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Tripping Into 30s Group

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Imposter Syndrome

When impostor syndrome was first conceptualized, it was viewed as a phenomenon that was common among high-achieving women. Further research has shown that it affects both men and women, in the collective sense that the proportion affected are more or less equally distributed among the genders.[1][4] Individuals with impostor syndrome often have corresponding mental health issues, which may be treated with psychological interventions, though the phenomenon is not a formal mental disorder.[5]

Imposter Syndrome

The researchers surveyed over 100 women, approximately one-third of whom were involved in psychotherapy for reasons besides impostor syndrome and two-thirds of whom they knew from their own lectures and therapy groups. All of the participants had been formally recognized for their professional excellence by colleagues and displayed academic achievement through educational degrees and standardized testing scores. Despite the consistent external validation these women received, they lacked internal acknowledgement of their accomplishments. When asked about their success, some participants attributed it to luck, while some believed that people had overestimated their capabilities. Clance and Imes believed that this mental framework of impostor phenomenon developed from factors such as gender stereotypes, familial problems, cultural norms, and attribution style. They discovered that the women in the study experienced symptoms of "generalized anxiety, lack of self-confidence, depression, and frustration related to inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement."[7]

Certain individuals with impostor syndrome may see themselves as less ill (less depressed, less anxious) than their peers or other mentally ill people, citing their lack of severe symptoms as the indication of the absence of or a minor underlying issue. People with this mindset often do not seek help for their issues because they see their problems as not worthy of psychiatric attention.[8][9]

The first scale designated to measure characteristics of impostor phenomenon was designed by Clance in 1985, called the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS). The scale can be used to determine if characteristics of fear are present in the individual, and to what extent. The aspects of fear include: "fear of evaluation, fear of not continuing success and fear of not being as capable as others."[12] Characteristics of impostor syndrome such as an individual's self-esteem and their perspective of how they achieve success are measured by the CIPS. A sample of 1271 engineering college students were studied by Brian F. French, Sarah C. Ullrich-French, and Deborah Follman to examine the psychometric properties of the CIPS. They found that scores of the scales' individual components were not entirely reliable or consistent and suggested that these should not be used to make significant decisions about individuals with the syndrome.[13]

The researchers concluded that simply extracting the self-doubt before an event occurs helps eliminate feelings of impostorism.[15] It was recommended that the individuals struggling with this experience seek support from friends and family. Although impostor phenomenon is not a pathological condition, it is a distorted system of belief about oneself that can have a powerful negative impact on an individual's valuation of their own worth.[14] Impostor syndrome is not a recognized psychiatric disorder: It is not featured in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual nor is it listed as a diagnosis in the International Classification of Diseases, Tenth Revision (ICD-10). Outside the academic literature, impostor syndrome has become widely discussed, especially in the context of achievement in the workplace. Perhaps because it is not an officially recognized clinical diagnosis, despite the large peer review and lay literature, although there has been a qualitative review, there has never been a published systematic review of the literature on impostor syndrome. Thus, clinicians lack evidence on the prevalence, comorbidities, and best practices for diagnosing and treating impostor syndrome.[20]

Why do people with imposter syndrome feel like frauds even though there is abundant evidence of their success? Instead of acknowledging their capabilities as well as their efforts, they often attribute their accomplishments to external or transient causes, such as luck, good timing, or effort that they cannot regularly expend. Whether in the areas of academic achievement or career success, a person can struggle with pressure and personal expectations.

Personality traits largely drive imposter syndrome: Those who experience it struggle with self-efficacy, perfectionism, and neuroticism. Competitive environments can also lay the groundwork. For example, many people who go on to develop feelings of impostorism faced intense pressure about academic achievement from their parents in childhood.

Imposter syndrome was first documented in high-achieving women in the 1970s. While imposter syndrome is still more prevalent among women, and specifically women of color, men are also susceptible to developing this mindset.

Imposter syndrome can stifle the potential for growth and meaning, by preventing people from pursuing new opportunities for growth at work, in relationships, or around their hobbies. Confronting imposter syndrome can help people continue to grow and thrive.

Reflecting on your concrete achievements, sharing your feelings with a loved one (preferably outside of the setting in which you feel impostorism), expecting to make mistakes at the beginning of a new experience, and seeking out a mentor who has charted a similar path are a few of the concrete steps that can fight imposter syndrome.

If you often find yourself feeling like you are a fraud or an imposter, it may be helpful to talk to a therapist. The negative thinking, self-doubt, and self-sabotage that often characterize imposter syndrome can affect many areas of your life.

Feeling like an outsider isn't necessarily a result of imposter syndrome. In some cases, it can occur due to actual discrimination or exclusion due to systemic bias. With imposter syndrome, the feeling of being an outsider is caused by internal beliefs. With discrimination, the feeling is caused by the actions of others.

Henning K, Ey S, Shaw D. Perfectionism, the imposter phenomenon and psychological adjustment in medical, dental, nursing and pharmacy students. Med Educ. 1998;32(5):456-464. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.1998.00234.x

The impact of systemic racism, classism, xenophobia, and other biases was categorically absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was developed. Many groups were excluded from the study, namely women of color and people of various income levels, genders, and professional backgrounds. Even as we know it today, imposter syndrome puts the blame on individuals, without accounting for the historical and cultural contexts that are foundational to how it manifests in both women of color and white women. Imposter syndrome directs our view toward fixing women at work instead of fixing the places where women work.

Early research exploring this phenomenon primarily focused on accomplished, successful women. It later became clear, though, that imposter syndrome can affect anyone in any profession, from graduate students to top executives.

Sharing imposter feelings can also help others in the same position feel less alone. It also creates the opportunity to share strategies for overcoming these feelings and related challenges you might encounter.

Perfectionism and imposter syndrome often go hand-in-hand. Think about it: Perfectionists set excessively high goals for themselves, and when they fail to reach a goal, they experience major self-doubt and worry about measuring up. Whether they realize it or not, this group can also be control freaks, feeling like if they want something done right, they have to do it themselves.

There was no difference by grade or gender in imposter feelings. 20% of the students did not feel like impostors at all; 80% felt like impostors to some degree, and 3% said they felt "quite like" or "just like" impostors. Boys reported a higher tendency to use social comparison than girls and a greater use of downward contrast than girls.

AAs reported significantly more group stress, race-related stress, and environmental stress than LAs and ASAs. There were no differences by gender on IP. ASAs reported significantly higher imposter feelings than AAs or LAs. There were no differences found in IP by AA and LA. Imposter feelings were significantly positively correlated with minority status stress and negatively correlated with psychological wellbeing. IP was a stronger predictor of mental health than minority status stress.

AAs reported higher perceived discrimination than ASAs and LAs. There were no differences in imposter feelings by racial/ethnic group. Among AAs and LAs imposter feelings were not predictive of depression but were for anxiety. Among ASAs, imposter feelings predicted both anxiety and depression.

Impostorism and burnout syndrome were identified in 43.8% and 12.5% of residents, respectively. The mean raw score for CIPS responses was 61.2. Females (p= .03) and foreign medical graduates (p= .03) reported significantly higher CIS scores. A significant negative correlation was detected between raw scores on the personal accomplishment subscale and the CIPS (p=.04)

Using the 62-cutoff score, 48.8% of respondents were classified as impostors with 51.2% classified a non-impostor on CIPS. While a higher percentage of females (50.8%) relative to males (39%) were classified as impostors, this difference did not reach statistical significance. Age was negatively associated with impostor fears. Imposters felt greater humiliation and guilt after failure than success; there was no sig difference in these in either the success/failure condition for non-imposters. Imposters attributed poor performance to internal factors to a greater extent than non-imposters. Imposters reported lower academic and global self-esteem than non-imposters. There was no difference in GPA between imposters and non-imposters. 041b061a72


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