What is Imposter Syndrome and how can you combat it?

Dr Natalie Flatt Ph.D

Co-Founder Connect Psych Services

“I’m not good enough for this role”, “Why would people pay for my advice?”, “Luck was on my side with that presentation/project today”, “They are going to figure out I don’t know enough” …

 

Does this sound familiar? Most of us have experienced feelings of doubt and unworthiness at some point in our lives. But when your accomplishments are a result of your own knowledge, hard work, and preparation and you still feel inadequate … you’re probably suffering from impostor syndrome.

 

 

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome can be defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. You feel as though at any moment you are going to be called out as a ‘fake’ – like you don’t belong where you are, and you find it difficult to accept and be worthy of your well-deserved accomplishments and in turn, may not expand on advancing your skills and experience in fear of failure. You might feel relief or even distress in place of happiness and pride. You look for validation in authority figures—such as a boss or family member—and give them the power to dictate whether you are successful or not.

And you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 70% of individuals will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome during their lifetime and it may manifest in differing identities –

  • The ‘superhero’: Because these individuals feel inadequate, they feel compelled to push themselves to work as hard as possible.
  • The ‘expert’: These individuals are always trying to learn more and are never satisfied with their level of understanding. Even though they are often highly skilled, they underrate their own expertise.
  • The ‘perfectionist’Perfectionists are never satisfied and always feel that their work could be better. Rather than focus on their strengths, they tend to fixate on any flaws or mistakes. This often leads to a great deal of self-pressure and high amounts of anxiety.
  • The ‘natural genius’: These individuals set excessively ambitious goals for themselves, and then feel extreme disappointment and shame when they don’t succeed on the first try.
  • The ‘soloist’: The preference to work alone and show an individualistic style of working. They tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence so they often reject offers of assistance due to much of the self-worth deriving from the accomplishments.

 

How can imposter syndrome be addressed and overcome?

To get past impostor syndrome, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions. They might include things such as the following:

  • “What core beliefs do I hold about myself? Where has this come from?”
  • “Do I believe I am worthy just as I am?”
  • “Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?”

As core beliefs are strongly held, rigid and often inflexible, we can tend to focus on information that supports the belief and ignore evidence that contradicts it. Addressing uncomfortable feelings and emotions can be highly confronting. To assist you in this process of self-identity, try:

  • Evaluate your abilities. If you have strongly held beliefs about your incompetence in social and performance situations, make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Write down your accomplishments and what you are good at and compare that with your self-assessment.
  • Break the silence. Talk to other people about how you are feeling.  Irrational belief systems tend to worsen and grow when they are hidden from others. It’s only when you acknowledge them that you can start to unravel those core beliefs. You will also notice that by allowing these feelings to flow, they will come and go at an easier pace.
  • Take baby steps to build up your evidence and record it. Don’t focus on doing things perfectly, but rather, do things reasonably well and reward yourself for taking action. For example, in a group conversation or team meeting, offer an opinion or professional strategy. Take note of the reaction and its consequence.
  • Challenge your thoughts. As you start to assess your abilities and take baby steps, question whether your thoughts are rational. Does it make sense to believe that you are a fraud, given everything that you know? Use questions such as” “If that’s true, what would that really mean for me?”
  • Develop a new script. Try to become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re in a situation that triggers impostor feelings. Rather than falling into the cognitive trap of, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” tell yourself “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.”
  • Stop comparing. Rather than comparing yourself to others in a social or work situation, focus on listening to what your friend/colleague is saying and even asking how they perform a certain task or hold a certain attitude. This way of inquiry will lead to a greater growth mindset.
  • Watch your social media intake. Research continually displays a significant relationship between social media and mental health detriment. If you try to portray an image on social media that doesn’t match who you really are or that is impossible to achieve, it can make you feel even worse. Minimise this exposure or creating accounts with only realistic and inspiring imagery can assist with a more positive self-schema
  • Visualise success. Spend time before a situation visualising yourself making a successful presentation or calmly integrating yourself in a social setting. This creates a feeling of calm in the body and allows for more rational thinking and a stronger belief system that this vision can come true!

While for some individuals, imposter syndrome can fuel feelings of motivation to achieve, this usually comes at a cost in the form of constant anxiety. Integrating strategies above to minimise its impact, the anxiety and self-doubt that comes with imposter syndrome can be minimised to allow you to reach your full potential; both personally and professionally.

 

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