Have you had a nagging feeling at work or school that you’re a complete fraud — that, despite your achievements or accomplishments, you’re not actually qualified or talented? You’re not alone. Many high achievers feel the same way. Unfortunately, it isn’t just an annoying feeling making us doubt ourselves — it has far-reaching implications. Impostor syndrome, as it’s known, could be impacting your career and your earning potential.
What is the definition of impostor syndrome?
In 1978, psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes coined the term impostor syndrome to describe an internalized feeling of failure, despite obvious evidence of accomplishments, among high-achieving women.
Many people know this feeling well — convinced that their accomplishments are due to luck, they have a real fear of being exposed as frauds. Since Clance and Imes first coined the term, psychologists have come to better understand this psychological phenomenon, which we now know affects both men and women.
Later, in a 1985 paper, Clance explained that people with impostor phenomenon feel like they need to be special or the best at what they do but fear failure, so they deny their ability and discount praise. When they do succeed, they feel guilt and believe their success was not a result of their ability.
How does impostor syndrome hold you back?
Impostor syndrome is deeply ingrained, and unfortunately, there are negative consequences to feeling like a fraud. For someone who experiences it, impostor syndrome carries feelings of anxiety and self-doubt with any assignment or task at school or work.
This perpetuates what Clance called the impostor cycle: As someone with impostor syndrome, you might compensate for these feelings by either over-preparing or procrastinating on a task. If you over-prepare, any success you see is the result of hard work, and if you procrastinate, any positive feedback you get is discounted because you just lucked out.
Either way, someone with impostor syndrome doesn’t see success as a result of pure ability.
But what happens when this cycle repeats over and over again? Discounting your successes or accomplishments isn’t good for your career or academic development.
As NBC News reported last year, people who experience impostor syndrome may experience burnout from trying to prove themselves as well as missed opportunities because of their self-doubt.
That can have real consequences in terms of your career or your earning potential. For example:
- You may also be passed up for promotions because you’re discounting the work you do
- You may miss out on raises because you don’t ask for what you’re worth, or
- You may avoid going for higher-paying jobs because you don’t think you’re qualified.
Is impostor syndrome in the DSM?
No, imposter syndrome is not included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).
It might seem like a personality disorder, like narcissism or anxiety, but impostor syndrome isn’t considered an official diagnosis by psychologists. For this reason, many experts suggest calling it “impostor experience” to reference that it’s a temporary state of being rather than a clinical disorder, NBC News reports.
However, researchers have studied impostor syndrome extensively. Studies show that it’s linked to anxiety, low confidence, and self-sabotage, and that people who experience this phenomenon often have another officially diagnosed mental disorder, like depression and anxiety.
Is there an impostor syndrome test?
Despite not being an official diagnosis, impostor syndrome is pretty common. Research has found nearly 70% of people across a wide range of settings will experience at least one episode of impostor syndrome in their life.
If you think you’ve had feelings of impostor syndrome but aren’t quite sure you fall into the category, you can take a short test based on the scale to measurement people’s level of the syndrome developed by Clance here. This quiz, published in New York magazine, is just nine questions long and allows you to see where you are on the scale. Clance’s scale of measurement suggests that most of us experience the syndrome — some just more than others.