How to Recognize the Difference Between Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism

How to Recognize the Difference Between Imposter Syndrome and Perfectionism

By: Jenny Ernest & Joelle Rabow Maletis

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is when a person experiences feelings of incompetence or doubt in themselves and find it difficult to accept their achievements despite their background or qualifications (Sussex Publishers, 2022). This results in a person doubting whether or not they deserve accolades such as education or job positions because they feel as though they are not capable or do not belong. Imposter syndrome commonly occurs when a person is going through a life transition or new experience such as higher education or a new position at work (maybe a promotion). 


Causes and Results of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can be caused by a number of variables including gender, race, age, or sexual orientation.It can also occur when our performance is being evaluated or measured by others. When an individual feels inadequate or unworthy, they may start to feel like a fraud or doubt their ability to perform (Cuncic, 2022). In order to counter these feelings of doubt and inadequacy, one may work harder than necessary or hold themselves to a higher standard than everyone around them.


How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Seeking help from a mental health professional is an important step in overcoming imposter syndrome when one begins to worry about the impact it is having on their personal or professional life (Pogored, 2022). If you feel yourself struggling with imposter syndrome, it is important to educate yourself on it so that you can recognize those feelings, share them with others, and find solutions. Working on accepting our failures, focusing on self development rather than self criticism, sharing your successes, and practicing self-compassion are other ways to overcome imposter syndrome (Bayes-Flemmings, 2021). Thought-stopping techniques such as, “ Is this true?”, “How does this thought make me feel?”, and “ What would things be like if I didn’t hold this belief?” are great ways to decrease rumination and prevent spiraling.


What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the tendency for a person to consider any performance or outcome short of perfection as unacceptable so they strive to be perfect always. Perfectionism leads to unrealistic and demanding goals which result in feelings of worthlessness or failure (Sussex Publishers, 2022). Often people with internal pressures such as the fear of judgment or failure are affected by perfectionism. 


Causes and Results of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can be caused by the belief that one’s self-worth is based solely on their accomplishments or achievements. A common cause of perfectionism is due to high expectations placed on an individual by people close to or important to them such as parents, employers, or educators (Martin, 2015). Perfectionism can negatively impact a person by making them feel inadequate which leads to outcomes such as depression, anxiety, poor quality of  life, or low self esteem (Martin, 2015). These side effects of perfectionism can cause a person to stop trying to succeed in aspects of their life such as work or relationships due to burnout or high levels of stress.


How to Overcome Perfectionism

Therapy can help someone overcome perfectionism because it can allow a perfectionist to reframe their thoughts. Creating a list of the disadvantages and advantages of being a perfectionist is a way to gain perspective on how it is hurting you more than helping you (Oregon Counseling, 2021). Setting achievable and realistic goals, setting time limits for tasks that need to be completed, and avoiding procrastination are also ways to overcome perfectionism. It is important to remember that mistakes will happen and they are not a bad thing that will define you. 


It is important to be educated on perfectionism and imposter syndrome because many people may not be aware of the signs that they are struggling with it. These topics should be discussed more in order to normalize them and let people know they should not be ashamed of struggling with either of these. Educating people on perfectionism and imposter syndrome will allow them to recognize it in themselves or others and seek help.


If you feel as though you are experiencing imposter syndrome or perfectionism, seeking therapy can help you learn tools on how to overcome it. 


For more information on how JRM&A can help you, contact us at 650-386-6753 or to learn more, ask questions, or schedule an appointment.


Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Imposter syndrome. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from 

Cuncic, A. (2022, July 27). Imposter Syndrome: Symptoms, causes, and coping. Verywell Mind. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from 

Bayes-Fleming, N. (2021, November 23). How to overcome imposter syndrome. Mindful. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from 

Pogored. (2022, April 4). What’s imposter syndrome and how to overcome it. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from 

Team, G. T. E. (2019, May 11). Types of perfectionism. GoodTherapy. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from 

Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Perfectionism. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from 

Sharon Martin, L. C. S. W. (2015, December 8). What causes perfectionism? Psych Central. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from 

10 ways to overcome perfectionism. Oregon Counseling. (2021, April 22). Retrieved October 20, 2022, from

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