The Five Types of Impostor Syndrome + How to Combat It

Dr

Impostor Syndrome

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Dr. Lisette Sanchez is a bilingual licensed psychologist and founder of Calathea Wellness, a virtual practice providing individual therapy in California. She has a passion for working with BIPOC folxs and first-generation professionals.

If you asked me to describe myself, I’d say that I’m a Soloist and a Natural Genius. No, I don’t play an instrument, nor do I have a superior intellectual ability. What I’m describing are different types of ‘impostors.’ The Impostor Phenomenon, commonly known as Impostor Syndrome, is a term that is often used to describe the experience of feeling out-of-place or worried that someone will discover you as a fraud. It is an overwhelming feeling of self-doubt that is usually experienced by high-achieving individuals, particularly when entering a new environment. The phenomenon may present as a feeling of being an impostor who is about to be found out, as the name suggests; but it can also present as the urge to discount an achievement or credit your success to luck.

In my work as a therapist, I refer to it as Impostor Phenomenon in order to avoid the pathologizing effect of the term ‘syndrome.’ In my practice, I strive to bring awareness to the systemic factors that influence your experience and actions. Dr. Valerie Young, Ed.D, co-founder of the Impostor Syndrome Institute, identified five different types of impostor syndrome.

The Soloist

The Soloist describes an individual who believes that they must be able to do everything on their own. The thoughts of being an impostor are realized whenever the individual is not able to complete a task on their own and the idea of asking for help elicits a feeling of shame. A common thought soloists experience is “I will be revealed as an impostor if I ask for help”.

The Natural Genius

The Natural Genius describes an individual who has often experienced ease with completing tasks and assignments. The thoughts of being an impostor are realized when they encounter a challenge as they confront learning a new skill and their view of themselves is challenged. Instead of thinking of the challenge as a learning experience, the Natural Genius thinks, “I am an impostor because this should be easy for me” and experiences feelings of failure and incapability.

The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist describes an individual who – you guessed it – strives for perfection in all of the tasks that they complete. The thoughts of being an impostor are realized whenever they make a mistake or perceive that they have made a mistake. At this moment, they feel insecure and think that they have been “found out.” The Perfectionist might think, “They know I am an impostor because I made a typo in my email.”

The Superhuman

The Superhuman describes an individual who believes they can do it all. Consequently, they have high expectations for how they approach tasks. This is the person who can multitask and will continuously add more to their plate with ease. The thoughts of being an impostor are realized whenever they are unable to complete their obligations or responsibilities in any of the roles they have taken on. A common thought for The Superhuman might be, “I should always be able to have enough energy for my personal responsibilities, even after a long workday.”

The Expert

The Expert describes an individual who needs to know it all. They will often accrue various certifications or degrees and work to increase their knowledge.The thought of being an impostor comes up whenever they encounter the limits of their knowledge. “I did not know the answer to that question and I should.”’

Remember, it is perfectly human to experience self-doubt. We all feel nervous before we go on stage to give a speech. However, if your life and actions are being dictated by the fear of “being found out,” then perhaps you are experiencing the Impostor Phenomenon.

Keep in mind, there can be overlap between ‘impostors’, which is why I identify with two. The purpose of this list is not to diagnose you (or me!) but to give you a sense of the wide range of thoughts that can be impacting your self-image as you navigate experiences of doubt.

The next time you feel like an impostor, go through this list and ask yourself: Am I engaging in any of these thought patterns? If so, how can I challenge these beliefs?

Some final consejos to help you combat the impostor phenomenon:

  • Own your successes – create a list of your accomplishments aka a “brag list” and review it when you start to feel down.
  • Engage in positive self-talk & affirmations to remind yourself of your strengths.
  • Elicit social support – if you have access to a trusted partner or friend, this can also be an intimacy-building exercise where you can support one another and further develop your abilities of self-reflection. The more we talk about this experience, the more we realize how prevalent it is and how many people are actively combating the impostor phenomenon together.

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