If you have ever stepped into a meeting or stood up to give a presentation and suddenly thought, “Why am I here?!” then there’s a good chance you’ve experienced the dreaded Imposter Syndrome. It’s a creeping sensation that seems to take over your whole body at the worst possible times, bringing with it a sense of fear and anxiety.
“I’m not good enough,” “I’m just winging this,” “I feel like a fraud,” are niggling thoughts that eat away at our self-esteem until we start to believe them. Imposter Syndrome is very real and can often be debilitating, as I’ve found out many times throughout my life. But, in order to combat it, we need to first understand it… So, here are six things everyone needs to know about this psychological phenomenon.
1. What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome can manifest itself in lots of different ways and won’t always behave the same for everyone. However, the overwhelming feeling of someone “finding you out” or that you’re a “fraud” are key symptoms that you need to be aware of. It’s a psychological pattern of self-doubt and believing as though you’re really not as competent as other people might think you are.
You may tell yourself that you only got that job promotion because you got ‘lucky’ or that you’ve been ‘winging it’ all the way to the top of your profession. If someone tells you that you’re doing an amazing job, you’ll probably think they’re lying or you’ve conned them into thinking you’re better than you are. If any of this is ringing true for you, then you’ve experienced Imposter Syndrome.
2. There are different types of Imposter Syndrome
Dr. Valerie Young is an expert on the subject of Imposter Syndrome, who has spent decades studying this psychological phenomenon. Through her research, she found there to be five subgroups that Imposter Syndrome generally falls into:
- The Perfectionist
- The Superwoman/Man
- The Natural Genius
- The Soloist
- The Expert
In Dr. Young’s book, ‘The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It’ she goes into details about each subgroup. For example, Perfectionists set huge goals for themselves and then experience major self-doubt about measuring up to their own high expectations. Even when they do succeed, it’s rarely satisfying as a Perfectionist always thinks they could’ve done better.
The Superwoman/Man, on the other hand, feel as though they need to work harder than anyone around them to measure up. They don’t feel as though they’re as good as their colleagues and therefore sacrifice their lives to work. This kind of Imposter Syndrome creates workaholics who are addicted to the validation they get from working.
Each different type of Imposter Syndrome has different ways to combat it, so it is important to try and work out which subgroup you fit into. You might even find that you fit into a few of them. Once you fully understand your type, it will then become a lot easier when trying to fix the issues.
If you want to know what type of Imposter Syndrome you have and how to combat it, then I’d highly recommend reading Dr. Young’s book. Alternatively, I cover them in more detail in Episode 2 of my podcast – I’m a Fraud.
3. You’re not alone
It is believed that around 70% of people will experience Imposter Syndrome and its symptoms at least once in their working life. At first, it was thought that this was more prevalent in high achieving women than men, but studies have shown that it may actually be equal; the difference being that women are often more likely to talk about these issues than men. There also seems to be no correlation between how ‘successful’ you are and experiencing these feelings.
Some of the most prominent people to have opened up about their own Imposter Syndrome include high achievers like Facebook COO and ‘Lean In’ author Sheryl Sandberg, tennis legend Serena Williams, comedian Tina Fey, and Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou who once said: “I have written 11 books, but each time I think ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.’” Even Maya Angelou felt like she was going to be exposed as a fraud… So, you’re in good company!
4. It can shatter your confidence
Some people will only feel Imposter Syndrome once or twice in their lifetimes. Others, however, will deal with this issue on a regular basis. I’m definitely in the latter camp and experience that horrible sinking sensation of “everyone thinks I’m a fraud,” at least once a week. If you do find that Imposter Syndrome takes over more regularly, then it’s important that you try to tackle these feelings before it has a greater impact on your mental health.
During a conversation with my Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, Ben, he taught me about the ‘Low Self-Esteem Cycle.’ This starts with a core belief, generally something like “I’m not good enough,” which can stem from past experiences or childhood. When we have these core beliefs, we tend to make predictions that cause anxiety and lead to unhelpful behaviour.
For example, we think that something is going to go wrong, we get anxious, and then we avoid the situation completely. This confirms what we thought about ourselves, “I was right, I’m not good enough,” which leads to self-critical thoughts and a lack of self-confidence. We continue in this cycle until we genuinely believe that we’re whatever our self-critical thoughts are telling us.
So, people who experience Imposter Syndrome regularly can start to believe their own critical inner monologue. This, in turn, will completely shatter their self-esteem and deplete their confidence long-term – which is not what anyone wants! If we can stop the cycle, then we can conquer those thoughts once and for all. Of course, that can sometimes be easier said than done.
5. Combatting Imposter Syndrome
Now that we know what Imposter Syndrome is and what it can do, let’s go through some ways that you can tackle it once and for all. Not all of these techniques will work for everyone and for every type of impostor syndrome, so it’s important to find the ones that work for you. Below are a few helpful tips and tricks that you can use next time that feeling creeps in:
- Question your feelings – Take a step back and question your own mind. What proof do you have that you’re a fraud or that you’re not good enough? It’s a good idea to understand potential cognitive distortions here and learn how to challenge them.
- Look for proof that your Imposter Syndrome is wrong – It’s time to give your ego a little boost! Think back through all the things you have succeeded or excelled at. You’re amazing, why on earth would anyone believe otherwise?! Stand in front of the mirror and tell yourself how incredible you are. You might feel a little ridiculous, but it’ll be worth it and will rid you of self doubt.
- Accept failures as lessons – Instead of beating yourself up when you fail at something, celebrate it instead. What an incredible thing it is to be able to learn. Most professional athletes are experts at getting the most value from their mistakes. Think like a pro athlete.
- Reward your successes – We go through our lives constantly striving for goals, hitting them, and then changing the goalposts. Take some time to reward yourself for every success in your life. Literally pat yourself on the back if you have to. This will help change your core beliefs to something far more positive.
- Get talking – We often go through life thinking we’re the only people who feel like this. We feel ashamed that we’re struggling with something like Imposter Syndrome. However, opening up about it will not just help you, it’ll help others too. Many people will experience impostor syndrome, so you might be surprised when you start talking about it. Try it, it’s liberating.
- Ask for help – As well as sharing your own experiences with others, don’t be afraid to reach out. If you can’t see your self worth, then someone else will be able to! Talk to the people around you and let them know how you’re feeling. You may just get a boost of confidence as they remind you just how good you really are.
6. Give yourself time
There is a good chance that the negative thoughts and self doubt you have didn’t spring up overnight, so there’s a good chance it won’t disappear overnight either. Imposter Syndrome can feel like it has just appeared out of the blue, but it’s likely to be part of a much bigger battle with your self-esteem and confidence. With this in mind, it’s so important to give yourself time to overcome it. When you’re feeling like a fraud or a fake, try to use some of the coping methods described above. It won’t fix the imposter syndrome overnight, but it will certainly get easier to stop questioning how amazing you are.
The tips and tricks I’ve included to combat Imposter Syndrome need to become second nature, which means practising them as much as you can. Don’t get angry or frustrated with yourself if that niggling feeling starts eating away at you just before a big presentation or when you feel a bit out of your comfort zone. Notice the negative thoughts, question them, reframe them, and try again. In time, you’ll be knocking back that Imposter Syndrome before it even plants a seed in your mind.
I found that I really struggled with Imposter Syndrome when I first started The Anti-Burnout Club and recording podcasts. It ended up being the topic of my second-ever podcast despite having something totally different in mind for it. I go through each of the types and their traits, along with all of the different ways you can tackle it head on. If you’d like to know more, then go to the “I’m a fraud” podcast and give it a listen. I hope it’s helpful for you!