Can you remember the first time you felt unworthy?
Where you were. How old you were? Who you were with. What someone said. What was going through your mind. What made you feel not good enough.
Why is this memory important? Because it’s where your Imposter Syndrome was birthed.
More than likely, your current Imposter Syndrome triggers are the same as – or related to – your first experience with Imposter Syndrome.
So take a moment to think and write down that first memory. We call this your ‘Origin Story’.
Why do you need to know what triggers your Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter Syndrome causes you to have Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs).
You know the kind:
> I don’t deserve to be here
> I just got lucky
> Everyone else is smarter than me
> I have no value to add
> I couldn’t possibly lead this team, I am not experienced enough
> One day they’ll find out I don’t really know what I am doing
When you can’t grasp what’s happening, you can’t stop it from escalating. You get stuck in a cycle of negative feelings and thoughts that spiral further and further away from the truth and then it turns into self-sabotaging behaviour.
In the beginning, you won’t be able to stop your Imposter Syndrome ANTs entirely. But over time you’ll learn to redirect or silence them faster.
Insight into common Imposter Syndrome triggers
There are many. As I have shared in my previous blog, Imposter Syndrome feelings are not ‘one size fits all’.
The seed of Imposter Syndrome predominantly springs from childhood experiences, like your parents having unrealistic expectations on you, which you felt you could never live up to. Or your parents constantly praised you without being specific, which instilled a false belief in you that success can come easily. Or you were neglected or made to feel unworthy for other reasons.
Then you reach adulthood and these feelings surface when triggered by a person or situation. Say when you entered a male-dominated field or achieved success much faster than your friends or peers.
Here are 7 of the most common triggers I see for Imposter Syndrome
Low Confidence, when we lack confidence and belief in ourselves we can feel like imposters (despite evidence of our competence). Because low Confidence means we are not taking consistent action towards what we want. And when we are not taking action we open the door for doubt, fear and that critical inner Imposter voice to appear.
Being out of your comfort zone, such as public speaking opportunity, starting a business, getting a promotion, or leading a project. All good things but triggers none the less.
Achieving success quickly or fast for your age (think of the Harry Potter actors, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson who are both on record saying they’ve felt like imposters).
Being in the minority, such as being a woman in a male-dominated field.
Being the first, or the only person like you, such as age, gender, family history, ethnicity or sexual orientation/identity.
Your childhood: how your parents taught you to view success, if you were pushed to be ‘perfect’ this can become a trigger in your work environment.
Bullying or harassment in the workplace, or in your personal life. Someone questioning your abilities in an unfair manner can resurface those unworthy feelings from the past.
If your trigger is not displayed here, don’t despair. Everyone has their own unique triggers, these 7 common ones are just a guide for you.
How does Imposter Syndrome take over your thoughts?
Once you’ve been triggered and you feel like a fraud, your inner critic’s voice pipes up. It starts saying:
> I can’t speak in the meeting because they’ll think my idea is stupid
> I can’t change jobs because everyone will find out I’m not qualified
> If I work hard to please everyone, they won’t find out I’m a fraud
Hear these ANTS enough and you start to believe they are true, so you act according to your thoughts:
> You strive for Perfection – anything less is deemed failure
> You don’t speak up in the meeting
> You don’t apply for the job
> You don’t launch the business
> You work yourself to exhaustion or burnout, trying to do everything for everyone
> You spend countless hours up-skilling or gaining more certifications in the hope it makes you feel less of a fraud
As a result, you miss out on opportunities, and feel bad for not achieving your goals. OR you push yourself to burnout to secure a ‘result’, only to not enjoy it because you’re more relieved than happy, and you’re totally stressed out.
The good news is, once you become aware of your triggers and take notice of your Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs) you can learn to intercept and redirect them into a new and true story.
Intercept and redirect your Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs)
Here’s how you can start.
Coaching tip: Confidently Reframe Imposter Thoughts
Grab your journal or some notepaper.
Think of the last time you felt like a fraud.
What was the ANT you said to yourself:
Now let’s reframe this ANT into a NEW AND TRUE story:
Here is an example to help you:
Situation: You’re in an important team meeting at work
Trigger: You’ve been asked to lead the new project
ANT: I can’t lead. Sally is way more qualified. They’ll know I am a fraud
Confident Reframe based on evidence: I have just as much experience as everyone else and the boss chose me for a reason so I am going to give it my best shot.
Now you know how to identify your Imposter Syndrome triggers and start to reframe your Automatic Negative Thoughts.
Be sure to do the exercise every time you hear that inner critic raise its voice in your head.
Document all of your ANTs and all of your TRIGGERS because awareness is key.
You can’t necessarily see a trigger coming – even when you know what they are – but you can get faster at intercepting and redirecting your ANTs before they cause you to self sabotage.
In a future blog we’ll talk about how these self sabotaging behaviours can be managed so you can stop yourself getting trapped in an ‘Imposter Cycle’. Stay tuned….