Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?
You are fairly successful and have seen your position and salary improve in your chosen career. Yet, you can’t shake off this feeling that deep down inside you are not as good as people think and soon or later, you will be found out.
Imposter syndrome affects us all at some point in our lives and can scupper our ability to be promoted and recognised at work.
Imposter syndrome – what is it?
According to the Harvard Business Review, imposter syndrome “can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. 'Imposters' suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence”.
The term that was first used by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s and, at the time, it was thought that it affected mostly to high-achieving women. It’s since been recognised that imposter syndrome is widespread and widely experienced. Studies suggest that 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives.
Crippling self-doubt, attributing your success to external factors, or worse, luck, over-achieving, over-delivering, perfectionism, sabotaging your own success and setting yourself up to fail by having impossible goals, are some of the ways you might express your imposter syndrome. Deep down inside there’s a belief that you are not good enough and that everyone around you knows it and they’re just waiting for the right time to expose you for the fraud you believe you are.
You may find that the stress of imposter syndrome can be a driver of success. You tend to over-prepare, thoroughly research and plan your work obsessively to make sure you are not ‘found out’. You are the diligent project manager who can anticipate any problems or flaws and as such ensures that projects are never stalled because of unforeseen circumstances or the person who can always deliver results no matter how tight or impossible a budget or deadline may seem. Unfortunately, doing so means living under constant fear and anxiety – a vicious circle of over-achieving under the pain of being exposed.
Even when you are successful, you are unable to shake off the feeling that you don’t belong and you don’t deserve your success. Facts and proof of success are not enough to break the inherent belief that you are not enough, and you don’t deserve success.
Do you have imposter syndrome?
One way to find out if you have imposter syndrome is to ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I become obsessed over flaws or mistakes in my work?
- I am overly concerned with what my colleagues think about me when I make a mistake or fail to anticipate problems?
- Do I believe that my success is due to lack or other external factors?
- Am I constantly in fear of being ‘found out’ as a phony?
- If there’s an opportunity for promotion or a position opens, do I think that I can’t go for it because I lack the qualifications, experience, etc.?
- Do I downplay my abilities even, when it’s proven that I am more skilled than others in my area of work?
- Have I ever been accused of being a micromanager?
Answering the above questions may help you to identify if you have imposter syndrome and can put you in a position where you can decide to ask for help from a coach and/or a mental health professional.
Are there different types of imposter syndrome?
In short, the answer is yes with five types having been identified so far. The types are:
- The perfectionist: You are never satisfied with your work. You tend to focus mainly on your flaws and mistakes, rather than your strengths and achievements. You put a lot of pressure on yourself and live in a state of permanent stress and anxiety.
- The superwoman/man: Because you feel inadequate, you feel compelled to push yourself to work as hard as possible.
- The expert: You are always trying to learn more and are never satisfied with your level of understanding and are always looking for the next training, diploma and degree that will make you qualified for the position you hold. Even though you are often highly skilled, you underrate your own expertise.
- The natural genius: You usually set very ambitious and nigh on impossible goals. You tend to feel inadequate and unworthy when you don't succeed on your first try.
- The soloist: You are individualistic and prefer to work alone. Your self-worth often stems from your productivity, so you tend to reject offers of assistance. Asking for help is, for you, a sign of weakness or incompetence.
What can you do about imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is not a life sentence and it can be overcome. However, to be able to do so, you need to become aware of your work patterns and how they affect you and those around you. This means taking a long and hard look at yourself and your behaviours. Asking the following questions may help you to start moving past imposter syndrome:
- What are my core beliefs about myself?
- Am I worthy of love and acceptance as I am?
- Do I need to be perfect to be loved and accepted?
- Will I be seen as weak or incompetent if I ask for help?
- How realistic are my expectations of myself?
- How can I work smarter, not harder?
Moving past imposter syndrome means confronting the most ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself. This can feel hard because, in most cases, you may not even be aware that you hold these beliefs. There are some techniques that may help you coupled with professional help from a coach or mental health professional such as a psychotherapist or counsellor. For example, you can:
Share your feelings: Recovery can never be done in isolation. Sharing your feelings is a way to diminish the power they have over you and allow yourself to create space for more positive feelings and emotions. Sharing your feelings also helps you to gain better perspective over your own beliefs.
Assess your abilities: This is extremely important, especially if you are constantly downplaying your abilities and skills. Write down your accomplishments and skills in all areas of your life to give you a realistic impression of who you are.
Stop comparing yourself to others: You only see what people want you to see. The social influencer on social media, the successful boss, the great athlete, are only so because they present a very carefully curated picture of themselves in public. Nine times out of 10 they do feel insecure and inadequate from time to time. Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on yourself and what you can do, not what you think you should do to be valued.
Question your thoughts: Your thoughts can give you a warped sense of reality. In most cases, they tend to confirm your existing beliefs so it’s important to challenge them, especially if they contradict your reality.
Take it slowly: Rome wasn’t built in a day! It took you many years of believing you were not worthy of success. These feelings will not disappear from one day to the other. In fact, you may experience times when you feel you got rid of imposter syndrome, only for it to resurface back at a later date. Be kind to yourself and realise that transforming yourself takes time and progress is made one day at a time.
If left unchecked, imposter syndrome can have a devastating effect in your life. It can stop you from getting the job, the promotion, the salary raise and recognition that you want and deserve.
You have the power to decide to fight back and reclaim the life you want to have.