You Can Beat Impostor Syndrome!

by 20th August 2020

What is Impostor Syndrome?

The good thing to know is that it is not a medical condition. Impostor Syndrome is the persistent inability that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved because of one’s own efforts or skills.

This is also known as Impostor Phenomenon, Fraud Syndrome or the Impostor Experience. It is a psychological pattern in which the person doubts their accomplishments, and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud. Impostor syndrome can be described as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evidence of success. Impostors suffer chronically from self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that enormously overrides any feeling of success, or even external proof of how successful they are. Impostor syndrome sufferers tend to have low self-confidence and a fear of failure. They experience a constant internal struggle between achieving success and avoiding being found out. This struggle prevents many from reaching their full potential.

Research has shown that Impostor syndrome mainly affects women, and can show itself in a case of mild depression, anxiety, and low self-confidence. During the research of Chance and Immes in 1978, which was based on their clinical experience, impostor phenomenon was less evident in Males.

The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor. Here are 10 ways to help you.

1. Break the silence: Find someone to talk to whether it be a family member, colleague, friend, line manager or coach.

2. Separate feelings from facts: A good way of doing this is to write out your feelings, and write out what you are good at. If you have difficulty doing this on your own, get help from your above list.

3. Recognise when you should feel fraudulent: If you deliver a presentation that you haven’t prepared for or practised, from the seat of your pants as they say, then you can expect to feel a fraud; not because you don’t have the knowledge, but because it is rushed and you haven’t dedicated to it.

4. Emphasise the positives in your life: We all have these, so focus on the things you do well and/or accomplishments or actions that you are proud of.

5. Develop a new response to failure and mistake making: Failure is only feedback of what you can put right, and you must understand that mistakes happen, we are all human and none of us are perfect.

6. Right the rules: If you have not asked for help, remember you can always ask for help and support. We all must learn.

7. Develop a new script: We all have that internal voice, however we can change that script, and I never listen to my negative script. Something I ask my clients is, would you take notice of the negative critics from two year old or a five year old, and they always say no.

8. Visualise your success: I have written 12 weeks of blogs on visualisation, so feel free to go and look at those if you have not seen them.

9. Reward yourself: I do not mean with cakes and chocolate, however, go and have a luxury bath, have a walk in the country or maybe even go for a spa day. Do something for you. Maybe even have an hour of hypnosis treatment to re-energise yourself.

10. Fake it till you make it: Model the people you admire. If you need help with this please do contact a Neuro-Linguistic Master Coach.

Never think for one moment that you are the only one suffering from this impostor syndrome; you are not alone. Several high achievers suffer from this syndrome. These include Michelle Obama, Kate Winslet, and Emma Watson. They have all spoken out about their experiences with impostor syndrome.

  • How will I know I have Impostor Syndrome?
  • Do you feel like a fraud?
  • No I am quite confident.
  • Not sure, sometimes I feel like I might?

These people who suffer from impostor syndrome, despite having outstanding academic and professional success and accomplishments believe that they are not really bright and feel they have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.

How to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

1. Share your feelings: Share how you feel; you are not alone. Talk to other people about how you’re feeling. The irrational belief tends to fester when they are hidden and not talked about.

2. Focus on others: While this might sound counter-intuitive, it will help others in the same situation as you. If someone seems awkward or alone, ask them a question to bring them into the group. This is practising a skill and building your own confidence.

3. Assess your ability: If you have long-held beliefs about yourself or about your incompetence in social and performance situations, make a realistic assessment of your abilities based on truth.

4. Recognise your success: Never put yourself down, look at all of the amazing work that you have put in to get you where you are today.

5. Remember that no one is perfect: Accept failure is going to happen at some point or another, you’re human, but just agree to learn from it rather than seeing it as a reflection of yourself.

6. Take baby steps: Never focus on perfection, but do things reasonably well, and reward yourself for your action. In a group setting offer your opinion or share a story about yourself that could help others.

7. Question your thoughts: As you start this process, question whether your thoughts are rational. Does it make sense that you are a fraud, given everything you know? Have you actually committed anything fraudulent?

8. Stop comparing yourself to others: Instead, compare yourself to where you were last year and see how far you have progressed.

9.Use social media moderately: Years ago we never had social media. However for good or bad we have it in our lives today. Never portray on social media someone you are not, this will only fuel your impostor syndrome and make the feeling of fraud worse. Be yourself!

10. Stop fighting your feelings: Stop fighting your feelings of not belonging. Learn to accept the feeling. It is only when you accept the feeling that you can start to unravel the core beliefs that are holding you back.

11. Refuse to let it hold you back: Even if you do not feel as though you are achieving, never let that stop you from pursuing your goals.

Keep going and refuse to be stopped.

Impostor syndrome in some can fuel the feeling of motivation, however this can come at a cost of stress and anxiety – You may over prepare and work harder than necessary as you feel like a fraud and that you certainly do not want people finding out. The result is a vicious circle in which you think that the only reason that you survived a challenge or test was by staying up all night, sacrificing your health and downtime, to practise and memorise. Even though you sailed through, it still niggles away at you. The Chimp on your shoulder says to you, “What gives you the right to be here?” The more successful you become the more like a fraud you feel. It is as though you cannot accept success.

Some of the common signs of imposture syndrome are:

  • Self-doubt
  • An inability to realistically access your competent skills
  • Attributing your skills to external factors
  • By rating your performance
  • Fear that you will not live up to expectations
  • Overachieving/Overworking
  • Sabotaging your own success – see my blogs on sabotage
  • Self- doubt
  • Setting challenging goals and feeling bad when you fall short

Impostor syndrome is not a recognised disorder. It has been noted and is not uncommon for 70% of women to experience at least one episode of this in a lifetime.

If you think you have Imposture Syndrome ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you recognise the smallest mistake in your work?
  • Do you attribute your success or luck to outside factors?
  • Are you sensitive to even constructive criticism?
  • Do you feel you will be found out to be a phoney?
  • Do you display your own expertise, or do you downplay it, even in areas where you are genuinely more skilled than others?

If you often feel like this and it is having an impact on your life, please do find yourself a good Neuro Linguistic coach that can help you.

Causes – So where does the Impostor syndrome come from?

It comes from a certain factor that contributes to the more general experience of Impostor syndrome. Example: Mary came from a family that highly valued achievement and Mary felt she was never any good, her parents, she felt, flipped between offering praise and then being critical.

From studies being done we know that entering a new role can trigger impostor syndrome. Example: Starting college, starting university, starting a new job or being promoted in an existing one, might leave you feeling you do not belong and are not capable.

Impostor Syndrome and Social Anxiety Disorder: These two can overlap. People with social anxiety disorder may feel that they do not belong in social or performance situations. They may feel, when they are in a conversation with someone, that they going to discover how socially incompetent they are. Or they might have to deliver a presentation and feel as though they just need to go through with it and exit, before anyone realises that they really do not belong there.

The Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) can fuel impostor syndrome, however, this does not mean people with SAD have impostor syndrome and vice versa. People with SAD can also lack confidence and competence. Impostor syndrome can often cause normally non-anxious people to experience a sense of anxiety when they are in a situation where they feel inadequate.

Types of Impostor Syndrome

It can appear in several different ways. A few different types:

1. The perfectionist: Perfectionists are never satisfied. They always feel that their work could be better. Rather than focusing on strengths, they tend to fixate on any flaws and mistakes. All these qualities often lead to a greater deal of self-pressure and high amounts of anxiety.

2. The superhero: Feels inadequate and, therefore, compelled to push themselves as hard as possible.

3. The expert: Is always learning more and more, never satisfied with their level of understanding. Even though they are often highly skilled, they underrate their own experience and knowledge.

4. The natural genius: Prefer to set excessive goals for themselves and then feel crushed when they fail on their first attempt.

5. The soloist: Prefers to work alone – self worth often stems from their productivity and they often reject offers of assistance. They tend to see asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence.

Coping Strategies

To get past imposture syndrome, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions.

The questions are as follows:
  • What are my core beliefs that I hold about myself?
  • Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?
  • Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?
  • For what purpose is all this serving me?

Perfectionism plays a major role in impostor syndrome.

You might think I have the perfect script for you, and so enabling you not to say the wrong thing. Unfortunately, I do not, and you probably have difficulty in asking for help from others and may procrastinate due to your own high standards.

Remember: If you feel an impostor, it means that you have some degree of success in your life that you are putting down purely to hard work or luck. Instead, turn that luck into gratitude. Look at what you are grateful for in your life, take a blank piece of paper and write it down.

Under no circumstances be crippled by your fear of being found out. Instead, lean into that fear, and get its roots.

Let your guard down and let others see the real you.

If you have done all of the above exercises and still feel like impostor syndrome is holding you back, maybe it’s time to make an appointment to see a good coach.

About Karen Baughan

Karen Baughan is an NLP Master Practitioner based in Bromsgrove, UK. Having used NLP to affect her own personal transformation, she now helps clients, from around the world, to transform their lives and achieve their dreams.

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