Are you someone who wants to be out there doing things, making a difference? Do you want to start stepping out of your comfort zone? Is abject fear holding you back? Perhaps you feel like a fraud, like you are about to get found out.
This article will explore what imposter syndrome is, what it isn’t, as well as why and when imposter syndrome raises its ugly head. It will also explore how it can impact your whole life and what you can do about it, so that it doesn’t rule your life so much.
How can you tell if you have imposter syndrome?
There are all kind of signs you may experience in day-to-day life. An indication or sign could be things you might be saying in your head to yourself. For example:
- “Oh my god, they’ve hired me. What the hell have they done?”
- “Have I oversold myself?”
- “Everyone else here is better than me, smarter than me.”
- “I’m not good enough and I’m going to get found out.”
Imposter syndrome isn’t just having a lack of self-belief. It’s this intense feeling of intellectual phoniness that you are a faker, a fraud. You feel this, despite evidence to the contrary, despite all of your achievements.
This is what imposter syndrome does. It has you dismiss everything and forget everything. Imposter syndrome was first coined as a phrase. It was first discovered, or named, in 1985 when a couple of women did a study on ambitious professional women (Clance).
It is thought that approximately 70% of us all suffer from it at some point and to some degree. I would argue that it’s way higher than that in women. I think it’s down to the fact that as women, we are conditioned to not boast. Plus, as women, we are more likely to internalise failures.
It’s not a syndrome because it’s not a mental health issue that’s in your brain. It’s a part of your brain chemistry. It’s actually a belief system that it has picked up along the way, completely affected by outside circumstances and people.
How does imposter syndrome affect you?
When it comes to working opportunities, you may question yourself. You may doubt a new role or position you’ve been given, asking yourself,
Have I lied? Can I really do it? They’re going to find me out
This can lead to you going into overwork mode because you want to prove yourself. However, it can also cause procrastination through fear of failure. This is especially true for when you’re very visible, such as posting on social media or recording a podcast.
When it comes to feedback, you reject praise and internalise any perceived failures. Now, this cycle could be one big event, or it can happen multiple times throughout the day.
What effect can imposter syndrome have on your personal life?
Imposter syndrome can cause stress and anxiety. It triggers you to push on through, past any decent levels of what’s possible of a human being to be working every day. Imposter syndrome causes you to be cautious about asking for help, so you do it all yourself. It can also easily lead to burn out.
You may beat yourself up. You say nasty stuff to yourself, stuff you wouldn’t say to a good friend. Imposter syndrome can also lead to isolation and depression because you’re so in that zone, there’s no room for anyone or anything else.
The knock-on effect in terms of romantic relationships is huge. It could be massively frustrating and exhausting for a partner of somebody with imposter syndrome. If you are guilty of brushing off compliments because you believe them to be untrue, it could be really difficult and painful for your partner.
If you’re suffering from it, you’re rarely present because you’re not thinking about what you need to do. You’re beating yourself up and you’re in anxiety mode, which leads to isolation.
Imposter syndrome can also have a huge effect on your children because it causes you to be that harsh critical parent that you may have had yourself. You can easily pass it on to your children as well.
What about your business life?
In terms of your career and leadership, it can have you not voicing your opinions, which has a hugely detrimental effect. This is commonly seen in women leaders. In meetings, your mind may wander towards thinking
“I don’t really know my stuff. I can’t possibly say this” “Can you recognise feeling those intense feelings in moments like this?”
It can also have you really being one of those harsh, critical, micromanaging kind of bosses. The type that isn’t inspiring or being empowering. As you’ve got such impossibly high standards, and you need to do it all, nobody could do it as good as you. And then, of course, you can’t, and you beat yourself up. It can lead to huge burnout issues and not reaching your full potential in terms of leadership.
How can you bust imposter syndrome?
- Spend a couple of moments noting down what resonates with you from above. This initiates the awareness of imposter syndrome. Then, write down what impact it has on your life. What real, tangible things does it cause to happen? For example, perhaps not being present in your children’s life and causing a rift between you and your partner. Then write down what this could cost you in the future.
- Imposter syndrome can be caused by things you have picked up along your journey in life, such as what you’ve had to do as a child, to feel valued, and to feel loved. What conditions of worth did you have as a child, or growing up? Has it been drilled home that you must work hard, and always put others first by a pushy parent? Then it’s time to identify your imposter voice. Commonly this can be a parent or teacher. It may not be someone specific and could be an invented character. Every time the imposter voice enters your head, attribute it to them and then internally ask yourself, how is it serving me to listen to this voice right now? If it isn’t, send it on its way.
- This is somebody else’s beliefs that you’ve taken on as your own because, at some point in your life, you had to do something to belong or feel loved. After it’s been sent on its way, the first thing to do is to take care of yourself. Reduce your stress levels by getting better sleep, seeking nutrition and exercise. You have to make a commitment to your self-care because when you’re in full-on stress, fight or flight mode, it’s game over. When you’re tired and stressed, you’re just going to go with the old behaviour.
- Then the next crucial step is to recognise and acknowledge your achievements. Mark each achievement and write it down for evidence. Usually, imposter syndrome has you dismiss it, and push it away. When you get feedback from others, record it and hold on to it. Build an evidence library. Go back through old emails and feedback and collate the evidence.
- When it comes to perceived failures, check in with someone else and also check whether it’s just a skills gap. For example, if you think you’re not great at public speaking, get some public speaking training. It doesn’t mean that you’re a fake or a fraud. Ask clients what you do well and if they can give examples. This needs to be from a credible source, such as someone you respect and admire.
- Afterwards, be conscious of that critical voice in your head and replace it with one that’s kinder. Replace it with one that you would use with a good friend. So, when that imposter syndrome kicks in, when you’ve separated it out, replace it with a voice that says “Hey, you’ve got this. You’re good enough.”
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