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Naming and taming our inner imposter

5 ways to work with Imposter Syndrome

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You know what I’m talking about. That moment when you’ve been invited to a speaking engagement and you find yourself with sweaty palms, a frequent need to visit the bathroom, a dry mouth, and repetitive thoughts of what might go wrong, now in THIS moment. At what point exactly will they discover I’m a fraud?!

The term Imposter Syndrome was coined in the 1970’s by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes and an estimated 70% of us will experience it to some degree throughout our careers. It disproportionately tends to impact women and can lead to us turning down jobs, not applying for certain roles, and downplaying our value when it comes to salary negotiations.

Imposter Syndrome is a common stressor among the self-employed, for those in career transition, or during moments of performance review. It’s characterised by sometimes crippling anxiety, self-doubt, insecurity, and a belief that any success has largely been due to luck rather than hard work. And what’s particularly interesting is that this phenomenon is proven to exist despite external evidence of achievement. Meaning it really does boil down to our internal perceptions of self-worth and value – but equally this means we hold the key to transforming it.

So what to do about it? How can we work with it? Below are a few suggestions for co-existing with our inner imposter:

1. Work with, not against, your emotions
You might like to experiment with a pocket practice known as RAIN. First we Recognise that Imposter Syndrome is here (“it helps to name it to tame it”), second we Acknowledge it is here whether we like it or not, third we Investigate and get curious about it (specifically how it feels in the body), and lastly we practice Not-identifying with it. Like rain, we practice merely observing it as a passing weather pattern and we soften our resistance to it, knowing it will shift eventually.

2. Build your self-compassion muscle
Practice shifting any self-criticism to self-compassion. Allowing our inner critic to rule the roost in this moment will only amplify our nervous energy. You might want to consider a self-compassion practice here. Acknowledge that you’re having a moment of challenge, practice accepting that challenges are an inherent part of life, and simply allow yourself the permission to be kind to yourself in this moment. If that feels hard to work with on yourself, imagine talking to yourself as though the situation were happening to a close friend.

3. Take an evidence based approach
Try to recall past achievements or moments in your life when you’ve faced similar challenges and overcome them. Actively build this evidence over time and refer to it as needed. Allow yourself to be reminded of your successes and take a moment to celebrate them again now. Actively seek out feedback which affirms your unique abilities and talents and reinforces your value.

4. Talk about it
Confiding in trusted family members, friends, colleagues or a coach, can really help to process these feelings, diffuse emotional energy, and to remind you of your unique skillset and value. Engaging with cheerleaders can often help with a more objective appraisal of the situation and a helpful confidence boost.

5. Feel the fear and do it anyway!
Take a results oriented approach and identify how you might best prepare for your “moment in the sun”. If you don’t feel ready for something, add the word “yet” to the end of that sentence, and do the work. Understand that in doing the work and developing the skills, you give yourself the best chance of minimising the impact of these feelings. And try to remind yourself that if you’re feeling this way, chances are you’re simply out of your comfort zone – but that is where the growth and the real magic reside!

Since we personally trigger feelings of Imposter Syndrome, similarly we have the power to lift them. It is not only possible to wrestle ourselves from its grip but we owe it to ourselves to practice finding a way through it in order to maximise our full human potential. I finish with a quote whose author I haven’t tracked down yet but whose words really resonate in this space, “There are people less qualified than you, doing the things you want to do, simply because they decided to believe in themselves. Period”.

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