There are Five Different Types of Imposter Syndrome—Here's How to Combat All of Them
Experts explain how to know which one you have.
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Throughout your working career, you've probably experienced imposter syndrome (also known as imposter phenomenon) a few times—and if so, you're not alone. According to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, about 70% of people have experienced imposter-like feelings at some point in their lives, too. But did you know that there is more than one type of imposter syndrome?
According to author Dr. Valerie Young, who wrote The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, the different types are:
- The Perfectionist
- The Superwoman/man
- The Natural Genius
- The Soloist
- The Expert
Each of these types has its own “competence type”—which is the area in which people tend to struggle, such as their career or life choices. "For example, perfectionists struggle with the delegation and attempt to complete everything in an impeccable manner. The natural genius is accustomed to excelling with ease, and consequently, expects themselves to tackle all tasks seamlessly," Dr. Leela R. Magavi, M.D., Hopkins-trained adult, adolescent and child psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, tells HelloGiggles.
But why do these varying imposter syndrome types affect so many people on such a high scale? There are actually a few possibilities. It could be that, "many individuals perceive their own performance as subpar regardless of accolades or positive feedback, work in toxic work culture and feel undervalued or disrespected, or individuals with specific temperaments or perfectionistic traits may be predisposed to imposter syndrome," as Dr. Magavi says. And if you have a mental illness, imposter syndrome can exacerbate the symptoms. "Imposter syndrome can cause demoralization and worsen mood and anxiety symptoms. It can also lead to increased cortisol levels, which impact the body in many detrimental ways," explains Dr. Magavi.
But when someone generally feels low confidence, insecurity, and second-guesses themselves on a constant basis, how exactly do they know which type of imposter syndrome they have in the first place? "Journaling and speaking with a therapist can help an individual identify which form of imposter syndrome they are struggling with," Dr. Magavi says.
If you want to know more about which kind of imposter syndrome you have and how to combat these behaviors, keep scrolling.
1. The Perfectionist
The Perfectionist, the most well-known imposter syndrome type out of the bunch, tends to be fearful of being found out. They believe they should accomplish things perfectly all the time and tend to be known as "control freaks" or micromanagers. "Being a perfectionist covers up their fears of imposter syndrome," says Jackie Mitchell, executive career coach. "The flawed premise is, 'I have to make everything I do look perfect so that I’m not questioned about my abilities.'"
But the truth is, whether others are questioning your abilities or not, you're already doing that to yourself. One of the ways you can combat this is by simply listing "accomplishments that are inclusive of small, yet significant victories," says Dr. Magavi. For instance, "if a woman is regularly comparing herself to a colleague, she could construct a list of various reasons she is just as qualified as her peer to attain a new role or opportunity. Visualizing success and imagining victories could alleviate anticipatory anxiety and negate negative feelings associated with imposter syndrome."
2. The Superwoman/man
If you don't consider yourself to be a Superwoman/man, then you most definitely have worked with one. They're the type who push themselves beyond their own limits to feel like they have to measure up against their colleagues. But how do you know if you have this imposter syndrome type or if you just really love working?
"If the work elicits feelings of contentment and comfort rather than frustration and anger, it indicates that they derive true pleasure from putting forth their best work," says Dr. Magavi. For instance, some people, she explains, complete work because they feel like they must do it, rather than want to—and this can create a passive-aggressive behavior over time.
So if this sounds like you and you want to stop this cycle, Mitchell suggests to "simply make the decision to not do what you are doing." As she explains, "the personality and actions that come along with [being a Superwoman] are not sustainable. You most definitely overwork yourself by thinking you have to be the first one in the office and the last one to leave because YOU must get all of this work done and it can only be done by YOU. Once you take a good long and hard look at the outcomes of what you are doing, you’ll realize that it is not healthy for you."
After all, how you decide to treat yourself will impact how others, like your colleagues and boss, will treat you. "You’ll notice you’re getting more assignments, projects, and responsibilities that may not be equally divided among you and your co-workers. You may become the go-to person but in a way that is not healthy," Mitchell gives an example. And while it can be great to be known as the one your boss can rely on, it can negatively affect your mental health by leading to burnout—or by making you feel like you're not enough if your boss doesn't consider you to be this person for them. "You have to be honest with yourself and look at what it is doing to you and your physical and mental health as well as your relationships," Mitchell says.
3. The Natural Genius
If you consider yourself to be a Natural Genius (hey, kudos), you may have the tendency to beat yourself up if you don't accomplish something perfectly on the first go. Not only do you tend to set the bar unrealistically high for yourself, like the Perfectionist, but when a mistake does occur, no matter how minor, you feel like a failure.
But just because you might have to work hard on something doesn't mean you're not good at it. If you're beginning to feel defeated, Dr. Magavi suggests to "list ways in which others have helped you over the years, and how different perspectives have helped you succeed." According to her, this will prompt you to perceive asking for help as a positive, less threatening act, which will help you realize that learning and failing as you go is actually part of the process.
4. The Soloist
As a Soloist, you tend (and prefer) to do things on your own. Who needs to delegate, when you can complete everything by yourself? Unfortunately, the harm with this is that you believe that asking for help is actually a weakness and that it will set off alarms to others that you, in fact, are a fraud—when this is 100% not the case. "This boils down to insecurities and low confidence," explains Mitchell. "We have this self-talk that is negative and lies to us. We think it over and over again and begin to believe it. As a vicious cycle."
You can begin to let go of this behavior by learning to get out of your own way. "I encourage individuals to list ways in which others have helped them over the years, and how different perspectives have helped them succeed," says Dr. Magavi. "This prompts individuals to perceive asking for help as more positive and less threatening."
However, this exercise will only work if you're in a positive working environment. "When a person is in an environment where asking for help is not welcomed, that, to me, is considered a toxic environment because it breeds more insecurities within people," says Mitchell. This is because a negative space like this will only feed the narrative that the Soloist is already telling themselves (i.e. "asking for help equals weakness," or "I should be able to accomplish everything on my own"). If you're a Soloist, this thought process will just perpetuate your actions—which can harm you in the long run and lead to burnout.
5. The Expert
People with the Expert imposter syndrome type tend to measure their self-worth by "how much" or "what" they know. This is a form of imposter syndrome because the Expert believes they should know everything about a topic from top to bottom, as they tend to have a fear of being called out for not having the knowledge in the first place.
"The harm with this type of imposter syndrome is that you can become a constant learner and hoarder of information," says Mitchell. "You can become paralyzed with knowledge and feel a false sense of safety gaining all of this knowledge and information to where you’re afraid to actually DO anything with it." While Mitchell adds that there's nothing wrong with gaining knowledge, you have to ask yourself, "Am I going to become paralyzed with research?”
So how can Experts stop obsessing over trying to know everything and anything? Dr. Magavi recommends they "compartmentalize their time spent working and reserve time each day to exercise and simply rest," instead. If you consider yourself an Expert, this will help you put the focus on your mental and physical health rather than entirely on work.