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  • Writer's pictureCécile Hemery

What's Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it?

Updated: Feb 11

Woman smashing a wall with a hammer in victory

Do you ever feel like a fraud? Like you don't actually deserve your success or that people are overestimating your intelligence and abilities? 


If so, you may have a case of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is a belief that people have of themselves as not being as competent, talented, smart and capable as others think they are.


Despite evidence of their abilities, accomplishments and credentials, they can't seem to shake the feeling that all these were either the result of luck or are not meaningful. They fear being exposed as an impostor. This persistent feeling of self-doubt and insecurity often leads to anxiety, lack of confidence, and difficulties taking credit for achievements.


Impostor syndrome is surprisingly common. According to Clare Josa, author of “Ditching Impostor Syndrome”, “62% of people are struggling with Imposter Syndrome daily or regularly”. That means almost ⅔ of people will feel like this at some point in their lives, and that includes even high-achieving and successful people. Most people hide that feeling as their secret shame, but imagine, next time you’re in a meeting: ⅔ of that room is feeling or has felt this way too. You’re not alone.


The good news is that Imposter Syndrome is not a disease, nor a permanent condition: it is a feeling, and it can be changed. You don’t have to feel like this.


In this article, we will talk about what Imposter Syndrome is and the forms it can take, what are the signs that you might be affected and tips and strategies to help you overcome it.


What are the signs of Imposter Syndrome?


Here are some of the behaviours that you might recognise as Imposter Syndrome signs:


  • You believe that you’re where you are today because you’re lucky, rather than because of your skills or hard work. You believe that your success has been the result of external factors.

  • You do not believe others when they praise or trust your skills. You believe them to have an exaggerated view and even may judge them for that.

  • Deep down, you’re afraid that someone at some point will discover the reality about your incompetence, that you do not belong where you are, and expose you as a fraud.

  • You are consistently second-guessing yourself, even on topics where you are accomplished. You may be seeking external validation or someone else to make the decision for you because you don’t trust yourself to make the right one.

  • You are very harsh with yourself and will engage in negative self-talk.

  • You hold yourself to impossible standards. This may also bleed to others around you, such as your team, your children, and your partner.

What are the types of Imposter Syndrome?


Imposter Syndrome doesn’t look the same in everybody. It can take different shapes. Dr Valerie Young has identified 5 different ways in which people who self-identify with Imposter Syndrome might distort the reality of what it takes to be competent. Let’s explore them now.


The Perfectionist


The Perfectionist is focused on how something is done and what result is achieved. If there is one minor flaw in an otherwise outstanding performance, the Perfectionist will take that to mean they have failed and a source of shame.


At their most extreme, to the Perfectionist, even a small mistake will negate the quality of the overall achievement. These extremely high standards are impossible to maintain. The Perfectionist will only put their attention on what’s not worked. This can hinder their ability to lead and learn.


The Expert


The Expert is focused on what they know and how much they know. They will expect of themselves to know everything there is to know about the matter at hand. And if they have a gap, they will equate this to failure and shame.


At their most extreme, the Expert will consider themselves incompetent or not knowledgeable if they’re not able to answer only one question. The Expert will only their attention on what they don’t know. This can hinder their ability to close a project and communicate.


The Soloist


The Soloist’s focus is on “who” is doing the task at hand. They are under the belief that they should be able to do it - everything - on their own. And if they don’t, or need to ask for any kind of help, that means that they are failing and is a source of shame.


At their most extreme, the Soloist will burn themselves out by trying to do everything on their own, they will cut themselves off from support and different perspectives. The Soloist will only put their attention on what comes exclusively from them. This can hinder their ability to collaborate and have access to information.


The Natural Genius


The Natural Genius measures competence on how easily and quickly they’re able to master the topic or task at hand. If they are struggling to understand something or to get it right the first time around, they will take that to mean they are failing and to be a source of shame.


Naturally gifted, at their most extreme, the Naturally Genius equates hard work and long unfolding to mean they’re not competent. The Natural Genius will put their attention on how fast they’re mastering it. This can hinder their ability to get in-depth or explore new opportunities.


The Superman


On the contrary, the Superman measures competence as the ability to be the hardest worker and reach the highest levels of achievement in any domain. Out of the many roles and responsibilities they have at work and in their lives, if they fall short in any one of them, they take that to mean the whole of them is flawed.


At their most extreme, the Superman simply expect themselves to be able to handle it all and do it all. And if - or when - they don’t, that means they are failing and are a source of shame. They will put their attention on being the best at everything. This can hinder their ability to have balance and be present.


Which ones of these Imposter Syndrome profiles resonate with you? It can be that at different times of your life, a different type manifests.


What are the causes of Imposter Syndrome?


Causes of Imposter Syndrome may vary. It is likely to be a learned behaviour or posture.


This experience may be how you were brought up as a child, the relationship dynamics with your parents. For example, if your parents held you to high standards themselves, or constantly alternated between high praise and criticism without making room for a neutral middle-ground where you could just “be”.


How well you did at school and interacted with other children. A good student, for example, is expected to consistently have high grades and might be admonished if they achieve an average one.


It can also be triggered by experiences later in life when going through transitions, like a new job or moving somewhere new, or experiencing toxic relationships in life or work.


How to overcome the Imposter Syndrome?


The important thing to remember is that the Imposter Syndrome is only a feeling, a belief, a perspective. It is neither a truth, a fact nor a reality. That means that it can change.


As Dr Valerie Young put it, the “only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter”.


Here are some starting points to support you in overcoming the Imposter Syndrome:


  • Educate yourself about the Imposter Syndrome so that you can recognise the thoughts, feelings, starting behaviours and actions that are driven by it. By being aware of it, and accepting that you are feeling it, you are already distancing yourself from its power.


  • Practice questioning your negative thoughts. How rational are they? How realistic are your expectations of yourself? What do the facts tell you about your skills and abilities?


  • Make a conscious effort to look at your achievements, recognise them for what they are and remind yourself of them. Practice gratitude for these achievements and for what you have in your life.


  • Stop comparing yourself to others. We all have different contexts and skills, comparing yourself is a trap that leads you to focus on your flaws. Focus on listening to others and being curious about them rather than what it means about you.


  • Share with others, and talk about these feelings rather than keeping them all inside.


 

The Imposter Syndrome is just a feeling, one perspective born out of fear and feelings of inadequacy. Remember that if you are feeling like an imposter, it also means that you have met with some success. Focus on what you have achieved and allow yourself to be grateful for it. Freeing yourself from these burdensome and untrue beliefs could open the door to new opportunities and greater well-being.


If you’re looking for some support on your journey to ditching the Imposter Syndrome, send me a message a reach out for a conversation.

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