What is Imposter Syndrome?
For people who try to achieve goals and reach more success in our lives, it is easy to get caught up in self-doubt. This self-doubt may represent your internal voice of caution, telling you to “keep it safe.” Imposter syndrome is an example of when the self-critical voice is too powerful. It makes you believe you do not deserve to be in the position you have worked hard to reach. Imposter syndrome is the persistent belief that one’s success is not deserved. Where you believe your position or success has not been reached through your ability. Imposter syndrome is often associated with high-achieving individuals but can affect anyone. While it is not classified as a mental health condition, imposter syndrome represents a major worldwide issue.
The estimate suggests that 70% of the population experience it at some point in their lives. Imposter syndrome can be particularly difficult for women. In the past, society has taught women to be humble and not display their strengths. As a result, imposter syndrome causes women to believe that they do not deserve acknowledgement or praise.
Imposter Syndrome Impacts
The effects of imposter syndrome can be negative. Research has found that imposter syndrome can cause depression, anxiety and burn out. Imposter syndrome is also often connected with self-doubt and low self-esteem. It can impact the level of confidence you have in yourself, your abilities and skills. Once people believe they are not good enough, they may struggle to achieve goals or take action in life.
Common experiences that people experience with self-doubt associated with being an imposter are:
– Becoming stuck or unable to move towards outcomes that are meaningful to you.
– A sense that your achievements are not recognized or valued by others or yourself.
– Feeling like you don’t deserve to be where you are, despite evidence of accomplishment.
– Imposter syndrome can also stop people from taking risks because they fear failure and success is something only for the “chosen few.”
– Constant fear surrounding setting new goals or moving towards meaningful challenges.
Imposter syndrome can also limit career development by causing self-sabotage and procrastination.
Common Causes of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is common among millennials due to the growing pressure to succeed.
There are several causes that may contribute to imposter syndrome developing:
– Upbringing with parents who were critical and/or demanding;
– Extreme perfectionism and driving yourself towards unattainable standards;
– Imposed limiting beliefs, or negative self talk such as, “I’m not good enough for this.” or “I can’t do that because I don’t have the experience;”
– A competitive environment or culture within your industry or profession. This causing you to feel anxious about being competent enough to fit your role.
Imposter syndrome may also be a result of negative experiences in previous roles. For example, dismissal from a previous role or, even a lack of positive feedback.
Other research has also found that imposter syndrome can result from being part of a minority group. It can also result from being in a team where you represent others with similar identities. Imposter syndrome is common in diverse groups, including age, racial, gender and sexuality. This is part of experiencing a lack of belonging, which causes feeling like an imposter.
What can you do about imposter syndrome?
It is important to recognise imposter syndrome and find an appropriate way to cope. Imposter syndrome can be debilitating to your self-belief and life outcomes. There are a range of supports and strategies to help manage it.
Who can help?
Your colleagues and friends can be a great support when they notice that something is not right. They may notice you struggle with how confidence or self-assurance for example. Imposter syndrome sufferers should also consider seeking professional help. Particularly if the feelings of inadequacy, fear and anxiety are having an impact on your ability to function. There are a range of supports who can help you overcome self-doubt and find success. You may also find it useful to speak with a mentor who has experienced imposter syndrome. Imposter Syndrome is not uncommon, so speaking with people in similar positions will give insight into how they overcame it.
How can therapists help?
Psychologists and counsellors are well equipped to support people struggling with Imposter Syndrome. Their expertise is in understanding your challenges and providing guidance to move forward. A therapist will help you understand the root cause of why imposter syndrome has taken hold. This allows them to assist in changing underlying beliefs that have been holding you back from reaching your potential.
How can life coaches help?
Professional life coaches are well-versed in working with Imposter Syndrome sufferers. They can provide a supportive environment to develop new strategies for managing self-doubt. A coach has the skillset needed to help you identify your personal goals and establish ways of achieving them. They work with you over a period of time to provide strategies that you can apply to circumstances that cause imposter syndrome.
Workplace adjustments to support you
Workplaces have a responsibility to provide a safe and supportive space. This is important in high-pressure environments. Often where there is risk of feelings of inadequacy due to uncertainty about their performance. The workplace should provide opportunities to enable you to display your abilities, so that there are opportunities to learn and develop in the role. With these opportunities, you can grow in confidence as you reach targets and milestones.
If imposter syndrome is mixed with other mental health conditions
If imposter syndrome causes anxiety and depression, other mental health supports are available. Imposter syndrome should not be overlooked as a possible mental health condition. Imposter Syndrome is unlikely to warrant treatment with medication or hospitalisation. If it becomes more severe then it could result in acute treatment.
Where to from here?
If you feel like Imposter Syndrome is having a negative impact on your life, seek help now. It is important to know who to turn to, whether it be friends, family or professionals. It is important to receive support to overcome self-doubt and not wait until things get worse. If it gets worse, feelings of inadequacy can take over your whole life. As imposter syndrome has become more recognised, treatment is becoming more available.
Imposter Syndrome is common, it can hold people back from achieving their potential. Both therapists and coaches have the expertise to provide guidance, to help you move forward. It is important to seek help and work through self-doubt, and harsh judgements.
Daniel Van der Pluym is the Founder of Deeper Potential Coaching, and is a Life Coach and Mindfulness Teacher who specialises in working with people to overcome self-limiting beliefs and build greater confidence. He has experience working with a number of clients to overcome their experiences of Imposter Syndrome, through helping anchor into their strengths and abilities and create greater self-assurance moving forward.