What are the 5 types of imposter syndrome and what do they mean for you?

Written by Amy Beecham

So many of us have experienced imposter syndrome in different areas of our lives that it feels like a relatively universal condition, right? That creeping doubt in your abilities that leaves you feeling like a fraud. The constant questioning of your own competence, intelligence and value.

But according to an Instagram post by integrative therapist Abby Rawlinson, who specialises in imposter syndrome, anxiety and burnout, there are actually five distinct types of imposter syndrome that all impact us in slightly different ways.

The imposter syndrome ‘competence types’ were first uncovered by Dr Valerie Young, and allow us to understand the different internal patterns of thinking that people with imposter syndrome generally follow.

While many of us might think the same things, that everyone else is more capable than us so we have to work extra hard to cover it up, the reasoning behind this feeling can manifest differently in people.

The five types, as Rawlinson explains, are described as: the perfectionist, the superwoman, the expert, the soloist and the natural genius.

The perfectionist

The perfectionist is prone to setting extremely high standards and then beating themselves up when they don’t reach them.

This can often look like negative self-talk or denying yourself rewards because you “failed to earn them”. As Rawlinson expands, the drive for perfection and fear of failure can leave you deliberating over minor details, either procrastinating or overworking.

The superwoman 

The superwoman feels like she should be able to excel at every role she takes on in life.

If you feel like you’re struggling with work-life balance and spreading yourself too thin, this is likely to resonate with you. Superwoman imposter syndrome could also easily fall into people pleasing behaviours, as you try and keep all the plates around you spinning while neglecting your own needs.

“You believe you can do it all and are unable to say ‘no’ even if you’re struggling to keep up with everything,” Rawlinson says, and learning to enforce your boundaries gently but firmly is key.

The expert

The best new show to watch on Netflix right now? You know it. Best picture at the Oscars? You’ve predicted it already. The exact impact of the cost of living crisis? You’re the most clued up in the room.

The expert expects to know everything and feels ashamed when they don’t. “You want to gain as much knowledge or as many skills as possible, believing there must be a certain threshold of experience needed to be considered competent or successful,” Rawlinson explains.

Imposter syndrome can manifest into 5 main personality types: which one are you?

The soloist

Independence and trust in your own decisions is undoubtedly a strength for many people. However, it can slip into imposter syndrome territory when you begin to believe work must be accomplished alone and refuse to take credit if you’ve received any kind of assistance.

Rawlinson explains that soloists typically turn down help to prove their worth as an individual, creating toxic patterns of negative self-belief and second guessing their ability.

 The natural genius

Similarly to the soloist, the natural genius’ imposter syndrome manifests by making things harder for themselves with their way of thinking.

The natural genius tells themself that everything must be handled with ease, otherwise it’s not ‘natural talent’. Like that annoying classmate that would ace a test after declaring they barely studied for it, effort is seen by the natural genius as a sign of weakness. They should be able to do it with their eyes closed and if they can’t, they’re a fraud.

While you may resonate with one, or perhaps even all of these personality types, you shouldn’t worry. Rawlinson stresses that it’s normal to fit into more than one category.    

To move past these feelings, you may need to become comfortable confronting some of the deeply ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself, and understanding your imposter syndrome personality type is a good way to start.

Images: Getty

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