Is there a cure for Imposter Syndrome?
The first thing to point out is that a syndrome is not one thing, but a collection of things. For something to be classed as a syndrome it has to have a group of symptoms which appear together on a regular basis. The second thing to point out is that imposter syndrome is not a disease, therefore technically there is no cure for it because if you have it, you are not ill in the physical sense, although it may make you feel unwell.
Of course, there is nothing new about the idea of imposter syndrome except for that these days there is a name for a form of anxiety that is commonly experienced. I suppose that giving it an actual name can be comforting since it identifies that is must be commonly experienced if it has earned a title, but in other ways this might be counter productive since it may make it sound as though it is something really bad. One thing that you can be comforted by is that imposter syndrome is not a mental illness. You are experiencing a set of uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
Symptoms of imposter syndrome
- A sense that you are a fraud in your current position.
- Doubts about your skills, accomplishments and talents.
- A feeling of anxiety that you might get discovered as fraud.
- Difficult in accepting what you do well, and where you have had success.
But all of them can be dealt with, if you want to address them, and in most cases this is accomplished by speaking to the right people about your experiences. It might sound obvious but one of the best people that you can talk to about having these thoughts and feelings is a life or performance coach. This is because coaches are going to be unbiased.
Often when you talk to a friend or a member of the family they are so invested in helping you to feel better that they will offer all sorts of advice that has the potential to make things worse. A coach on the other hand is not going to offer you advice, because they know that this is not as helpful as it as first seems. In fact what the coach will do is to help you to understand where these thought and feelings originate from, and therefore begin to address them at their very origin, reducing the symptoms of anxiety and replacing unhelpful thoughts with those that serve you better.
Often, people suffering with imposter syndrome don't want to speak with colleagues about their doubts because they worry that if they do their colleagues might start to think that they are not up to the role, or worse still they may tell other people and that will embarrass you. This then links into a continuous cycle of doubt, worry and paranoia.
Of course not every body is in a position to be able to use the services of a life coach so here are some tips on what you can do to help yourself.
Recognise your feelings as a sign of your dedication
First of all, bear in mind that having some level of performance anxiety may well be the impetus that you need in order to give a job role your full and focused attention, a bit like a performer who gets stage fright before a show.
Don't fall for the curse of perfectionism
Nobody performs at optimum capacity all the time. People drop the ball, miss the point, make mistakes. Accept that and forgive yourself, learning to take it in your stride. It's not the absence of mistakes that make good employees/leaders it the acceptance that mistakes are an inevitable part of life and that resilience, being quick to move on, is what makes a true leader.
Begin to notice your own feelings and thoughts
You are more likely to notice your feelings first, before you can link them to thoughts. What is it that first alerts you to your anxiety? Each person will feel this in their unique way. For some it is a feeling of butterflies in the stomach, for others it is a constriction in the throat. Some people will notice themselves wringing their hands or clenching their teeth. Any of these actions are a sign that you are experiencing anxiety, they are all part of the flight/fight response.
When you find yourself experiencing these things this is a time to take note of the accompanying thoughts. Renowned psychologist Albert Ellis explained that humans tend to have a set of demands on themselves that are unrealistic and what he termed irrational. Demands such as, I must, I have to, I absolutely should. These then get boiled down to specifics and absolute demands.
- I must always get things right.
- I have to have all the answers.
- I absolutely should display the evidence of my success.
Some people can boil this down to even more micro demands on self.
- I must never be late.
- I must never get angry.
- I have to be popular at all times.
- I must be in a position of status.
Is it any wonder that they become anxious when they cannot live up to these demands that they put on themselves? Recognise the feelings, link them to the thoughts first of all. Once you have identified which of your thoughts are contributing to your anxiety you should begin writing down some counter arguments. I’ve already given you one.
- Nobody works at optimum capacity all the time.
- I am strong and intelligent.
- I have earned my promotion.
- I don’t have to be perfect to do the job right.
- I trust my decision making.
Expect to have some of these affirmations feel strange and as if they are not true sometimes. Also expect to feel as though they are not working sometimes, but continue to do them anyway. Us humans spend years telling ourselves that we are lacking, not good enough etc (which by the way are affirmations, just ones that are negatively biased) so the change won’t happen overnight.
List of all your successes
What most people who suffer with imposter syndrome don't realise is that just by going to work, and making an effort to do the job well, and aspiring to move up the leadership board they are already successful. In fact, Albert Ellis himself said that in order to accept yourself for all you are worth you don't have to do anything.
You are already everything you need to be, that is acceptance without preconditions. In other words unconditional acceptance. That's what I mean about starting small. Get yourself a notebook and note down anything that is evidence that you are participating in life. It might look like this:
- Got out of bed and had a wash.
- Got to work 5 minutes early.
- Had a nutritional lunch.
- Cleared the out-of-date emails in my account.
- Spoke up in a meeting.
- Went for an evening walk.
- Took a lunch break.
Any of these things are successes and the more you become accustomed to marking your success the more you will come to accept yourself. You can even recall any past successes if you want.
The final comforting words are these. Everybody who starts a new job starts from a position of not knowing exactly what the job entails. Trust me, even employers don’t know exactly what the job entails when they create and advertise it, so how could you. The longer you stay in the job, the more you begin to realise that there are things that you will need to learn. But that’s a good thing right? Oh! There is another affirmation for you, “The more I learn, the more I grow.”