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Profile of a Pretender: Attitudes and beliefs of men and women with Impostor Syndrome

Posted by Deb Muoio

Nov 24, 2015 3:19:02 PM

blog_list_300X261.jpgIn a previous post, we discussed the different factors that contribute to “Impostor Syndrome,” which refers to a tendency to feel like a fraud, and to believe one’s achievements are undeserved. As our research indicates, misery truly does love company: Impostor Syndrome is often linked to low self-esteem and extreme perfectionism.

 This week, we will look at the profiles of men and women for whom Impostor Syndrome is a major issue.

Here’s what data we collected for our Impostor Syndrome Test reveal about the personality profile of male and female “impostors”:

  • 32% of women with Impostor Syndrome (IS) and 33% of men don’t feel they deserve any of the success they have attained.

  • 36% of women with IS and 34% of men take perfectionism to an extreme and set unrealistic expectations for themselves.

  • 43% of women with IS and 39% of men have low self-esteem.

  • 44% of women with IS and 38% of men believe that most of their accomplishments were a fluke.

  • 47% of women with IS and 48% of men don’t believe that they have earned the rewards they have received as a result of their hard work.

  • 65% of women with IS and 62% of men dismiss, ignore, or downplay praise they receive.

  • 69% of women with IS and 65% of men dismiss, ignore, or downplay compliments they receive.

  • 71% of men and women with IS downplay their achievements when other people bring them up.

  • Surprisingly, 85% of women with IS and 81% of men are actually decent goal-achievers, and are not strangers to success. Yet, more than 60% of them worry that other people will discover that they are an impostor, and that they are not as skilled or smart as they appear to be.

  • Only 30% of women with IS and 27% of men are satisfied with their job. And due to their tendency to doubt and devalue themselves, only 23% of women with IS and 22% of men were rated as a good performer in their last performance review.

The majority of people who are dealing with Impostor Syndrome tend to be between the ages of 18 to 29, a time when they are still feeling their way around the world and trying to figure out what they want to do with their life (or if the career path they have chosen is the right one).

Despite having tasted some success – the majority are/were good students and have achieved at least a Bachelor’s degree – they still don’t believe in their potential. Their achievements may provide tangible evidence that they have what it takes to be a success, but their tendency to undermine their abilities and rationalize away their achievements seems to overpower their better judgment.

Granted, some people with Impostor Syndrome may very well be incompetent. However, when a person has low self-esteem, a tendency to attribute any success to factors outside their control, and to set unreasonably high standards for themselves, they are already setting themselves up for disappointment and failure.

Impostor Syndrome is, at its basis, an issue of perception. When we view the world through the eyes of low self-esteem, for example, we see faults where others see quirks, we see failures where others see rites of passage, and we see obstacles where others see challenges.

If you are someone who struggles with Impostor Syndrome, it is only by shifting your perception that you can begin to appreciate yourself and take credit for your achievements. Here’s how to start:

  • Don't compare yourself to others. You may look at someone and think they possess some quality or advantage that you don't, but the fact is they may be looking at you and thinking the very same thing. Besides, someone who is seemingly happy or successful may be going through difficulties that you don’t know about. Judge yourself by your own standards, because every person is unique.
  • Take pleasure in the small victories. Every occupation has moments when you can stop and savor a job well done, a person helped, or a difficult task accomplished. By stopping for a moment to reflect on your accomplishments, you not only begin to feel more satisfied about the work that you are doing, but you’ll also start to realize that you really do have the ability to get the job done. 

    At the end of your day, write down five things you accomplished. It doesn’t matter if they appear minor to you – any accomplishment is worth celebrating, whether it’s “Arrived to work on time,” or “Held the door open for someone, and he/she was very appreciative.” Get into the habit of recognizing your achievements and it will become second nature.

  • Be aware of any perfectionistic tendencies you have and keep them in check. Perfectionism and low self-esteem are a deadly combination. The end result is always the same: We set the bar too high, fail to accomplish what we want and are left feeling disappointed. Extreme perfectionism has a significant impact on your self-worth and your ability to cope with failure. In the end, you become your own worst enemy.
  • Make it a point to set realistic goals. If your resolution is to stop world hunger in five years and climb Mount Everest, then you'll probably end up disappointed. These goals may sound a little extreme, but the point is that if you set your sights too high, your fall will be harder. You can challenge yourself reasonably, however. Make one new business contact every month. Increase your monthly sales by 5%. Learn a new skill that could help you at work. Learn one new word every day. Even if you don't accomplish everything you set out to do, the fact that you tried is something to be proud of.

If you’re interested in using assessments for hiring, request a free trial for ARCH Profile here.


Want to learn more about using psychological tests for hiring, leadership development, career development or talent retention? Download our free eBook loaded with down-to-earth information about psychological testing for HR purposes.

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Topics: Employee Attitude, Mentoring, Employee Wellbeing, Personal Development, Coaching

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