imposter syndrome (noun)
The persistent inability to believe that one's success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one's own efforts or skills: "people suffering from impostor syndrome may be at increased risk of anxiety"
Do you have imposter syndrome?
Do you ever feel...
You aren't good enough
You're winging it
You're going to be found out to be a fraud at any minute
You're not as qualified or as experienced as you should be
Everything positive that has happened to you was luck, not because of your expertise or skills
Like you cannot accept a compliment
Sound familiar? We can all feel like imposters at times- often in the workplace, but it can also happen in other settings like when parenting or within our friendship groups. Imposter syndrome can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, social background, skill level etc.
I'll let you in on a little secret some of the most highly paid, highly qualified, experienced and successful people feel this way too! In fact, research shows that up to 70% of people feel like an imposter at some point in their lives. *
Who gets imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is particularly common in those of us who tend to overthink or are perfectionists, as these individuals are always striving to be better at their jobs, better at relationships, better parents and to generally be a better person. Which is no bad thing, it is great to want to achieve and be the best we can be however sometimes that can go too far, or we aren't satisfied once we reach that goal and instead look to the next goal, hoping that will make us the person we want to be, and then the next goal and so on.
Feeling like an imposter often leads to over working and pushing ourselves too far which may lead to burnout. It can also cause anxiety and overthinking. Prolonged and intense anxiety also has strong links to depression so it's very important to tackle imposter syndrome as early as possible.
We can all grow and evolve but sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break! Remember you are enough.
Causes of imposter syndrome.
Upbringing. Research suggests that upbringing and family dynamics can play an important role in imposter syndrome. Parents who are controlling or overprotective may contribute to the development of imposter syndrome in children. Studies also suggest that people who come from families that experienced high levels of conflict, but low amounts of support may also be more likely to experience imposter syndrome.
For example, you might have come from a family that highly valued achievement. Or you may have had parents who flipped back and forth between offering praise and being critical.
Change. Research shows that during periods of change more people experience imposter syndrome such as changing schools, starting college or university, a job change, new baby etc.
The pressures to achieve, get things right or to fit in combined with a lack of experience can lead to feelings of inadequacy.
Personality. People who display certain personality traits are more likely to experience imposter syndrome such as;
Perfectionism. This is a key factor in imposter syndrome, you may feel you need to do everything perfectly to be good enough, practicing skills or conversations over and over. Or perhaps this need to get things completely right every time leads to procrastination.
Low self-efficacy (how you feel about your ability to function in different situations)
Lack of emotional stability (sometimes referred to as neuroticism). This is where the person really struggles to self-regulate, they struggle with stress, tend to complain and have an extreme reaction to perceived threats, struggling to calm themselves down after this reaction.
How to tackle imposter syndrome.
Be kind to yourself- Try repeating an affirmation such as "I am enough" to yourself in the mirror 3 times every day for a week and see how you feel. At first this might feel very silly but trust me, what you tell yourself repeatedly starts to sink in and effect you emotionally.
Re-frame your thoughts- learning to value constructive criticism is important. The more you practice a skill the better you will become. Challenge your own negative thoughts about yourself (and others) is this a rational thought? What evidence do I have that this isn't the case?
Share how you're feeling- you may be very surprised to find out that other people who you thought really had their sh*t together are feeling exactly the same self-doubts as you. Negative feelings often increase and don't go away when we bottle them up so share them and you may well set them free.
Seek feedback from your friends and/or colleagues- this may give you the confidence boost you need and remind you of all your strengths. If you struggle to accept what they are saying as really true it may be time to reflect on why that is.
You can feel worthy of praise for your achievements without being big headed or entitled- we can be gracious and humble but accept the genuine compliments of others when they are deserved. Try to identify what you have achieved and allow yourself to be proud of those achievements. Sometimes keeping a little note of these achievements in the back of a diary or a list on your phone to re-read on difficult days can help.
Help others try to help others in the same situation as you- If you see someone who seems awkward or alone, ask them a question to bring them into the group. As you practice your skills, you will build confidence in your own abilities.
Try to tone down your inner perfectionist- tricky I know. Many people who experience imposter syndrome are over achievers and have very high standards for themselves. Try to cut yourself some slack! It is OK to be good enough sometimes rather than perfect at everything. Write a list of all your achievements so you can refer back to them and remind yourself of all that you have done.
“If somethings worth doing its worth doing badly.” (G.K. Chesterton)
Stop the comparisons- If you compare yourself to others, you will always find fault because you are actively looking for it. Stop comparing yourself to others and instead be in the moment. You could practice some simple mindfulness techniques to help with this.
Moderate social media- social media can lead to feeling of inferiority and unhealthy comparisons. People portray a front or face on social media, very rarely is it the real deal. The use of filters and editing is rife, people only post the images in which they look at their best with the right lighting and camera angels. People don't tend to post about the harder times in life, the temper tantrums and arguments- we don't air our dirty laundry as they saying goes. Don't get sucked into comparing your life, body, looks, diet, family, happiness etc. to what you see from others on social media because it isn't a true reflection of reality for the most part it is simply a highly polished version.
Note: If you are worried about your mental health or are experiencing uncontrolled imposter syndrome please get in touch for some support.
Author: Gill Jackson of Gill Jackson Therapeutic Counselling, BA Hons Counselling, Diploma in Couples and Family Therapy, Diploma in EFT, Assoc. CIPD, SMACCPH
Bio: I am a Therapeutic Counsellor/Psychotherapist, Accredited Mentor and Trainer in private practice in the UK, qualified since 2007. Working with adults and young adults. I specialise in Anxiety Disorders and Depression.
This article is not intended as a replacement for medical advice, if you are suffering from any physical or mental ill health please seek advice of your Doctor where necessary.
Images used with permission from Wix and Unsplashed.
* Sakulku, J. (1) “The Impostor Phenomenon”, The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), pp. 75-97. doi: 10.14456/ijbs.2011.6.