Busting the most common Imposter Syndrome myths
In the last 10 years, Imposter Syndrome/Phenomenon has become more widely spoken about. And that is a very good thing. Because the more we talk about it, raise the conversation and let others know they’re not alone in their experience, the better.
But with any popularity of any topic and/or worldwide discussion comes a raft of opinions. Some helpful and based on evidence or experience, and others not so much.
Here are the 7 common myths about Imposter Syndrome, and the truths.
Myth 1: Imposter Syndrome is not real
Imposter Syndrome is not a medically diagnosed syndrome but it is a real experience that impacts how you think and feel about yourself (self worth) and therefore impacts how you behave.
This experience was first called (and often still is called) Impostor Phenomenon, coined in 1978 by two psychotherapists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. Since then, the term Imposter Syndrome has also become commonplace.
Despite the use of the word syndrome it isn’t a medically diagnosed condition or registered mental health condition. So although the use of the word syndrome can be ‘misleading to many’, the overall experience is certainly very real.
Feel free to call it whatever you like: Syndrome, Phenomenon, Negative Voice in your head. But know that Imposter Syndrome is real and it’s not just ‘something that’s wrong with you’.
Also know that it’s not your fault you’re experiencing it, but overcoming it is all within your control.
For many of us, our seed of unworthiness was planted in us as children by a parent, guardian, someone close to us and/ or an environmental situation. This is what we call your ‘origin story’. Then as you grow and progress through life these feelings of unworthiness surface in many as Imposter Syndrome when you are ‘triggered’ by a person, event or situation.
Myth 2: Imposter Syndrome is just a fancy term for Self Doubt
Self Doubt can be one element of Imposter Syndrome. But they are not the same thing. You can have feelings of Self Doubt without experiencing Imposter Syndrome.
Self Doubt without a fear of being exposed as a fraud or intellectual phony is not Imposter Syndrome.
Self Doubt can be very situational. Whereas Imposter Syndrome is all-consuming 360-degree doubt (once triggered) because you doubt your past, your present, and your ability to do things in the future. So to conclude, Imposter Syndrome is not just ‘Self Doubt’.
Myth 3: Imposter Syndrome only affects women
More and more men are on the record as experiencing Imposter Syndrome, and while women are more frequently surveyed, we are seeing the rise of men and their experiences.
Imposter Syndrome can affect anyone. It does not discriminate.
While we don’t have clear statistics on how Imposter Syndrome affects non-binary people, we do know that being in a minority can be a major origin story and/or trigger for one’s Imposter Syndrome. They can be in the minority in their field due to gender, sexual orientation/identity, age, race or other factors.
Myth 4: We all experience Imposter Syndrome
While any person can experience it, not everyone does experience Imposter Syndrome.
About 70% of people say they have experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives. In some industries it can skew slightly higher than 70%.
That’s a lot of people who feel like a fraud or a fake, despite evidence of their success.
But it’s not everyone.
There is also a lot of misinformation around Imposter Syndrome, which means people may believe they’re experiencing it at times, when they are in fact just experiencing a bout of standard Self Doubt. And one thing we can say is that almost everyone feels doubt at some point.
I have met many women (and men) who don’t experience Imposter Syndrome. But if you do experience it, rest assured you’re not alone.
Myth 5: Confident women don’t experience Imposter Syndrome
Even women with high Confidence experience Imposter Syndrome.
I am living proof of that. As is Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg and many other successful people.
Confidence allows you to be more aware of your Imposter feelings and behaviours.
Unfortunately, a high level of Confidence doesn’t stop Imposter Syndrome because it’s not your fault you’re experiencing it, and you never see the ‘trigger’ coming until it happens.
A trigger is what brings Imposter feelings and thoughts to the surface. At this point, a high level of Confidence and self awareness helps you intercept and redirect your Imposter feelings faster. You’re able to manage the outcome and prevent negative behaviours from taking over.
This means Confidence is super helpful in conquering Imposter Syndrome, but Confidence alone won’t necessarily prevent Imposter Syndrome from surfacing.
Myth 6: Toxic workplaces are to blame for Imposter Syndrome
Toxic workplaces, people and cultures can certainly be huge triggers for Imposter Syndrome but they are not the origin of your feelings.
So while the environment could be triggering and absolutely needs to change to protect you, your rights and everyone else’s in the organisation, changing jobs or removing toxicity from the workplace may not make your Imposter feelings simply disappear.
This is because self sabotage induced from Imposter Syndrome has become habitual.
You’ve trained your brain through repetition of negative thinking, self-talk and other behaviours to believe that these feelings are facts, but they’re not.
And if you don’t learn to manage Imposter Syndrome – even when you move to a more positive or supportive environment – the feelings of intellectual phoniness and fraudster will stay with you.
It is difficult to flourish in a toxic environment and if you can’t leave (naturally, I understand leaving is not always an option) it’s critical that you learn how to manage your own emotions, thoughts and behaviours and that you set boundaries to protect yourself. These are all within your control which means you can make the powerful shifts you need to be happy and successful.
Myth 7: Imposter Syndrome is a good thing and/or keeps you humble
Feeling like an intellectual fake, phony or fraud is not motivating, it’s debilitating at times.
Working harder, pushing yourself to ‘prove yourself’ or to ‘outrun’ your Imposter Syndrome is a dangerous pursuit. Because you cannot outrun these emotions and thoughts. You have to tackle them head on.
Sure, you can try and convince yourself that they keep you ‘on the ball’ or that they keep you ‘hungry for success’, but these types of thoughts still lure you into a false reality.
Because at the end of the day you’re doing all of this because you still feel like a fraud. You don’t feel worthy of your position or accomplishments.
These are feelings we want to get rid of or redirect, not keep and try to turn into some kind of motivation.
Living and working with Imposter feelings is guaranteed to keep your stress levels high and inhibit your ability to switch off, to rest, and to avoid burnout. Most of all, it robs you of the joy of each wonderful steps you’re taking.
Rather than trying to tell yourself “I’ll just work harder and then I won’t feel like a fraud,” how about you tell yourself “I’m worthy of my position and I’m incredible at what I do. Period.”
Be motivated by your goals, competence, learning ability and Confidence, not the constant battle with your Imposter Syndrome.
Did any of the truths surprise you?
Feel free to write to me and share your views.
My goal through my work is to empower you with the truth and encourage you to take a deeper look at your own experience.
I want you to remember that your experience is real.
You are not alone and there is help out there if you need it.
If you need help to conquer your Imposter thoughts, please get in touch for a free 15 minute discovery session.