The thing with imposter syndrome is that not everyone knows what it is, but they know they have it and it can hold you back in your personal and professional lives.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
“Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud. It disproportionately affects high-achieving people, who find it difficult to accept their accomplishments.” – Harvard Business Review, 11th Feb 2021
It was named in 1978 as Imposter Phenomenon or Imposter Complex by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.
In an article published in 2019, it was stated that imposter syndrome affects both men and women almost equally. According to figures published by workplaceinsight.net in Neil Franklin’s article entitled “Most people have no idea what imposter syndrome is, but they know they have it” 45% of sufferers are men, and 55% are women.
According to www.ksat.com, research shows that 70% of people may suffer from imposter syndrome.
Social media and the barrage of posts depicting people “living their best lives” is contributing to this feeling of not being good enough, and other mental health issues. Franklin’s article states that “those aged 18-24 are also 19% more likely than the average adult to experience imposter syndrome”.
It’s not currently recognised as a mental health disorder but it is a pattern of self-doubt that can lead to anxiety, stress, missed opportunities, and possibly depression.
How do I know if I have it?
Ask yourself the following questions:
Have you ever felt undeserving of praise or rewards?
Have you ever felt unaccomplished?
Have you ever felt like a fraud – fearful of being publicly revealed as lacking the knowledge or skills you profess to have?
Have you ever downplayed your efforts or achievements as luck – right time, right place, etc?
Some common signs of imposter syndrome include:
- not accepting your achievements are down to your own hard work, talents, abilities, and efforts
- feeling not good enough, or not knowing enough
- sabotaging your own success
- fear of failure
- fear of failing to meet expectations
The 5 Types of Imposter Syndrome
There are currently 5 types and, just to make it more interesting, it is possible to have some or all of the following:
1. The Perfectionist
They set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they still feel like failures. The smallest of mistakes are enough to make them question their abilities and competence.
2. The Expert
Ever feel like you need to know EVERY LITTLE DETAIL detail before you start a project, a blog post, create a training course, etc?
Are you constantly signing up for new training courses and qualifications to improve your skills and top up your knowledge?
Are you not applying for jobs because you don’t meet ALL the criteria in the advertisement, or do you stop yourself from asking a question because you’re fearful of coming across as stupid?
Then this could be you.
3. The Natural Genius
Do you ever feel ‘not good enough’ whenever you’re faced with something you have to work hard at, or struggle with, especially when you tackle almost everything else with ease?
That’s the imposter syndrome making an appearance.
4. The Soloist
They have to accomplish tasks on their own because asking for help makes them think that they’re a failure or a fraud.
They work harder than everyone around them to prove that they’re not imposters and deserve to be there.
They’re driven by a need to succeed in all aspects of life – personal and professional – and may feel stressed when they’re not accomplishing something.
What causes imposter syndrome?
There is no one thing that causes it.
Some experts believe it can have something to do with personality traits (like anxiety), whilst others think it’s developed through family or behavioural exposure for example, childhood memories and feeling that your grades weren’t good enough, or following an abusive relationship where you were repeatedly told you were worthless and couldn’t do anything right.
Whatever the reason, your confidence will have been affected then, and it could still be affecting you now – and that’s something you could have been living with for the past 10, 20, 30 or more years!
It’s important to remember that it’s completely normal to experience moments of anxiety or doubt. It’s our in-built early warning system that keeps us safe from harm (see our blog post about Anxiety).
Like many disorders it becomes a problem when it controls your actions, and detrimentally affects your day-to-day life.
How do I stop the feelings so that I can move forwards?
1. Recognise the problem, and accept it for what it is
There’s a good chance that your imposter syndrome has actually helped you get to where you are now.
It could even be your superpower.
Just sit with that thought for a moment or two.
You’ve double, triple, and quadruple-checked your work before you hand it in, so your line managers are confident that there won’t be any mistakes in it.
You’ve most likely got an enviable collection of certificates and qualifications that demonstrate your knowledge in a certain area, and it shows that you’re not afraid to learn and develop.
Do you see what I mean?
2. Avoid comparing yourself to others
We’re all different.
We all have our backstories, and that make us who we are.
We all bring unique skills and abilities to the table – professionally and personally.
Embrace what makes you you, and be kind to yourself.
Your thoughts and the language you use on yourself and others are powerful and can have an impact on a cellular level, which can then affect your physical and mental health.
3. Acknowledge the thoughts and put them into perspective
Thank your brain for the thought and for its help in protecting you, but tell it (either in your head or out loud) “it’s OK, I’ve got this” and smile.
Take a moment, have a deep breath in, and another one out, and then continue with what you were doing.
Now I know I said earlier NOT to compare yourself with others, but this helps me whenever I feel inadequate or start procrastinating by filling the need to learn more, or sign up for another training course or conduct more research into a particular subject.
I take a moment to tell myself that there are people in the legal profession with successful careers who scraped a pass at 40% in subjects that I got 80-90% in. They accepted it was a PASS, they were ecstatic they passed, and that’s all they needed. Just knowing they passed was enough for them to continue and not look back.
I was fretting about the 10-20% I didn’t know, and they weren’t even bothered about the 60% they dropped.
People eh? It’s a good job we’re all different.
4. Credit yourself for your achievements!
Frame your qualifications and fix them on the wall in your office and/or your home study.
Take a few minutes to properly look at them whenever a moment of doubt creeps in.
If it felt good getting the grades or being presented with the certificates or awards, then close your eyes and relive how it felt. Step back into those moments.
If you have any trophies, set them up on a sideboard, a shelf or put them in a display cabinet.
Take a few moments every now and again and learn to appreciate them too.
Be proud of what you’ve achieved so far. You deserve every single certificate, diploma, award, or trophy.
5. Learn to value constructive criticism and don’t take it personally
Feedback is something every business owner needs in order to improve their products and services, and it should be no different when it comes to our own personal development.
It can be difficult being on the receiving end of some harsh words or criticism when it feels like a personal attack, and especially when we’re tired or not feeling great.
What makes it worse is that our minds are wired to go for the negative by default.
An example of this is when we are receiving 99% praise in a 1:1 with our line manager, but we focus on that 1% that just happened to be slightly negative.
6. Ask for help when you could use it!
Although it might feel like it (or maybe we’ve been conditioned that way), asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
When was the last time you helped someone out when they asked you?
How did it make you feel about
a) them for asking, and
b) you actually being able to help?
Hopefully you appreciated them approaching you and asking for your assistance, and hopefully it made you good being able to help them?
7. Share how you’re feeling with trusted family and friends
It’s important to get a reality check every now and again, and this is where your trusted family and friends come in. And when we say trusted, we mean friends that aren’t afraid to say it as it is!
Remember we said earlier that an estimated 70% of people are battling imposter syndrome? The chances are at least a couple of your friends have it too – and they might not even realise that’s what it is yet.
Discuss your thoughts and feelings with them, and give them the chance to remind you of what you’ve achieved.
8. Seek professional help from a psychologist if it affects your life
There’s a time and a place for seeking out professional help, and it could be exactly what you need to free yourself from the internal battles.
If imposter syndrome is affecting you to the point where self-doubt, anxiety, depression, and/or stress is starting to affect you and the quality of your life, then please go and seek out the help of a psychologist.
9. Be kind to yourself!
Wherever you are in your life’s journey, above all else be kind to yourself.
Self-care is important and your mental health is as important as your physical health.
Try to do more of what you enjoy, step away from social media and electronic devices, get outside into the great outdoors, socialise with friends and family, and try to make time to sit back, play, have fun, and relax.
Not everyone gets everything right 100% of the time, and technology can trip us up when we least expect it (just think of the bloopers autocorrect is responsible for!).
To help lessen the effects of imposter syndrome, how about not labelling mistakes or mishaps as “failures” but opting for kinder language such as “learning opportunities” instead?
As an aside, “learning opportunites” appear in the audit reports we produce for our clients, and have done for some time.
As a parent, the language you use with and around your children should be chosen carefully.
Celebrate their wins, and be kinder when they don’t quite get it right. Try to show them an alternative or better way of doing something. They won’t be children for long, and these are their formative years.
What they learn from you will be with them their entire lives.
It’s worth mentioning that many mental health issues and disorders can be traced back to childhood or adolescence.
When in the workplace, it’s important that our business (and wider industries) culture takes action against systemic bias and racism, channels healthy self-doubt into positive motivation, and foster a supportive work environment that celebrates achievements of both individuals and teams as appropriate.
Anything that helps quieten the nagging inner voice or inner critic would be a welcome relief, especially when dealing with something that did not go quite as planned.
There’s a good chance your imposter syndrome won’t disappear 100%, but imagine a life where it’s been lessened by even 25%. How would that make you feel? What else could you achieve?
Have you experienced imposter syndrome? Maybe you’ve found a way of keeping it at bay or have lessened its effects?
Tell us about your experiences below. How did/does it affect you, and what have you done to quieten the noise? Maybe your methods could help others.
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