Impostor syndrome is the persistent feeling that you don’t really deserve your success. People experiencing impostor syndrome typically feel like their success is a matter of luck or that they have somehow deceived others into believing they are smarter or more capable than they actually are. As a result, they are constantly afraid of being exposed as frauds.
There are six dimensions to impostor syndrome. They are:
- The impostor cycle
- The need to be special or the best
- Characteristics of Superman or Superwoman
- Fear of failure
- Denial of ability and discounting praise
- Feeling guilt or fear about success.
The impostor cycle is simply the continual reinforcement of feeling like an impostor. Say, for example, that you have an assignment for work or school. If you procrastinate but the project still turns out well, you assume you were lucky. If you work hard on it and it turns out well, it was only because you put so much time into it. Essentially, there’s no scenario in which you attribute your success to your own ability. Therefore, every success makes you feel like you’ve gotten away with something yet again.
Not all of the symptoms above are always present in impostor syndrome, but typically at least two are.
Impostor syndrome typically follows success, especially if that success lands you in an unfamiliar group. If you get a promotion, for example, or get into a selective college, you may suddenly find yourself among new people and you might assume they all deserve to be there but you don’t. In reality, many of your peers may have similar doubts, but since you don’t know much about them and you know everything about yourself, it’s easy to feel like the odd one out.
Impostor syndrome sometimes affects people in addiction recovery.
Unfortunately, the stigma associated with addiction can make people feel that they will always be “addicts,” no matter how strong their recovery is. They may repair their relationships, get their careers back on track, and start living a healthy lifestyle, but feel like the whole thing is a fraud. When their loved ones say how proud they are of their recovery, they dismiss it because they feel like they are really just putting on an act and might be exposed at any moment. This is a stressful way to live, and perhaps even worse, it doesn’t acknowledge that your successful recovery is a result of your own decision to work hard and stick with it. We can recover from addiction.
Discounting is a common cognitive distortion that therapists look for.
No matter how much evidence you have that you’re capable and smart, you can find some reason to dismiss it. Overcoming impostor syndrome is mainly a matter of accepting the evidence of your ability. It’s true that sometimes you might get lucky, but no one is lucky all the time. And often what looks like luck is really the result of hard work and persistence. Psychotherapy can help realign this tendency to discount our successes, both great and small.
Hanley Center is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for mental illnesses and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting wellness. For information on our programs, call us today: 561-841-1033.