Types of Impostor Syndrome

Are you afraid that someone will realize that you're not as competent as most people think? Are you a perfectionist and afraid of failure? If so, you may well be suffering from one of the seven types of impostor syndrome. Find out which one you might be.
Types of Impostor Syndrome

Written by Valeria Sabater

Last update: 01 November, 2022

Neil Gaiman, the author of graphic novels such as The Sandman, said that when he was younger, he was invited to an auspicious event. His career had just taken off and he found himself surrounded by many personalities from the fields of art and science. The first thing he thought was that he didn’t deserve to be in such a place as he wasn’t good enough.

At one point he bumped into a nice, polite gentleman who told him the following: “I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where they sent me”. Faced with this comment, the young Gaiman didn’t hesitate to reply: “Yes. But you were the first man on the Moon. I think that counts for something”.

That’s right, the person he met was Neil Armstrong and, like him, he was gripped by the extremely annoying impostor syndrome. It’s the maddening belief of perceiving yourself as a fraud, someone less competent than others believe.

This characteristic is often related to neuroticism and also to perfectionism and self-efficacy. Whatever the case may be, if you question your worth, you hinder your growth and potential in every way. Therefore, knowing the different typologies of this phenomenon will allow you to better understand its origins and how to deal with it.

Man thinking about the Types of impostor syndrome
Statistics tell us that about 70 percent of the population has suffered from impostor syndrome at some point.

Types of impostor syndrome

More than 40 years ago, the psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne Imes coined this term. They discovered that the feeling of intellectual falsehood was especially common among women. The authors attributed it to educational factors and gender roles, to the cultural belief that often underestimated the worth of the female sex.

Looking back, we can now say that impostor syndrome affects both sexes equally. It can affect anyone, regardless of social status or age. Furthermore, it’s important to clarify that it’s not a psychological disorder. In fact, it’s a characteristic that’s influenced by multiple highly variable dimensions. For instance, low self-concept, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc.

A study conducted by the University of Texas (USA) claimed that those who suffer from imposter syndrome experience higher levels of stress, burnout, and lower job satisfaction. Indeed, doubting yourself, as well as living with the idea that at some point your (alleged) incompetence will be revealed is certainly disturbing.

One aspect that’ll help in understanding this psychological phenomenon is knowing the different types. It’s highly likely that you’ll identify with one of them.

Curious as it may seem, there are many people who aren’t aware that they’re suffering from impostor syndrome. They fit this profile because they think that their success is due to luck. In addition, they’re afraid of making mistakes and they tend to underestimate their achievements.

1. The perfectionist

Can there be a more destructive form of suffering than wanting to be perfect? This mental focus subjects the individual, day in and day out, to an abyss of anxiety, obsession with unimportant nuances, and perpetual dissatisfaction. Indeed, if you’re never satisfied with your work, with what you do, or with who you are, you’re condemned to eternally suffering from imposter syndrome. 

2. The expert

It’s one thing to enjoy accumulating knowledge and another to think that you never know enough to be truly competent, even if you’re already an expert. For this reason, it’s always advisable to practice intellectual humility.

However, some people feel like imposters despite having already demonstrated their intelligence and expertise in a specific field. If you’re an expert impostor, you feel the need to endlessly train. Furthermore, you hesitate to apply what you know in case you’re wrong.

3. The superhero or superheroine

This is the most common type of imposter syndrome. It defines those people who need to do more than the rest to prove to themselves that they’re competent. One example of this is the worker who spends more hours working than they should. Also, those who feel they need to take care of all the tasks of their entire family and acquaintances if they want to feel useful and good about themselves.

4. The frustrated genius

Some men and women wish they were the classic Renaissance individual, a real Leonardo da Vinci who’s able to master all the arts. The curious thing about these people is that they’re already exceptional figures in their respective areas of knowledge. However, the idea of not being competent in the dimensions beyond their own discipline makes them feel that they’re not really good at anything.

An example of this could be the mathematician who’s frustrated that they’re not good at translating Greek. Or, the economist who regrets not knowing anything about astronomy. Among the types of impostor syndrome, this is undoubtedly one of the most striking.

Some of the most successful people from history and today display impostor syndrome, such as Jodie Foster and Michelle Obama.

Bored woman at work thinking about the different types of impostor syndrome
There are people who feel high anxiety and fear when someone considers them an expert and expects certain things from them.

5. The loner

Some refuse to ask for help or ask questions because their pride weighs them down. Others bear the burden of impostor syndrome. Indeed, there are plenty of men and women who prefer not to ask anyone for anything. They avoid teamwork and perform best in relative isolation.

However, this isn’t due to pride. In fact, they fear that at some point someone will discover that they’re not as bright as most assume them to be. Therefore, they use distance as a protection mechanism so as not to expose themselves. So they won’t be discovered as the imposters they believe themselves to be.

In conclusion, there are many ways to devalue and undervalue ourselves. The most striking thing is that this characteristic is present in the brightest of people, those who, if they slightly turned down the volume of their inner voice, could give so much more of themselves. Working on self-esteem and irrational beliefs, as well as the obsession with being perfect, helps to mitigate this exhausting reality.

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  • Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0086006
  • Feenstra S, Begeny CT, Ryan MK, Rink FA, Stoker JI, Jordan J. Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”. Front Psychol. 2020 Nov 13;11:575024. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575024. PMID: 33312149; PMCID: PMC7703426.