Mind & Body

Find Out If You Suffer from Impostor Syndrome With This Research-Backed Quiz

In the 1970s, a pair of clinical psychologists interviewed dozens of successful women and noticed something strange. Even though on paper, these people had achieved success, they admitted to a fear that they'd gotten there through luck or by mistake. The researchers named this feeling "impostor syndrome," and soon realized that didn't just affect prominent women, but people from all walks of life. Does this sound like something you experience? Learn about the symptoms and causes of impostor syndrome, then find a link to a quiz below.

The Masks We Wear

The psychologists behind that first study were Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, who spent five years working with more than 150 "highly successful women," including honor students, leading professionals in their fields, and specialists with Ph.Ds. They quoted a professor as saying, "I'm not good enough to be on the faculty here. Some mistake was made in the selection process." Another woman with two master's degrees and a Ph.D. told Clance and Imes that she felt unqualified to teach remedial college classes in her area of expertise. "In other words," Clance and Imes wrote, "these women find innumerable means of negating any external evidence that contradicts their belief that they are, in reality, unintelligent."

Later research found that this phenomenon wasn't restricted to women. A 1985 study of academics, for example, found that the male participants actually had higher scores of impostor syndrome than female participants. And a study last year found that while men and women both experience the phenomenon, they react differently to it. As Dr. Valerie Young, founder of ImpostorSyndrome.com, explained to the British Psychological Society, how much a person experiences impostor syndrome depends on the situation. "While an undergraduate majoring in English literature or art may not feel like a fraud, once she (or he) gets to graduate school these feelings can emerge due to the culture. Similarly, attending school or working in another country, being a first-generation professional, or being one of the first or the few in a field are all experiences that do not change with the era."

So why do people with such objectively successful lives feel like such frauds, and are some people more likely to feel that way than others? Clance has found that both personality and upbringing can have an effect. People who exhibit more introversion, anxiety, shame, and a need to look smart to other people are more likely to experience impostor syndrome. Likewise, being raised by overprotective, unsupportive parents can have an effect as well. For women, an excessive focus on gender roles can also exacerbate the problem.

The Quiz

If this all sounds familiar, check out the Impostor Syndrome Scale on Dr. Pauline Rose Clance's website. It consists of 20 statements that you can rate on a scale from 1 ("not at all true") to 5 ("very true"). Write down your answers as you go, then add them up to get your score. A score between 41 and 60 indicates a moderate level of impostor-syndrome experiences; a score between 61 and 80 indicates a frequent level. A score above 80 means you often have intense impostor-syndrome experiences. If your score is 40 or below, congratulations! You probably don't experience a lot of impostor syndrome. As with all online quizzes, take your score with a grain of salt and consult a mental health professional if you're concerned.

If you do get a high score, how should you cope with these feelings? Young has three tips for you. First, normalize the feeling. There's nothing wrong with you if you feel like a fraud, and as you've read in this article, many people feel the way you do. Second, examine your definition of what it means to be competent and what it means to fail. You may find that you have unreasonable requirements for yourself that you don't place on the people around you. Third, think about other reasons you might be feeling this way. Success can be scary, after all. "What often feels like fear and self-doubt is, in fact, an awareness of the other side of success," she says. Good luck!

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Need a little more help? Check out "Get Out of Your Own Way: Overcoming Self-Defeating Behavior" by Mark Goulston and Philip Goldberg. The audiobook is free with an Audible trial. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Ashley Hamer May 10, 2019

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