Do you ever feel anxious at work because you feel like a fraud—that any day now, your boss and coworkers will figure out that you really don’t know what you’re talking about? If this sounds familiar, you may be experiencing the symptoms of imposter syndrome. While it can be frustrating and exhausting to deal with, there are things that you can do to overcome and change these beliefs so you can move through the world more confidently.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome describes the feeling of having trouble recognizing one’s own skills, knowledge, expertise, and/or achievements. The International Journal of Behavioral Science notes that imposter phenomenon was first identified by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance, in 1978. Clance and Imes noticed the imposter cycle first in high achieving women and women of color. It may result in an individual doubting themselves and their abilities and engaging in negative self-talk or self-doubt. Clance explained that in many cases, perfectionism and striving towards unattainable standards is common in IS. Although it’s commonly discussed in relation to an academic or professional environment, imposter syndrome can apply to virtually anything, from artistic skills to parenting abilities.
It can lead to emotional distress, anxiety, an avoidance of growth opportunities, and burnout. According to a study titled “Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review”, imposter syndrome, along with comorbidities such as anxiety and depression, could impact work performance as well.
Here are some common signs of imposter syndrome:
- You think your accomplishments or academic achievement only result from luck or external sources, not from your own strengths
- You believe that anyone could do what you do
- You think you’ve succeeded only because you had help showing a confidence gap
- You discredit or minimize your own achievements and feel intellectual phoniness
- You think people are just being nice when complimenting you, and that they don’t really mean it
- You have perfectionistic tendencies
- You believe failure is not okay or not an option
- You use minimizing language like “kind of” or “pretty sure” so you don’t have to commit to statements and risk being incorrect
Overall, if you frequently worry that you don’t really know what you’re doing and are afraid others will eventually find out, you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.
Who Can Experience Imposter Syndrome?
Research shows that imposter syndrome can impact anyone, with some studies showing that it affects women more and others showing that it affects men and women equally. Another study looked at imposter syndrome among graduate students studying general internal medicine and found that students with imposter syndrome were less engaged in learning overall. For these college students, imposter syndrome was made worse by a systemic hierarchy where experience was valued above all else. In a book called The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, author Valerie Young identifies five common types of people who may be prone to experiencing imposter syndrome:
- “Perfectionists'' may feel like they’re failing if they don’t succeed at everything they set out to do. If they aren’t getting everything right, they tend to question their abilities overall.
- A “natural genius” may have to work harder in some areas when they’re used to things coming naturally, which can cause them to feel like a fraud.
- Someone who is an “expert” in their field can feel they have to know everything there is to know about a subject—or else they’re a fake.
- A “superhero” type may feel they need to be the hardest worker and succeed in every area of life, and that they’re a failure overall if they fail at any one thing.
- “Soloists” tend to not ask for help from others because they think that if they can’t do everything on their own, they’re an imposter.
Tips For Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome may hold you back from going for what you want, and it may cause anxiety or other mental health issues. If you’re trying to leave it behind and build more confidence in your own abilities, some of the following tips may help.
Avoid Comparing Yourself To Others
Sometimes, it may seem like others are succeeding with little effort while you work hard just to keep up. The truth is, however, that you don’t know what others are thinking, feeling, or experiencing. They might actually be putting in just as much effort as you—or more. Or, they might grapple with imposter feelings too. Plus, it can be helpful to remind yourself that everyone has different strengths and weaknesses—including them and you.
As it turns out, there’s actually no such thing as an overnight success. From an outside perspective, it may look like a business or person succeeded quickly and with little effort—but in most cases, they didn’t. Accepting the fact that there will always be things you don’t know about behind the scenes of the success of others may help you put less pressure on yourself.
Adjust Your View Of Failure
Many people who experience imposter syndrome fear failure above all. This view can lead a person to avoid taking risks or trying anything new, and it can make them question everything whenever they do fail at something. To shift this outlook, it can be beneficial to adopt the growth mindset, which means believing that you can improve most any ability with practice and patience—and accepting that failure is an essential part of getting better at something.
Document Your Successes
Learning how to recognize and acknowledge the successes that you experience in life can go a long way in helping you overcome imposter syndrome. This approach can take a few different forms and may be a completely private practice. For example, practicing acceptance when someone acknowledges your success or accomplishments can be beneficial, rather than deflecting or minimizing what you’ve achieved. You might also find it useful to keep a written record of positive feedback you’ve received in the past, from kudos from a customer to praise from your boss. Looking back at the concrete proof that you’ve done well can help you in times when you feel doubtful.
Practice Positive Self-Talk
Experts have found that using a healthy dose of positive self-talk—especially when you refer to yourself by your own first name rather than using “I”—can improve confidence and emotional control abilities. In contrast, speaking harshly to yourself will generally only make you feel worse. Focusing on shifting your internal monologue to one of self-compassion can help you feel more authentically confident in your own skills and knowledge and improve your self-worth.
Speak With A Therapist
There are times when it can be difficult to overcome a challenge like imposter syndrome on your own, and constantly feeling like a fraud can have a negative impact on your mental health and wellness. In a case like this, speaking with a therapist can be helpful. They can assist you in addressing the root cause of why you may feel this way and identifying strategies you can use to overcome these beliefs over time. Through therapeutic intervention, they may be able to suggest new strategies or ways of thinking that may improve your well-being.
Research suggests that therapy conducted online can offer similar benefits to therapy conducted in person. If you’re having trouble finding a provider in your area, have a busy schedule, or would simply prefer to speak with a mental health professional from the comfort of your own home, online therapy is an option to consider. With a platform like BetterHelp, you can get matched with a licensed therapist who you can speak with via phone, video call, and/or online chat to address the challenges you may be facing.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
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