This Is Where Imposter Syndrome Comes From

So many of your favorite all-star people, whether they're famous creatives or just that one excellent co-worker, are riddled with doubt. They're certain that whatever good things they have in life, they haven't earned them, and any minute now, the whole world is going to find out what a fraud they are. Maybe you even know this feeling from experience.

Imposter syndrome is not just a drag, it can turn into a mental health crisis, left unchecked. Now psychologists at Russia's National Research University have pinpointed how we develop imposter syndrome, as well as some good methods for heading it off at the pass. The source is actually the same as for procrastination: the need to seem and be perfect.

Perfectionism, the researchers write, can be adaptive (helpful) and maladaptive (harmful). When we're striving for excellence, that's generally healthy; when we're driving ourselves into the ground, we should look for interventions. It comes down to how we deal with anxiety, which drives perfectionism. If you can shed your need to be perfect beyond reproach, you're more likely to kick imposter syndrome to the curb.

The researchers recommend four elements to keep in mind:

  • Remind yourself that you are competent and that you deserve your achievements.
  • Ask yourself who or what benefits from your belief that you're an imposter. In other words, what are you really afraid of?
  • Stay on task — procrastination can just mire you deeper in it.
  • Seek out a supportive environment. That can include just getting more comfortable with failure.

If you find yourself stumbling, see the first bullet point again. You and your accomplishments are real. It's more than okay to let yourself believe it.