“They made a big mistake admitting me into this program.”
“Any day now they are going to realise I’m not really that good at my job.”
“I don’t belong here, I’m not as clever as all these people. I’ll be found out as a fraud eventually.”
“It was just luck and good timing that I landed this position.”
These are just some of the most common thoughts that plague high achievers who suffer from Impostor Syndrome (IS).
While IS is not officially classified as a psychological disorder, it is an affliction which targets many ambitious and successful individuals who are climbing up the ladder in their careers. The struggle comes from being unable to internalise success coupled with a fear of being exposed as a fraud.
There are three defining features of impostorism.
- Feeling that other people have an inflated perception of your abilities.
- A fear that your true abilities will be found out.
- A persistent tendency to attribute successes to external factors, such as luck or disproportionate effort.
The condition is particularly likely to strike when a person starts a new job or takes on new responsibilities such as a postgraduate qualification.
Two sides of the IS coin
- On the one side, ironically, the feeling that one is a fraud may inspire greater effort and conscientiousness thus leading to more success and promotion. Consequently, this can trigger another round of impostor feelings.
- On the other side, sometimes the deep level of self-doubt can lead to self-sabotage. This self-sabotage results in the same failure the person feared in the first place – and then proves to the sufferer what they believed all along: that they weren’t good enough.
Perhaps the most limiting part of dealing with IS is that it can restrict one’s courage to go after new opportunities, explore potential areas of interest, and put oneself out there in a meaningful way
What causes IS?
Research from the 1980s by Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, who were the first to coin the term “Impostor Syndrome”, identified that impostrism is more prevalent in individuals who had overly protective and critical parents – often a father figure. These findings were supported in later research in the early 2000s.
“…an overprotective parent limits the types of experiences that their child is allowed to engage in, as well as encourages their child to reflect on them in a less positive way. In other words, the child of an overprotective and critical parent may attribute his or her success to parental involvement or chance, rather than to their own achievements resulting from their own talents and efforts.” Read More Here.
5 Practical ways to manage and reframe feelings of being a fraud
- Stop comparing: every time you compare yourself to others in a social situation, you will find some fault with yourself that fuels the feeling of not being good enough or not belonging. Instead, during conversations, focus on actively listening to what the other person is saying. Be genuinely interested in hearing them and learning more about them. By shifting focus to them instead of yourself you immediately prove your authenticity to connect and remove your own negative thoughts.
- Write down lists of your achievements, skills, and successes: this will remind you and demonstrate that you really have created concrete value for yourself that you are able to share with the world.
- Talk and open up about your feelings in a safe environment, perhaps with a coach: talking about your fears and negative feelings will normalise and put them in perspective. These thoughts that cripple you are JUST thoughts and through scrutinising and understanding them, you have a chance to alleviate and manage them efficiently.
- Use social media moderately: we know that the overuse of social media may be related to feelings of inferiority. If you try to portray an image on social media that doesn’t match who you really are or that is impossible to achieve, it will only worsen your feelings of being a fraud.
- Have the courage to be imperfect: our increasing impatience with ourselves seriously depletes our ability to recognise that we are works-in-progress, moving along learning curves all the time. We tend to freeze the frame when we feel nervous, make a mistake or have to sweat to achieve something, and then we damn ourselves for not being up to the job.
To get past IS, you need to start asking yourself some powerful and difficult questions, here are just some examples, there are many more.
“What core beliefs do I hold about myself?”
“Are these core beliefs proving to be obstacles to my progress?”
“Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?”
“Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?”
In summary, an important strategy to free yourself from these negative thoughts and feelings is to develop an accepting stance towards them. Fighting them is counterproductive. STOP buying into these thoughts, rather develop a positive growth mindset and nurture it by learning about yourself and not judging yourself.