home, family. We could bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan (sorry for the earworm – if you know, you know).

It was a lie.

But we bought into it. And if you were already struggling with imposter syndrome, this made it worse.

To overcome the Superwoman/Superman imposter syndrome, you need to prioritize self-care and set realistic expectations. You need to learn these lessons: It's impossible to excel in every role simultaneously. It's okay to ask for help or take breaks. 

Embrace the concept of work-life balance and focus on self-compassion rather than constantly striving for perfection.

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The Natural Genius

The Natural Genius imposter syndrome is characterized by the belief that success should come effortlessly. These individuals feel a constant need to prove their intelligence and abilities. They fear that if they struggle or make mistakes, it means they are not truly talented or capable.

One of the first things I learned in college in preparation for being a teacher is that there is no learning without struggle.

Think about that. If it’s all easy, you’re not really learning.

To combat the Natural Genius imposter syndrome, it's important to reframe your mindset around failure and struggle. Recognize that everyone faces challenges and setbacks, and they are opportunities for growth. 

Embrace a growth mindset and view mistakes as learning experiences. True talent is nurtured through hard work and perseverance.

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The Comparison Trap

One common thread among all types of imposter syndrome is the tendency to compare yourself to others. The Comparison Trap fuels feelings of inadequacy and reinforces the belief that you don't measure up to your peers. Social media and constant exposure to others' achievements can intensify these feelings.

Looking around and thinking, “She can do it, so I should be able to as well” is the beginning. Using others for inspiration isn’t the problem. It’s how you view their accomplishments that is. You convince yourself that the task or accomplishment came easy to the other person and it should be easy for you. If it doesn’t, then it must be because you’re not good enough.

To break free from the Comparison Trap, it's important to focus on your own journey and progress. There’s a saying that goes – don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle.

You don’t know where the other people are on their journey. Sure, that accomplishment might’ve come easy for them this time. But you didn’t see the 50 failures that came before it.

Remember that everyone has their own unique path and that success is subjective. Limit your exposure to social media if it triggers feelings of inadequacy and cultivate gratitude for your own accomplishments.

Own your accomplishments, no matter how small you think they are. Someone (like your kids) might be looking at you and finding their inspiration. How you judge yourself will impact how they see themselves.

Imposter syndrome is a common experience that can undermine your confidence and hinder personal and professional growth. Learn to recognize when you’re falling down the path of doubt and adjust your thought process. It’ll take time, but you can overcome imposter syndrome.

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