Imposter Syndrome

Do you struggle to accept and celebrate things you have done well, and recognise it as down to your ability and hard work? Or maybe you feel that your success is a fluke, not quite good enough, or that there must be another reason behind it other than genuine achievement?

Are you in a solid career but are convinced there must have been a mistake hiring you, or that the other candidates must not have been up to a good standard, and that you will one day be found out as a fraud and that you don't know what you are doing? Maybe you compare yourself and put your peers and colleagues on a pedestal as somehow being more capable than you?

Are you working endlessly and tirelessly, going over and above what is expected to justify your position because people will soon find out you aren't up to the job? Maybe you do not see your achievements as good enough, and cannot enjoy the compliments of others.

It's not you, it's the imposter!

Let me explain a little further. I'm not saying you aren't who you say you are; if you identified with any of the above then you might be experiencing Imposter Syndrome. This is not a condition, it's something that around 70% of successful people experience - even Albert Einstein struggled!

Imposter Syndrome is a non-realistic assessment of oneself or abilities. You may have a lack of confidence or self-belief despite external evidence which suggests otherwise. Maybe you are more likely to believe that luck or fluke is behind any success (in whatever context – that great promotion, that first class degree, the creative project you have completed), rather than ability – there must be another reason right?

You may not feel worthy of success, and thus you live in fear of worrying that you will be 'found out' at some point as non-deserving and exposed as not actually being good enough. Perhaps you compare yourself to others and are critical of your abilities while assuming others as more accomplished. This all sounds rather unfair from an outside perspective if you can appreciate that a person may deserve acknowledgement. Of course, we apply different rules to ourselves and can be much more critical.

Why does a person experience Imposter Syndrome?

As mentioned above, Imposter Syndrome is a very common occurrence with 70% of people experiencing it when facing some sort of success. However, it may depend upon the person, their background and experiences. The following are often seen alongside Imposter Syndrome:

  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • High expectations / setting the bar high
  • Naturally gifted individuals
  • Unfair comparison to others or those with differing skills
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Independent individuals who struggle to ask for help
  • Parental influence setting values or high expectations
  • UK culture – we are a modest nation and don't own our success.

The impact of Imposter Syndrome

The impact of Imposter Syndrome can make for a miserable existence. These are some of the below experiences a person might have:

  • Stress, anxiety or depression
  • Self-critical – finding ways to explain the success / critical thoughts
  • Unable to celebrate success
  • Overworking
  • People pleasing
  • Facing a new challenge or stepping out of your comfort zone feels a risk towards being exposed or questioned
  • Holding back from challenges or achieving your potential.

How to address Imposter Syndrome

  • Name and shame it! Name related thoughts and feelings as Imposter Syndrome
  • Recognise the symptoms and normalise them, showing compassion for self: it's OK to feel like this
  • Use this knowledge to challenge your assumptions and critical thoughts as simply symptoms of Imposter Syndrome and not fact. Detach any thoughts and feelings from fact: 'this is not true – this is Imposter Syndrome'.
  • Write down and recognise thoughts (underlying beliefs); e.g. 'I don't know what I'm doing'. From here ask yourself 'is this true or is it Imposter Syndrome?'. As you question thoughts and feelings, you begin to challenge them and eventually take control.
  • Balance the evidence: what is the evidence that the thought is true, and what is the evidence that it is not true? If the evidence is in favour of the Imposter, then this is a development and learning opportunity!
  • Practice! Do not continue to simply accept the existence of Imposter Syndrome thoughts and feelings
  • Give your inner Imposter voice a character – perhaps a judge, a teacher or perfectionist. Thank them for their services for trying to keep you challenged
  • Create an ally – inner leader, wise character, wisdom, and use this to consider a more compassionate view
  • Allow imperfection – it is ok to feel nervous when challenged; you are always growing and developing
  • Recap your values: what do you have to offer? You are a unique individual who has taken many steps to get where you are right now. Remember those steps and give yourself credit
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others
  • Share any challenges or concerns with others in order to grow. Empower rather than shame yourself and challenge that voice that says your inability will be revealed if you ask for help - this is not true!
  • Swap feedback in an objective way
  • Seek opportunities and act on opportunities that may challenge or scare you. Growth never came from feeling comfortable!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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