The Best (And Worst) Ways To Cope With Impostor Syndrome, According To Science

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Oh, impostor syndrome. If you've ever felt like a fraud in a conference room, job interview, or classroom that you absolutely deserved to be in, you've experienced it firsthand. The complex feelings of inadequacy that occur with impostor syndrome are difficult to overcome, but thanks to a new study, we're a few steps closer to understanding why it happens and identifying the best (and worst!) ways to overcome it.

The study took the form of 213 surveys of students in an elite academic program. The results, published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, showed that about 20% of the students had strong feelings of impostorism. In the interviews, the researchers also asked the students about coping mechanisms, which had varying levels of effectiveness. The most helpful? Seeking social support from someone outside of their immediate environment.

In contrast, reaching for support within their major made the students feel worse. These findings suggest that if you're suffering from impostor syndrome at your job, the worst place to go for support would be your colleagues, and the best place to turn would be your friends or family members (as long as they aren't directly involved in your professional life, that is). As co-author of the study and Brigham Young University professor Jeff Bednar explained, "Those outside the social group seem to be able to help students see the big picture and recalibrate their reference groups.

According to Bednar, this was all about perspective. "After reaching outside their social group for support, students are able to understand themselves more holistically rather than being so focused on what they felt they lacked in just one area," he continued.

The results also showed that video games were an ineffective coping mechanism, along with pretending everything was fine. (No big surprise there.) What did come as a surprise was that the data revealed no connection between impostor syndrome and actual performance, which is something we could all stand to remember the next time we're questioning our performance. As one of the study's other co-authors, Bryan Stewart, explained, "The root of impostorism is thinking that people don't see you as you really are."

On top of reaching out for help outside your immediate environment and social circle, it's also important to normalize feelings of impostorism so they don't feel like a big, dark secret. As Bednar said, "It's important to create cultures where people talk about failure and mistakes."

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