Coping with Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome: that stomach-clenching, cold sweat-inducing feeling of not being good enough and, even worse than that, everyone else knowing that you’re not. 
If you’ve ever experienced such feelings don’t worry, you’re not alone – it’s estimated that up to 77% of us have felt that way at some point in their life or career. 
Here, we look at what this debilitating phenomenon is and how you can overcome it in advance of our upcoming complimentary coaching session on the subject.


What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome was first recognised in the 1970s by two psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, who identified three defining features of the condition:

1.     A feeling that other people have an exaggerated perception of your abilities

2.     The fear that the true extent of your abilities (or the lack of them) will eventually be discovered

3.     The tendency to attribute your success to ‘other’ factors, such as luck or hard work rather than your experience or talent.

Like many psychological conditions, Drs Clance and Imes put forward the idea that imposter syndrome can be traced back to childhood and is caused by parents who value traits such as attractiveness and popularity over intelligence or ability. 

A child raised under such unhealthy expectations builds a sense of self that is defined by these values and, in adult life, attributes their success not to their capabilities but to their ability to please others – flattering to deceive. 

Imposter syndrome isn’t limited to one gender but slightly more women (66%) than men (56%) suffer from it. It also affects younger people more than older people – 86% of those aged 18-34 admit to feeling symptoms of imposter syndrome. And, adults from a minority ethnic background in particular are 15% more likely to experience it than their white colleagues. 

It can also be industry-specific, with a staggering 86.9% of adults working in design and the creative arts admitting to feelings of imposterism, compared to only 44.8% of those working in leisure, sport and tourism. 

How does imposter syndrome manifest itself?

Imposter syndrome can present in a variety of ways; not all of them apply to everyone, but generally people suffering from it experience some of the following:

·       Self-doubt

·       Low self-confidence

·       The inability to value your own successes

·       A disconnect between how you see yourself and how others perceive you

·       Self-criticism, particularly in regard to your performance at work

·       Overly-high expectations of your own work

·       Being afraid of disappointing your colleagues and managers

·       Diminishing your positives and highlighting your negatives

·       Putting your success down to luck

·       Lacking objectivity in your talent and skills

·       Reluctance to ask for help

·       Expecting to be ‘unmasked’ at any moment

·       Deterring women and diverse groups from seeking promotion or a pay rise

What can you do to combat it?

There is no magic cure or quick fix for the feelings that imposter syndrome imparts – all healing it takes time, reflection, and some degree of self-analysis. 

The process begins with recognising that you suffer from it before it leads on to more serious conditions, such as anxiety or depression. Once you have acknowledged that you have these feelings you can begin to understand why and take steps to alleviate them. Knowing that you’re not alone with these feelings can offer great reassurance. 

Coping with imposter syndrome

There are various coping strategies you can try, such as making a note of when these feelings occur. The context surrounding them - and even things such as the time of year, the weather and our hormones - can all be important indicators to feelings of self-doubt, and can draw your attention to recognising how detrimental they are.

Remember that these feelings are just that – feelings – and in the vast majority of cases are not the fact of the matter. Separating reality from your perspective is a great start and can offer a new point of view on any issues that you find yourself dealing with. 

Instead of focusing on the negative, try to highlight what you’re good at and what you’ve achieved – you may soon find that these positives outweigh what you perceive to be your flaws and faults.

Be open and honest with your colleagues about how you’re feeling – they may surprise you by admitting that they feel exactly the same, even those people who you’d least expect. Shared experiences and feelings can offer both parties reassurance and will help you feel less alone. Also, and vitally, don’t be afraid to ask for help if you’re struggling with a task – people generally love to share advice and information and won’t think less of you for trying to get it right. 

Finally, be more kind to yourself.
No one expects perfection and every single one of us has made mistakes at some point in our careers – remember that these mistakes don’t define you but are part of the learning process.

Learn more about dealing with imposter syndrome

If you’re interested in understanding more about imposter syndrome and want to learn in greater detail how to deal with it, register for our coaching event.

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