Impostor Syndrome: When Competence Leads to Insecurity

February 18, 2018

Feeling insecure, to a certain degree, is normal especially when you’re in a new, challenging situation. Over time, as you become more accustomed to the situation, you fail, learn from your mistakes, grow, and feel more secure. Then you get to the point where you know you’re an expert on the subject. 

But that doesn’t happen for people with impostor syndrome. 

Even when they’re truly an expert on the subject and have a lot of accomplishments under their belt, they feel insecure. Even when they are highly respected by their peers, the insecurity remains.

These people are incapable of accepting that their success is a product of their own intelligence, and that they truly deserve it. They tend to believe that it all happened due to luck or external factors.

It’s not a case of false modesty — they truly just don’t see themselves that way. In fact, many of them think that they’re deceiving their clients or patients, just like an impostor would. They don’t believe in their abilities or feel competent, even though all evidence points to the contrary.

What is the origin of impostor syndrome?

insecure woman

There seem to be a few predisposing factors that explain why some people feel like failures. Dr. Valeria Young, an expert on the subject, suggests the following as possible causes:

Family dynamic or childhood upbringing

When parents pressure children to get the best grades or compare them others, they’ll likely feel incompetent. They really aren’t, of course. Also, they might feel the need to surpass where they currently are.

Gender stereotypes

Today, we know that gender stereotypes affect both men and women, but a few years ago people thought it was just women. Regardless, men are sent messages of success, while women are sent messages of failure. Society pressures women to be perfect and play too many roles at the same time, no room for mistakes.

Women feel almost like they have no right to be successful, since that’s reserved for men.

Salary differences

When a person’s workplace doesn’t value them financially or pay them a fair wage, they tend to think it’s because they’re not as competent as they should be, and that’s why they’re not being rewarded.

Women especially, considering the pay gap between the genders. It has repercussions on how much they value themselves professionally.

man and woman at work

High expectations and self-demands

People with impostor syndrome are highly self-demanding perfectionists. They impose goals on themselves that are too high and difficult for anyone to meet. And that’s no matter how competent they are.

Therefore, they see themselves as mediocre, when they’re really just distorting reality. They’re highly competent and skilled, but they’re not perfect and don’t set realistic goals.

These high expectations and demands come from low self-esteem and poor self-image. These factors get reinforced by the envy and disparaging remarks they’re victim of at school and work.

How to overcome impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome is an issue of insecurity. The person feels like they don’t live up to or deserve their achievements, praise, or success. They think that if other people were to discover how incompetent they really are, they’d label them as an impostor.

You see the opposite in the Dunning-Kruger effect, in which ignorant people are ignorant of their own ignorance.

It’s interesting because the insecurity that derives from their extreme perfectionism can lead to exactly what they fear: failure. And yet people who are less competent than they are can do a lot because they believe in themselves and appear more confident.

Start with believing in yourself

In order to overcome impostor syndrome, the first step is to start believing in yourself. Get to know yourself well: what you can give and where your limitations are. Then trust yourself, knowing that you’ll make plenty of mistakes.

It’s also necessary to start accepting and enjoying your success and achievements instead of minimizing them. If you don’t value yourself for what you do, it will be hard for other people to.

Every time you receive praise, thank the person and let it serve as motivation and reinforcement for the future.

triumphant woman

Finally, stop procrastinating. People who suffer from impostor syndrome often put off things because they’re afraid they’ll fail from the very start. 

As a result, they’re never satisfied with their work, and this dissatisfaction leads to a lack of motivation. Sometimes even anxiety or depression results from all the responsibilities that have piled up.

As you can see, even some of the most successful people often feel incompetent and harbor a lot of insecurity. The key is not to stop achieving, but to accept yourself unconditionally.

That’s the only way you’ll be able to get where you want to go, and if you don’t, understand the reasons why you didn’t.