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What is Imposter Syndrome and How Do I Overcome It?

Imposter syndrome is a pervasive feeling of inadequacy despite clear evidence of success. It’s a common struggle that can hold back even the most accomplished individuals. But how do you recognise it, and more importantly, how do you move past it?

Recognising the Signs

Moments of imposter internal conflict can be recognised by answering three crucial questions about yourself:

1. What emotions are you experiencing? Low mood, anxiety?

2. Which of your needs are currently unfulfilled? Trust or recognition?

3. What do you believe about yourself?

The last question significantly influences the first two. For example, if you believe you’re not good enough, you might feel low in situations that should bring happiness, and you might struggle to accept compliments for results related to a new role, experience or promotion.

Roots of Imposter Syndrome

Several life challenges can instil these false beliefs, such as:

1. Your perceived childhood parenting experience e.g “golden child” or sibling of a “golden child” in high-achieving families.

2. Past youthful delinquency can create a self-sabotaging mindset.

3. Past Involvement with law enforcement at a young age can have a similar effect.

4. Early career mistakes that caused harm. This feeling of not belonging or feeling you are not capable can particularly show up when you move into a new role or start a new job.

These experiences can create a pervasive sense of shame and negativity about yourself.

Identifying Your Imposter Syndrome

If you believe you’re fundamentally flawed and not good enough, you might be suffering from imposter syndrome. This condition involves telling ourselves stories that form a defence mechanism, even when our work ethic, passion, and results should speak for themselves. Your achievements impress others but fail to break the imposter cage because you struggle to connect your success to your self-worth.

Cat looking at mirror and sees itself as a lion. Self esteem or desire concept or Imposter syndrome

Common Fears and Anxieties

1. Fear of being called out and not fitting in

2. Fear of losing your job

3. Fear of losing trust from partners or colleagues

4. Anxiety over compliments

5. Belief that your success is due to luck or external factors

6. Over-concern with others’ opinions

These fears and anxieties feed into the imposter syndrome, particularly for high-performing professionals.

Breaking the Cycle

There are two main approaches to healing from imposter syndrome. The best approaches involve changing your belief system and embracing positive feedback to transform internal negative constructs into realistic narratives that truly reflect who you are. Each behaviour you can articulate is backed by your actions, demonstrating that you’ve indeed acted in ways that led to the reactions you observed.

To overcome imposter syndrome, it’s crucial to change your belief system. Work from a positive, open-minded platform that aligns your actions with your reactions.

Why should a kind comment make you feel like a fraud? If you’ve genuinely been helpful, embrace positive feedback. Constructive criticism should be seen as a learning opportunity.

A temporary feeling of inadequacy is a common experience of life however if it becomes pervasive, here are practical steps to heal from feeling like an imposter.

Practical Steps to Heal

1. Write Down Your Thoughts

Document your achievements and thoughts. Even if you feel like a nobody, remember your accomplishments. Articulate your position and write it down.

2. Rewire Your Beliefs

Start with affirmations:

“It’s alright to receive compliment because I gave up my time for a friend today.”

“…I paid attention to a distressed patient.”

Journaling helps you reflect and rewrite negative narratives into realistic, positive ones.

3. Acknowledge Compliments

When someone compliments you for a collaborative effort, respond with “Thank you, and…” rather than “Thank you, but…” when appropriate. Do not take yourself out of the equation with a “but“. If you and your colleague worked on a project together and they compliment your effort, respond with “Thank you, Claire, and I wouldn’t have done it without your help.”

4. Communicate Effectively

Learn to respond positively when you don’t know something. Say, “I’m not sure about that, but I can find out and get back to you.”

5. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Don’t judge yourself by how you perceive what other people are showing about themselves. Remember, we are more alike than we think. Others may be struggling with similar challenges as you.

6. Listen Actively

Be present, open-minded, and listen actively during a conversation or consultation to avoid the anxiety and the feeling of being an imposter.

7. Seek Professional Help if Needed

If you are dealing with deep-seated shame or past experiences, don’t hesitate to work with a professional. Therapy can provide valuable support in overcoming imposter syndrome.

According to Dr Jordan Peterson, the optimal way forward is to keep facing challenges voluntarily, pay attention at a rate that works for you. Develop your competence that actually stabilises the environment around you which makes it more predictable and less threatening. By continuing on this path you accrue the evidence and social support that can dispel the feelings, thoughts and behaviour of imposter syndrome.

Wishing you a successful and fulfilling life and career. Read more here.

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