Imposter syndrome is a term used to describe those who, despite their achievements and success, are secretly convinced they are imposters who have not earned anything they have accomplished. This is a common struggle for many people, holding them back from taking credit for their work and from achieving their full potential. At the same time, those who struggle with the syndrome can be prevented from seeking support due to the self-doubt it causes.
It is important to recognize the signs and signals of imposter syndrome, from negative thought patterns to the way you behave at work. While a few moments of self-doubt are natural for anyone, imposter syndrome can hold you back in many areas of your professional and personal development. Use the following guide to help yourself judge whether you might have imposter syndrome and start taking steps to fight it.
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is, at its core, a feeling of self-doubt about your skills. If you have imposter syndrome, you may feel as though you are a fraud who does not know what you are doing. Those suffering with imposter syndrome feel like they have not worked for their achievements, all their successes have simply been due to luck, and they may be “found out” at any moment. It can affect anyone of any age, gender or social group, and is a relatively common phenomenon.
There are several reasons that have been considered as the potential root cause of imposter syndrome, although it is generally accepted there is no one particular cause. Imposter syndrome might be the result of perfectionism, thinking anything less than perfect is unacceptable. You could have self-doubt stemming from your childhood. Alternatively, you may suddenly struggle with imposter syndrome simply because you have always been used to success and are now having to work hard at something new.
Signs You May Be Struggling
Most people experience self-doubt every so often, but if it occurs daily to the point where it is affecting your life and work, you may be struggling with imposter syndrome. You might find yourself coming up with excuses every time you do something well, such as “I got lucky” or “It was an easy project.” You might limit yourself at work, afraid you might fail or afraid of everyone else realizing you are a fraud if you try something new.
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If these thoughts and behaviours sound familiar, you may suffer from imposter syndrome. Your syndrome could manifest in specific ways. There are five recognized “types” of imposters:
- The expert, fearing failure if he or she is unable to master every part of a task or area of knowledge.
- The natural genius, whose usual ease with new tasks results in self-doubt as soon as he or she starts to struggle.
- The perfectionist, always focusing on what he or she did wrong instead of his or her successes.
- The soloist, working alone for fear that asking for assistance may reveal his or her inadequacies.
- The superhero, always working as hard as possible at the risk of his or her health and wellbeing, desperate to prove himself or herself.
The Important First Step
Before you can deal with the problem of imposter syndrome, you must acknowledge that you have it. This can be difficult, as the nature of imposter syndrome means you are convinced you truly are unworthy of your position or accomplishments. Taking the time to consider why you have these feelings can reveal their origin. Acknowledging your imposter syndrome can help you understand your feelings for what they are and start to separate them from the truth.
As you start to start to recognize the imposter syndrome, watch your patterns of thought and behaviour carefully. Be aware of any time you start to criticize yourself too strongly or doubt your achievements. When you identify one of these negative thoughts, be ready to argue against them by recognizing your abilities and self-worth.
Dealing With the Problem
Allowing yourself to admit you suffer from imposter syndrome can help you to start dealing with the problem in the long term. Recognizing the cause of your own personal struggles can help, as you may have issues with self-confidence, perfectionism or a variety of other root causes.
As you work toward diminishing and eventually overcoming the imposter syndrome, try the following steps:
- Talk to others about what you are experiencing. A large part of imposter syndrome is the feeling that everyone else knows what they are doing, and you are the only one struggling along with no idea of what to do. You may be surprised at just how many of those in your life, from family and friends to colleagues, feel the same way. By stating your fears out loud, you may be able to see the irrationality in your thoughts.
- Look for support from someone you trust to tell you the truth about yourself without being overly critical. He or she must understand your doubts and be able to help you recognize the flaws in your reasoning. You can try to support others suffering from the same problem, perhaps eventually treating yourself with as much care as you treat them.
- Acknowledge your successes as well as your setbacks. Pay attention to the times when you do well and remind yourself of the part you played in the success, so you do not start thinking it was just luck. At the same time, you must admit when you do not do as well. Seeking perfection is one of the major causes of imposter syndrome, and you must accept the impossibility of perfection to move on from it.
- Ignoring the negative feelings can sometimes be the best course of action, although this may seem counterintuitive. Dealing with your emotions is extremely important in getting over imposter syndrome, but there may come moments at your work where you simply must pretend you do not feel self-doubt. Adopt a “fake it till you make it” attitude in the workplace. Knowing the doubt is irrational can help you to do this. It is important not to let the imposter syndrome keep you from achieving your goals.
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