What is Impostor Syndrome?
“Impostor syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenonomen remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved. Individuals with impostorism incorrectly attribute their success to luck, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be While early research focused on the prevalence among high-achieving women, impostor syndrome has been recognized to affect both men and women equally” - Wikipedia
Wow, well that sucks.
All the evidence points to you being competent, but inside you feel like a fraud, incapable and undeserving, all the time fearing you may be exposed as a fake. Living your life in this way is a recipe for anxiety and seems to be something all of us have experienced in one form or another from time to time.
Impostor Syndrome may have shown up in you life in more ways than you are aware. Perhaps you’ve just qualified for a role you’ve been training for for a long time but can’t bring yourself to start applying for positions that demand that qualification or maybe you’ve just landed your dream job but you can’t enjoy it because every day you feel like you have to act a part because surely they have made a mistake and sent the congratulations letter to the wrong candidate! Maybe you’ve just been promoted, been given a whole lot more responsibility or a sizeable new project at work and you suddenly feel like you’re in the wrong position, surely the boss has got it wrong, you’re not ready, you’re not good enough or perhaps you have attended a meeting where you can’t answer a question and found yourself immediately reaching for the negative self-talk? “I’m an idiot, I’m in the wrong job, wrong career, I’m not good enough, I’m going to get found out, I’m going to get the sack!”
Not only does impostor syndrome cause anxiety and make your present day work difficult but it can actually hinder you achieving what you are really capable of by leading you to apply for “safe” and unchallenging jobs that are way too easy for you or by diminishing your courage to really stretch yourself or push for the next promotion.
Does this resonate with you? Do you want to kick Impostor Syndrome into touch?:
Challenge that automatic voice that kicks in when you are faced with situations that trigger you impostor feelings. Instead of allowing the voice in that says “Everyone is going to find out that I have no idea what I am doing” try thinking “Everyone feels out of their depth when they start something new”.
Remember it’s OK not to have all of the answers, you are smart enough to find them out and it’s OK to ask for help.
Don’t be worried about sharing your fraudulent feelings, I guarantee you will not be the only one struggling with this type of feeling and it can be reassuring to know that you are not alone.
Try to start using the CBT method of “Fact or opinion” Is what I am feeling a fact or is it my opinion? Just because I feel stupid at this moment in time it doesn’t mean I actually am.
Perfectionism is a curse in all walks of life and although you might feel it is necessary to drive you to where you want to be it can become a hindrance when you start obsessing over small mistakes, procrastinating for fear of not being perfect and taking too long over tasks because you fear they are not perfect enough. Aim for excellence and work on being happy with that.
Recognise and congratulate yourself on your achievement. Internal validation is so much more satisfying than external validation and is an available resource all of the time!
When I started out I was a female working in a predominantly male environment, my impostor syndrome feelings weren’t a sign of me being incapable they were feelings of being a minority. Recognise that some of the feelings you are feeling may be a natural response to the situation you find yourself in.
If you screw up, don’t pull out the metaphorical beating stick, see your failure as a learning opportunity. Remember you are human, we are all capable of making mistakes, pick yourself up and move on.
Be kind to yourself. You have as much right as everyone else to have a break, ask questions and to screw up from time to time. People don’t know everything straightaway, it takes time to build knowledge and that’s OK “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” —Maya Angelou.”
Take some time to visualise what success looks like to you. Picture yourself speaking calmly and articulately at that important meeting or at that next interview.
Michelle Brown dip.couns. MBACP is an experienced therapist based in Tunbridge Wells