FYI: Perfectionism Is Definitely A Type Of Impostor Syndrome

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt even a twinge of impostor syndrome before.

You know the feeling: You get praise at work and feel just a teeny bit embarrassed or unworthy; or maybe your S.O. told you how great you look in those jeans and you hit ’em with a laundry list of flaws.

Impostor syndrome can be fleeting, or it can seriously impact your life—but the best way to deal with it is knowing what it is in the first place. Here, experts weigh in on what having impostor syndrome really means, and how to get over it for good.

So, tell me: What is impostor syndrome?

Essentially, imposter syndrome is the faulty feeling of not measuring up, or that you don’t really deserve a compliment or accomplishment. “People struggling with imposter syndrome often feel like a fraud and often live with the fear that at any moment others will find out that their success is unearned,” says Joy Harden Bradford, PhD, the founder of Therapy For Black Girls.

“The concept of imposter syndrome is better thought of as a close relative of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder),” adds June Shapiro, PhD, a psychologist practicing in New York.

Valerie Young, PhD, who’s thought to be a foremost expert on imposter syndrome, takes it a step further, saying there are five types of impostor syndrome:

  • The Perfectionist: Someone who feels as if they need to do everything perfectly or else they’ve failed. And if they aren’t perfect, they have an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt.
  • The Superhero: Someone who feels as if they’re a fraud, either at work or in a relationship, and so they work extra hard to hide their supposed inadequacy. Often, the overload in work or stress of not measuring up is damaging to their mental health.
  • The Natural Genius: Someone who judges their worth by how easily something comes to them. If they need to work to master a task or to make a friend, they feel ashamed.
  • The Soloist: Someone who feels that they need to do everything themselves. If they need to ask for help, they feel incompetent.
  • The Expert: Someone who judges their worth by how much they know. They constantly feel as if they’re not smart enough, and fear being exposed as unknowledgeable.

But, according to Dr. Shapiro, there’s only one type of impostor syndrome—and that these examples are actually five different reactions to impostor syndrome, a.k.a., how the syndrome drives you to act in everyday life.

Who suffers most from impostor syndrome?

According to Dr. Shapiro, those who are high achievers in society likely suffer most from impostor syndrome. “When doing something as a professional, they may experience intense dread and think ‘oh my god, I might be found out to be the fake I know I am.'”

Although impostor syndrome most often is though of in terms of your professional life, it can also crop up during social events. Imagine going to a party or being invited out with friends or asked on a date, and the whole time you’re thinking: “This is a pity invite. No one really wants to hang out with me.” People whose imposter syndrome affects their social lives may feel as if they have to have everything together, a seemingly perfect life, for anyone to want to spend time with them, says Dr. Shapiro.

Impostor syndrome can also be impacted by race, says Dr. Harden Bradford. “Black students who are taught from very young ages that they need to work twice as hard to be successful, often struggle with imposter syndrome, primarily due to the narrative crafted by others that they don’t belong or are taking spots from more ‘qualified’ students,” she says.

How can I get over my impostor syndrome?

No matter what “type” you are, or whether or not your imposter syndrome comes partially from culture, Dr. Harden Bradford suggests the same process for getting through it. “Make a list of all the reasons you do deserve whatever praise or accomplishment you’ve received,” she says.

Looking at a physical list of the reasons you are a good employee, friend, or partner can help quiet your brain.

If that doesn’t work, enlist a mentor or friend for feedback that can put things in perspective. Remember: No matter how your imposter syndrome plays out, the crux of the problem is in your mind—because you actually are worthy of praise.

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