What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome was first identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. It can describe feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt and is typically found in high achievers, believing their success is based on sheer luck rather than skills or qualifications.
Feeling like an imposter (also spelled impostor) can weigh heavily on someone’s mind. It can put them under an unnecessary amount of pressure, working harder than everyone else to meet an impossibly high standard.
Other symptoms of imposter syndrome include guilt, anxiety, depression, burnout, self-sabotage, and a fear of failure.
Valerie Young, imposter syndrome expert and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, has identified five types of people who experience imposter syndrome:
- Perfectionists: Those who set extremely high expectations for themselves, but are still feeling like a fraud or failure even after meeting 99% of them.
- Experts: Those who must absorb every piece of information before starting a task, and constantly look for new ways to improve their skills.
- Natural geniuses: If they struggle to work hard or accomplish a task, then they believe it means that they aren’t good enough. Are used to skills coming naturally to them.
- Soloists: Feel they must complete a task on their own, and feel like a failure or fraud if they ask for help.
- Supermen/women: Push themselves hard to prove to those around them that they are not an imposter. Must succeed in all aspects of life, including work and home, and feel restless when they’re not tackling something.
Imposter syndrome is complex and can happen for many reasons. Recent research suggests that race, ethnicity, age, class, sexual orientation and family background can also be contributing factors. Although it often affects women, men can also suffer from imposter syndrome.
How to conquer imposter syndrome
Overcoming imposter syndrome might be difficult at first, but it is possible.
It can come and go throughout life and there’s no one way to experience imposter syndrome, but by retraining your brain, you can learn to start focusing on the positives rather than the negatives.
Here are some ideas for overcoming imposter syndrome.
Build up confidence by writing up a brag sheet. List your accomplishments, no matter how big or small, including those outside the workplace. Make a habit of sharing your successes with family and friends.
When laid out in front of you, a brag sheet can remind you of just how great you can truly be.
Visualise your success
Imagine how you will handle a situation before it happens. Picture yourself nailing that job interview, pulling off that work presentation or writing an impressive report.
Being able to visualise success can help you become more resilient in the workplace, and can even be used as an opportunity to reflect on feedback from family, friends and colleagues.
Positive affirmations for overcoming imposter syndrome
It might sound a little goofy, but research has shown that positive affirmations can have a significant impact on self-image.
Insert your name into a sentence (for example: “You’ve got this, Sarah!”). Write down affirmations as soon as you feel the self-doubt kicking in. Remind yourself that you are talented, you are worthy and that your success is very much deserved. Repeat these several times a day.
Cut out negative self-talk to overcome imposter syndrome
One obstacle to overcoming imposter syndrome is negative self-talk. We can’t help but beat ourselves up or downplay our success.
Take the time to reflect on your achievements. Keep copies of your awards, projects, certificates, and performance evaluations. Record your success in a journal and write down one accomplishment at the end of each day.
When you catch yourself thinking or saying something negative, try to see the positive side: “I’ve been chosen to complete this task for a reason”, “I get to learn something new and expand my skills”, “This will be a fantastic opportunity”.
Change your social media habits
Social media can be a major trigger for imposter syndrome, especially among young people.
It presents a rose-coloured view of a person’s life, carefully curated and tastefully filtered to show only the best bits. Social media can also be used against us, with some people digging up old, embarrassing posts and taking quotes out of context.
Be self-aware: Remember that nobody is perfect, that everyone’s prone to feeling jealous or insecure when looking at other people’s social media. View it as a branding effort rather than an accurate representation of someone’s life.
But if you regularly feel down after scrolling through Facebook, Twitter TikTok or Instagram, set a time limit. Disconnect from devices and spend time doing other activities.
Be honest to overcome imposter syndrome
You cannot begin to conquer imposter syndrome until you’re honest with yourself.
Recognise the signs and identify what triggers it. Learn to embrace failure and accept that no one is perfect – it’s normal to feel scared, stressed or anxious sometimes. Use this as an opportunity to learn and grow, and to set more realistic goals.
Stop comparing yourself to others and realise that we all have our strengths and weaknesses. Accept that you can’t do it all.
Put your mental health first
If you feel that you’re not coping, help is available.
Seeking medical advice or receiving a formal diagnosis or treatment from a mental health professional can do wonders for those struggling with imposter syndrome. A therapist might use cognitive behavioural therapy to help challenge and correct negative thinking, to help you become more assertive, and to help create a more rational and constructive mindset.
It’s also important to build a strong support network. Turn to family, friends or colleagues. Reach out to people within your industry who might relate to such feelings.