Understanding Imposter Syndrome

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Do you ever feel that you are not good enough to do your job?
Do you fear that you may be found out as a fraud?
Do you question your ability and think your success was just down to luck?

Then you may be experiencing imposter syndrome

Understanding imposter syndrome

People who struggle with imposter syndrome doubt their abilities and can feel like a fraud. It can involve feelings of personal incompetence despite their experience, education, or accomplishments. It most often affects high-achievers who don’t feel that they deserve the high esteem they are generally held. People with imposter syndrome will often attribute their successes to luck or good timing, without any belief that they were good enough to achieve.

However, it is worth noting that there is a difference between self-doubt and imposter syndrome. True imposter feelings include self-doubt and feelings of personal incompetence but they persist despite evident success; this chronic self-doubt overrides any external proof of ability.

So what causes imposter syndrome?

There is no single clear reason or cause that someone may suffer from imposter syndrome. It can be a multitude and/or accumulation of factors likely to trigger such feelings. Situations and circumstances such as:

Childhood environment can play a significant role; comparison to siblings; being overly criticised or controlled by parents; pressure at school to succeed; and families that value achievement above all else. Research also suggests people who come from families characterised by high levels of conflict with low amounts of support have a higher risk of experiencing imposter syndrome.

Personality traits are also linked to coping with imposter syndrome. Some traits such as perfectionism, low self-efficacy, and neuroticism can play a significant role in imposter syndrome with existing higher levels of anxiety, self-belief and insecurities.

Existing mental health conditions – depression, anxiety, or social anxiety are usually accompanied by feelings of self-doubt, a lack of self-confidence, and concerns about how others perceive you.

New responsibilities – starting a new job or role can trigger imposter syndrome. Often around new responsibilities, there is a pressure to achieve and succeed. You may be worried that you won’t measure up to expectations or believe you will not be as capable as your co-workers, coupled with a lack of experience in that new role. These concerns can all trigger feelings of inadequacy.

The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of ‘I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!’ Just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud - Tina Fey

Overcoming imposter syndrome

Awareness – being aware of and recognising your feelings is the first step to changing them! When you acknowledge your feelings, you can start to unravel the negative beliefs that are holding you back. Being aware will help you to challenge your doubts – ask yourself if there is any evidence to support your beliefs?

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Share your feelings – once you have acknowledged your feelings, then sharing them with others can help in a couple of ways. First of all, talking to a trusted friend or colleague can help to get your feelings into context and with an outside perspective, this may help you to rid yourself of irrational beliefs (harbouring negative thoughts will only fester if you don’t let them out!) Secondly, you may find that others have experienced similar self-doubts and worries too, and may encourage them to talk about their own experiences.

Assess your abilities and embrace them! If you believe you didn’t deserve something, examine if this thought process is right and why you felt that way! In other words, resist the urge to invalidate your successes! For example; if your work was not good enough, it wouldn’t go unnoticed by your colleagues! Write down your accomplishments, this could be as simple as recognition and encouragement from your peers, and in time, this will help you to affirm your self-worth.

Rewrite your internal narrative – reframe feelings of failure or inadequacy by reminding yourself that it’s perfectly normal not to know everything! Focus more on what you’re learning than on your performance and use this as an opportunity to progress.

Give yourself a reality check by seeking support – it is ok to seek help and you don’t have to do be alone with your thoughts.

Avoid comparing yourself to others – we are all different and all have unique abilities. If you compare yourself to others, you will find fault in yourself that will only back up the mindset that you are not good enough or that you don’t belong. Think about what new perspective you can offer that others may not have done rather than comparing existing ones!

Create a coping strategy

Overcoming imposter syndrome may not be easy but it is possible. Creating your own strategies to cope will help you not to feel like an imposter! Try to be kind to yourself and remember to reward yourself for getting things right! Keep your eye on the outcome which will help to keep you focussed. Question your negative thoughts and remind yourself of your achievements, try to avoid comparison to your colleagues, talk about your experiences to a trustworthy person. Remember you don’t need to be alone or feel helpless, there are people that will help you.

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