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How to Recognize and Handle Imposter Syndrome

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

That feeling like you’re a fraud, despite your accomplishments and abilities, and that fear your ruse will be discovered even though you’re capable and competent is far more common than you might think. It’s called imposter syndrome, and left unchecked can have a negative impact on your life and career.

It’s surprisingly common for people to experience imposter syndrome. In fact, one study shows that more than 80% of people have experienced it at some point. Recognizing what imposter syndrome is, and finding some techniques for dealing with it, can overcome the sensation so it doesn’t become a career stumbling block.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome, or more accurately, imposter phenomenon, is a term coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in their 1978 article titled, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” It refers to the persistent feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt, where individuals believe they don’t deserve their success and attribute their accomplishments to luck or external factors rather than their skills and hard work.

While anyone can experience imposter syndrome, it’s especially prevalent in minority and underrepresented groups and communities. Women, people from BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, and other people who feel oppressed or artificially held back all have a higher likelihood of finding themselves facing imposter syndrome at some point.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome

The signs of imposter syndrome can vary from person to person, but some common symptoms include:

  1. Persistent self-doubt and fear of failure

  2. Downplaying achievements and attributing success to luck

  3. Feeling anxious about being “found out” or exposed as a fraud

  4. Comparing oneself to others and feeling inferior

  5. Overworking and setting excessively high standards for themselves

  6. Avoiding challenges or new opportunities due to fear of failure

Potential Causes of Imposter Syndrome

Several factors can contribute to the development of imposter syndrome ranging from personal to social and community related, as well as work and personal environments:

  1. Perfectionism: Striving for perfection can lead to unrealistic expectations and constant self-criticism.

  2. Family Background: Childhood experiences and family dynamics can influence how individuals perceive success and their self-worth.

  3. Gender and Minority Status: Individuals from marginalized groups may experience imposter syndrome due to external stereotypes and societal pressures.

  4. Personality Traits: Certain personality traits, such as low self-esteem may increase vulnerability to imposter feelings.

  5. Environment: Workplaces displaying photos only of white men in leadership roles, for example, can contribute to an environment where women and other underrepresented groups feel unwelcome or incapable.

Imposter Syndrome’s Impact on Various Aspects of Life

It’s easy to assume imposter syndrome is just a work and career issue. The reality is it can impact every aspect of your life:

  1. Work: Imposter syndrome can hinder career advancement and cause individuals to shy away from new challenges or promotions. It may also lead to burnout as individuals overcompensate to prove their worth.

  2. Relationships: Imposter syndrome can affect personal relationships, making it difficult for individuals to feel deserving of love and support.

  3. Personal Growth: The fear of failure may prevent individuals from pursuing their passions and hinder personal development.

Can Imposter Syndrome Be Beneficial?

In some cases, imposter syndrome can drive individuals to work harder and strive for excellence. It may act as a motivator to continually improve and learn new skills when framed as “I’m always striving to improve” versus “I’m faking it because I’m not good enough.”

Negative Consequences of Imposter Syndrome

Despite its potential benefits, imposter syndrome can lead to negative consequences:

  1. Mental Health: Prolonged imposter feelings can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

  2. Career Stagnation: Fear of failure can limit career growth and opportunities.

  3. Stress and Burnout: Constantly feeling like an imposter can lead to chronic stress and burnout.

Identifying Imposter Syndrome

Recognizing imposter syndrome is the first step to overcoming it. Pay attention to the signs and patterns in your thoughts and behavior:

  1. Accepting praise is difficult

  2. Declining to commit to growth opportunities at work

  3. Setting unattainable personal standards

  4. Fear that you’ll be discovered as incompetent

  5. Diminishing self confidence

  6. Anxiety and paralyzing stress

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Seeing the signs of imposter syndrome is a good step forward. Employing strategies to overcome the sensation can help keep it from negatively impacting your personal and work life.

  1. Reframe Your Thoughts: Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations about your achievements and capabilities.

  2. Share Your Feelings: Talk to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist about your imposter feelings. Opening up can provide much-needed support and perspective.

  3. Set Realistic Goals: Break tasks into smaller, achievable steps to build confidence gradually. Setting the bar too high can lead to failure or false validation for imposter syndrome.

  4. Embrace Failure: See failures as opportunities for growth and learning rather than as confirmation of your inadequacy.

  5. Celebrate Successes: Acknowledge your achievements and celebrate your successes, no matter how small.

  6. Know When Imposter Syndrome Can Happen: It’s common to experience imposter syndrome when expanding your business, changing careers, taking on new roles or job responsibilities, encountering new work and personal experiences.

  7. Own Your Self Worth: Look into yourself to identify your self worth instead of looking to external sources.

Developing Self-Confidence and Self-Worth

Building self-confidence and self-worth takes time and effort. Practice self-compassion and acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes and faces challenges. It’s easy, but unhealthy to compare your failures to other people’s successes. It’s likely the success you see in them came after several failures.

If you’re a business owner, you can take steps to help reduce imposter syndrome for your employees by creating an inclusive and supportive work environment through diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can also set your business on a path to keep that positive environment alive after you leave the company.

The Role of Self-Awareness in Managing Imposter Syndrome

Self-awareness is crucial in managing imposter syndrome. Being aware of your thought patterns and triggers allows you to develop coping mechanisms and reframe negative thoughts. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of feeling like a fraud because you don’t know all the answers. Remember that experts don’t need to know everything about a topic or role, but they do know where to find the answers.

If imposter syndrome is negatively impacting your ability to function in day to day life or work, it’s time to find a professional therapist. They can help work through the experience and develop skills to lower the chances of experiencing the same problems in the future.

Releasing the Imposter Feeling

Imposter syndrome is a common experience that affects individuals from all walks of life. Understanding its signs, causes, and impact is essential in learning how to handle it effectively. By employing strategies to overcome imposter syndrome, cultivating self-confidence, and fostering self-awareness, individuals can break free from the grip of self-doubt and embrace their true potential. Recognizing and dealing with imposter syndrome can help you better manage your personal life and professional career, and help you empathize with friends, family, and coworkers who may be working through similar experiences.

Imposter syndrome can rear its head when you’re looking to buy, sell, or grow a business. Ikadre can help navigate the process so imposter syndrome doesn’t get in the way. Schedule an appointment to learn more.

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