Do you wrestle with an internalized belief that you are a fraud? Do you feel like you’re harboring a shameful, repulsive secret that you aren’t nearly as successful or competent as others seem to view you?
Does this self-doubt make it all but impossible to own the triumphs you’ve earned, skills you’ve mastered, experience you’ve acquired or rungs you’ve climbed? If any of this sounds familiar, then you might have a case of imposter syndrome.
So, what is imposter syndrome?
Those who deal with imposter syndrome think their success is based on a sheer fluke or coincidence, rather than intelligence, qualifications, talents, worth ethic and resilience. As such, they tend to feel unworthy of their achievements or the admiration of others. While this insecurity can shake you to the core and affect numerous areas of your life, imposter syndrome is more common than you might realize.
According to the International Journal of Behavioral Science, 70 percent of all human beings suffer a bout of imposter syndrome at least once in their lives. This condition can impact anyone, no matter their age bracket, socioeconomic status, career level, gender or sexual orientation, and race or ethnicity.
However, the data points out, some traits could exacerbate just how susceptible you are to imposter syndrome. A need to be special, fear of rejection or failure, a sense of guilt over success, a bent toward perfectionism, a discomfort with praise, or an urge to prove yourself can manifest as this deep-rooted suspicion that whatever expertise you bring to the table is an inauthentic facade.
What factors drive your imposter syndrome?
To determine what fuels your imposter syndrome, in particular, start by asking yourself the list of questions below:
- Do I think love and acceptance are based on my performance?
- Was I only noticed or praised when I achieved something as a child?
- Am I prone to doubt whether I’m “enough” or “too much” for others?
- Do I berate myself for laziness when I am not as productive as usual?
- Am I afraid to request help or confess that I don’t know something?
- Is it common for me to overlook or minimize my accomplishments?
- Do I see myself as weak, inadequate or undeserving of success?
- Am I dismissive and self-deprecating when someone compliments me?
- Is there a continual pattern of anxiety or neuroses in my life?
- Do I attribute all wins to external influences rather than my abilities?
- Are the goals I set more inflexible or rigorous than they need to be?
- Am I tempted to sabotage my own ambitions and opportunities?
- Do I have unrealistic expectations that push me to overachieve?
As you can see, this goes beyond the occasional moment of self-conscious hesitation. Imposter syndrome will target those innermost fears that all you have worked for is a sham—and it’s only a matter of time until those around you expose the charade. The more ingrained this belief, the more havoc it will wreak on your confidence. But it does not have to be this way. Here’s how to fight the imposter syndrome beast.
Practice reframing your thoughts as they come.
Next time your inner dialogue turns critical, be proactive to reframe the message. For instance, you have this thought: “I wasn’t as clear and articulate during that presentation as I could have been. What if everyone in the meeting finds out that I’m not the skilled communicator they assume I am?”
On the surface, this might be a normal concern, but instead of compulsively ruminating until it becomes an internalized judgment, first examine whether the thought is even true. Does one presentation make or break how well you communicate? Was it a poor delivery, or could that just be your impression? And what can you do in the future to continue honing this skillset?
Invite both affirmation and constructive feedback.
It’s important that other voices who care about your success and overall welfare can speak into your life on a regular basis. So allow those you trust to call attention to both your strengths and blindspots. Listen to their feedback, be receptive to the insights they share, and then use that information to fuel your growth.
If someone whose opinion you value mentions, “You have natural leadership instincts,” then embrace the compliment—don’t brush it off or assume they are mistaken. But on the flipside, if this person tells you, “I’ve noticed that you second-guess yourself as a leader too often,” then allow this observation to inform which areas you need to work on. You can benefit from positive reinforcement and helpful critiques.
Remind yourself out loud what you have to offer.
As cognitive behavioral therapist and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit Dr. Alice Boyes points out, there are numerous reasons why it’s so difficult for some people to own what they do best. Comparison with others, unattainable standards or fear of self-importance can hinder you from living into the talents you possess.
Challenge yourself to stand in front of a mirror and tell your reflection out loud what specific abilities you have to offer. Any area of expertise is fair-game—it can be as quirky or unconventional as, “I belt out those high notes of the Hamilton soundtrack in my shower like nobody’s business.” Or it can be as serious and goal-oriented as, “I am a skilled enough writer to pursue a career in the field of journalism.”
A final word of encouragement: You are NOT a fraud.
When you learn how to trust your strengths and celebrate your accomplishments, over time, that sense of fraudulence will lose its hold on you. The most effective weapon against imposter syndrome is the choice to see yourself as something besides an imposter. It sounds almost too obvious, but it’s the undeniable truth