Why is it that some incredibly talented individuals feel like they do not deserve their success?
This might down to a bias known as Impostor Syndrome or the Impostor Phenomenon.
Someone suffering from Impostor Syndrome may not believe that they deserve success which comes their way, and are constantly afraid of being found out by others as being a fraud, even when in reality this is not true.
Often, people will try to allocate their successes to factors not related to their own performance, like only getting awards because someone made a computer error!
The concept was first described by Dr Pauline Clance in 1978 in an article entitled The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention.
Studies have shown that people likely to suffer from impostor syndrome are likely to feel more anxious about their performance before tests (when in reality their performance results are no different from other people), and felt failures more painfully while at the same time not react more strongly to success.
Often, people might actually not feel joy from success, they just feel relief that they didn’t fail. And when they do not succeed, their primary feeling is that of shame.
Even award-winning creative people, famed for being the best performers in their fields, have often admitted to feeling like a fraud. Writer Maya Angelou once said:
“I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.'”
One of the major reasons for people having impostor syndrome is a distorted view of how they see themselves in comparison to other people, especially more successful people in society or in their field.
This can be especially damaging because other successful people have often had different amounts of time to learn and practice in their field, and they are also less likely to publicly share their failures than their successes. This can give a distorted view around how easily success comes to other people, compared to knowing how hard you feel it yourself internally.
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
Dr Clance’s research showed that in order to overcome impostor syndrome, patients benefited significantly from interacting with others and sharing their feelings with a group.
Once they understood that they were not the only people who had these feelings about themselves, they could also begin to reframe the way they talked to themselves about their feelings from negative emotions to more positive emotions.
In a 2013 paper, researchers also found that people could decrease their feelings of impostor syndrome by finding intrinsic motivation factors for why they wanted to do something. For example: “If I can do this, I will be able to help others in the future and work with people as motivated as I am.”
Finally, if you would like more information about Impostor Syndrome and how to overcome it, check out this podcast interview I previously did with renowned expert on the subject Dr Valerie Young:
According to Dr Young, there are five different ways that people experience the Impostor Syndrome:
- The Perfectionist
- The Expert
- The Natural Genius
- The Soloist / Rugged Individualist
- Superman / Superwoman
If you have ever felt like a fraud, and this is holding you back from engaging in your creative or innovative work, then don’t worry. Many people feel that too.
I myself have doubts about myself all the time.
Just open up and share these feelings with other people in your situation and your domain, and remember:
You definitely do have something of value to create and share.
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