Imposter Syndrome: The truth behind the lie



"I’m a fraud"

"I got it because I was lucky"

"They’ll soon figure out I can't do it"



Do these thoughts sound familiar?


Do you regularly doubt your ability or minimise your accomplishments and skills?


Do you worry that sooner or later someone will work out that you are a fraud and you will be exposed?


If so, you might be experiencing something known as ‘imposter syndrome’.


This term was first used in 1978 by Clance and Imes who completed a series of interviews with people who were considered as “highly successful”. They found that many of these people did not recognise their successes and actually considered themselves to be imposters in the field they were in. (1) Clance (1985) went on to develop the Imposter Test. Why not give it a go to see if this is something you are struggling with?


Imposter syndrome is really common! In fact, some research has found that around 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life(2).

What are the signs that you might be experiencing imposter syndrome?

  • You worry that one day your manager may realise you do not actually know what you are doing.

  • You are afraid to ask for help in case people think you are a failure.

  • You think that your friends would not really like you if they truly knew what you were like.

  • You put your achievements and successes down to sheer luck

  • You experience a lot of self-doubt

  • You set yourself high expectations and then feel awful when you do not meet them

  • You minimise your achievements

  • You dread that one day you will be caught out for being a fraud

  • You over-prepare, over-plan and over check everything for the fear you may mess up and others will then realise you don't belong there


So, why do you feel like an imposter?

It may be that you have come from a family who values success and achievements very highly. This can lead you to develop beliefs that acceptance is only based on achievements, which leads you to constantly strive to prove themselves.


On the other hand, you may have grown up with people who were very critical and therefore your achievements may not match with the critical narrative you grew up with.

Sometimes, it can be new experiences that can lead you to feel like an imposter, like going to university, starting a new job or being promoted. It could also be the experience of returning to something following a gap, like maternity leave or even a change in role, like becoming a new parent. These new experiences can make you second guess yourself and question your abilities.

6 tips that can help you to manage imposter syndrome

  1. Remind yourself that imposter syndrome is common. Sometimes just being aware that other people are also experiencing this can make it feel less intense.

  2. Make a positive qualities log: Everyday write down one quality or one achievement you have made. This can help you start to be aware of the positives in your life and begin to help you recognise the things you are doing well.

  3. Avoid comparing yourself to others. Every time you notice yourself making comparisons e.g.- on social media, in class or meeting at work- say STOP! Remind yourself that people only show you what they want others to see. Whilst it may seem like everyone is doing perfectly on the outside in reality we do not know what is going on.

  4. Accept that it is okay if you don’t achieve all the time. Failures are a part of life and they can only help us learn.

  5. Remember it is okay to ask for help. Speak to a family member or friend if you are struggling with feelings of imposter syndrome. If you are noticing it is significantly impacting your life perhaps think about speaking to a therapist.


References

1. Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0086006

2. Sakulku, J. (1). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75-97.



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