Do you ever get the nagging feeling of not being good enough, clever enough, pretty enough, enough of a good manager, or parent? Maybe you’ve got a great job that you believe you only got through luck. If you’re coasting through life thinking that you’re about to be ‘found out’ for not being good enough, then you’re probably experiencing the relatively common phenomenon of imposter syndrome. In this blog, we’re going to look at what it is and how to overcome it.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
In short, imposter syndrome (sometimes referred to as fraud syndrome) is the internal feeling of believing that you are not as competent, intelligent, or capable as others perceive you to be, despite evidence of your skills and accomplishments.
People experiencing imposter syndrome often put their success down to luck rather than being able to acknowledge their own abilities and efforts. It’s a real feeling of self-doubt.
Whilst it is acknowledged that around 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, it is a common misconception that is affects more women than men. When surveys are anonymous however, the results are fairly equal.
In fact, Mike Parkinson, son of celebrity interviewer, Michael Parkinson interviewed the likes of David Beckham and Muhammad Ali over his career, told BBC Radio 4’s Last Word that as confident as his father appeared to be on the tv, he was constantly wracked with self-doubt, stemming from his insecurities about class and background.
The concept of an ‘imposter phenomenon’ was coined back in 1985 by American psychologist Dr. Pauline Clance. Clance developed the Imposter Phenomenon Test which seeks to help individuals determine whether or not they have the characteristics of imposter phenomenon and, if so, to what extent they are suffering.
For some, it is a fleeting moment of self-doubt but for others, it’s the ear worm of insecurity, getting progressively worse as those inflicted deal with trying to overcome the effects of imposter syndrome.
How do I know if I have Imposter Syndrome?
If you can relate to anything described above, then you’ll have likely experienced imposter syndrome symptoms. Although it is referred to as a ‘syndrome’, it is not a medical disease or recognised mental health condition, but symptoms can, and do, have an impact on a person’s wellbeing and mental health.
Here are some of the main things to look out for:
1. Self Doubt
Constantly questioning your abilities and feeling like you don’t deserve your achievements.
2. Attributing success to luck
Believing that your success is due to luck or external factors rather than your own skills or efforts.
3. Fear of failure
An intense fear of making mistakes or failing, often leading to perfectionism.
4. Denial of achievements and successes
Minimising or dismissing your achievements and attributing them to external factors.
Working excessively hard to compensate for perceived inadequacies, sometimes leading to burnout.
6. Excessive comparison to others
Constantly comparing yourself to others and feeling that everyone else is more competent or successful.
7. Difficulty accepting praise
Feeling uncomfortable or disbelieving when receiving positive feedback or compliments.
8. Setting unrealistically high standards
Establishing standards for yourself that are exceptionally high and difficult to achieve.
9. Feelings of being a ‘fraud’
Worrying that others will eventually discover that you are not as competent as they think you are.
10. Avoiding recognition
Steering clear of opportunities that might lead to public recognition or acknowledgment of your achievements.
Imposter Syndrome can also cause:
Imposter syndrome can massively amplify a person’s anxiety because of the way it fosters persistent self-doubt and a deep-seated fear of exposure. This creates uncertainty and is linked to one of the triggers of imposter syndrome, perfectionism. People whose imposter syndrome heightens their anxiety will likely overwork in an attempt to demonstrate their own competence. This could lead to burnout. They may also tend to have difficulty in handling or accepting criticism, avoid new opportunities and might even experience social anxiety, withdrawing from social situations altogether rather than feeling judged.
Imposter syndrome can also impact on a person’s mental health when it results in depression. This is because it impacts on their self-worth which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and hopelessness. People who are experiencing depression as a result of their imposter syndrome will be constantly overworking and putting pressure on themselves to meet unrealistic standards. They might be feeling overwhelmed and experience feelings of despair, negative thoughts, or emotional exhaustion.
People grappling with imposter syndrome can sometimes experience burn out – exhaustion due to the relentless pressure of proving their capabilities and competencies so as not to show their perceived inadequacies. Fear of failure, compulsion to overcompensate and pressure to ‘do more’ can drive a person to the point of burnout.
Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome
We’ve spoken about some of the impacts but what are the key characteristics of imposter syndrome and how do they manifest? At Think EQ, we call them ‘crushers’ – the personal emotional triggers that lead to feelings of self-doubt.
Perfectionism is the desire and relentless pursuit of flawlessness. It is characterised by a strong and overwhelming need for exceptionally high standards and a fear of making mistakes and or the anxiety around the consequences of making mistakes. These people will usually set unrealistic or very high standards for themselves and sometimes those around them. Perfectionism is particularly prevalent in people who work in occupations where there is a belief that mistakes cannot be made, most especially careers such as medicine, academia, law, and leadership.
Achievemephobia (fear of success)
Having a fear of success is like a constant internal tug-of-war between ambition and apprehension. A clash between the desire for achievement and the overwhelming anxiety about the consequences of success. People feel as though they are not prepared for success or worthy of it. There might be a tendency here to self-sabotage or talk down their existing achievements. The prospect of success becomes a source of stress rather than joy, as individuals struggle with the unsettling notion that achieving their goals may expose them as frauds.
The superhero persona in the context of imposter syndrome can be a coping mechanism which conceals underlying feelings of self-doubt. It can look on the surface, as though the person is very confident however, despite the facade, individuals who experience this kind of imposter syndrome may still struggle with an internal belief that they are not as competent or deserving as others perceive them to be. The superhero persona becomes a mask worn to navigate the fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Atychiphobia (fear of failure)
Living with atychiphobia, the fear of failure, is akin to carrying a heavy burden that colours every aspect of life. It involves an incessant dread of not meeting expectations, whether self-imposed or perceived from others. The fear permeates decision-making, hindering the pursuit of goals and dreams, as individuals are paralysed by the anticipation of failure. Atychiphobia can lead to a perpetual state of anxiety, causing individuals to avoid challenges or risks, even when the potential rewards are substantial. The fear of falling short erodes self-esteem and amplifies self-doubt. The constant fear of failure transforms life into a cautious and hesitant journey, plagued by missed opportunities.
Recognising the triggers and crushers can help you build strategies on how to overcome imposter syndrome.
What can cause Imposter Syndrome?
Family dynamics and relationships can really impact imposter syndrome. Some examples might include very high expectations, an emphasis on perfection, love that is conditional on achievement or success and pressure caused by comparison. Families that create such environments can contribute to people feeling like frauds with low self-worth and doubt.
Just like family dynamics, childhood experiences can impact on how we view ourselves in our adult lives, particularly when it comes to our self-belief about our capabilities. Childhood experiences that lack support during challenges or punish mistakes can contribute to imposter syndrome by fostering a belief that any deviation from perfection is unacceptable. These early impressions can imprint a mindset of self-doubt, where individuals feel undeserving of their accomplishments and persistently fear exposure as frauds.
A person’s personality can play a significant role in the development and experience of imposter syndrome. Certain personality traits may make individuals more susceptible to these feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Some examples are those who demonstrate a constant need for reassurance, validation, and approval, those with low self-esteem, high conscientiousness, and perfectionism.
Change of Workplace or School
Changes in general can bring about a sense of anxiety and nervousness. While some people look forward to new challenges and situations, those who don’t, can feel self-conscious about having to prove themselves in a new and unfamiliar situation. Sometimes prior experiences or trauma can impact on a person’s self-worth creating self-doubt and fear.
Imposter syndrome can heighten social anxiety by fostering a persistent apprehension in social interactions, as individuals fear scrutiny and judgment from others. The constant worry about not meeting expectations or being seen as a fraud can lead to anticipatory anxiety before social events, avoidance of situations where their abilities might be evaluated, and a unwillingness to share accomplishments or seek support.
12 Ways to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
The great news is that by following some quick and easy steps, you can begin to overcome imposter syndrome, build your own or help someone to build their self-esteem and grow self-worth to reduce the feelings of overwhelm and anxiety.
1. Acknowledge your feelings
The first step in changing anything is to acquire self-awareness. What are the contributory factors that trigger your imposter syndrome? Where does your ‘crusher’ come from and how does it manifest? When you have the self-awareness, you can then acknowledge how the triggers make you feel. This is the first step towards change.
2. Understand that it is common
It really is! As we said above, imposter syndrome affects around 70% of people and it affects men as well as women. There’s a good chance your best friend or a co-worker is grappling with this right now. You can work together to help overcome imposter syndrome.
3. Talk to others
As above, chat with a friend, colleague, or family member about it. Opening a line of communication with someone who will listen and understand could really help you offload and rationalise your feelings. Normalising these experiences brings about a sense of camaraderie, solidarity, and empathy.
4. Is there evidence?
If, right now, you’re experiencing the anxiety or anticipation about being ‘found out’, challenge yourself to think about whether there is any evidence to back up these feelings.
5. Challenge negative self-talk
This is a big one and it goes hand in hand with the step above. Consider what you’re saying to yourself. Is there evidence to support the things you are telling yourself? Stop and think about whether you would talk to your friends in the same way that you talk to yourself. The chances are that you’re being hard on yourself.
6. Acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses
Acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses is a great way to boost your self-esteem, level up your strengths and dial down on the weaknesses. It acts as a great opportunity to think about the types of things that boost and those which drain your energy. When you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can set about making changes. You can learn more about how we can support you to identify and leverage your strengths using one of our strengths programmes.
7. Celebrate and remind yourself of your successes
An easy way to celebrate yourself and all of your wonderful achievements is to write them down. It doesn’t have to be in the form of a gratitude journal but at the end of each day, think about the times when you feel most vulnerable when it comes to imposter syndrome and the efforts you made to overcome the feelings.
8. Overcome perfectionism
Letting go of perfectionism involves embracing the idea that perfection is unattainable and often counterproductive. Start by setting realistic and achievable goals, understanding that mistakes are a natural part of any learning process. Recognise the value of progress over perfection and celebrate small victories.
9. Develop a response plan
Coming up with coping strategies often requires an understanding of the trigger. Where and when are you most vulnerable? Who can you call upon for support? What is within your control and what is not? Taking this very important step can help you to resist the impulse to react right away.
10. Practice self-compassion
Whatever grounds you and makes you feel at peace with yourself is self-compassion. If going for a walk, listening to music ,or taking time to read makes you feel more chilled and more in control, then do more of it. In times where you are able to tame your imposter syndrome, celebrate that win and treat yourself.
11. Engage in mindfulness
Mindfulness is the exercise of completely letting go of whatever worries are running through your mind to focus on the here and now. Clearing your head and brining awareness to your body is a grounding and healing experience. Taking the space and time out to simply breathe deeply can help alleviate the physical symptoms of anxiety and relax your body and mind.
12. Accept it
We are definitely creatures of habit aren’t we? It’s difficult to change behaviours and mindsets quickly but if we start to adopt the mindset that every one us has strengths and weaknesses then we can start to overcome imposter syndrome in a healthy and helpful way.
Imposter Syndrome is rooted in the emotional intelligence sub scale of self-regard and at Think EQ, we work with organisations and individual alike to boost their self-regard through self-awareness and self-development. If you’re looking for support to shoo away the feelings of self-doubt so that you can rise and achieve, contact us today to see how our services can help.
Self- awareness is the first step in learning to how to overcome imposter syndrome. This can be achieved through targeted and focused development e.g. coaching.
Think EQ is a leading centre for executive coaching, coach training and leadership development rooted in emotional intelligence
For more strategies to help overcome imposter syndrome, we recommend that you start with the steps above. You may wish to seek out the support of a coach to help you identify your triggers to develop strategies to help you cope. .
If you’re a workplace looking to support your people with tailored development that focuses on imposter syndrome. Suited to individuals and groups any career stage, Think EQ’s Inner Voice workshops tackle the issues that many people experience around self-worth and limiting beliefs.
Our half day workshop will help your team to understand where the negative inner voice comes from and the impact it has on them. We will explore ‘crushers’ and show you strategies to help silence that inner critic. Find out more about The Inner Voice programme.