What is Imposter Syndrome?
Do you ever feel like a fraud or a fake at work?
Like you’re fooling everyone into believing you’re actually smart enough to be there?
Or that you’re not worthy/deserving of your position or accomplishments?
Do you find it difficult to accept praise and attribute your success to luck or others?
Or work in a constant state of panic or anxiousness that you’ll be exposed as not knowing enough?
If you answered yes, you’re not alone, and these feelings have a name: Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome or (Impostor Phenomenon as it was originally named) is when you believe you’re not as intelligent, capable, talented or qualified as other people perceive you to be despite clear evidence of your abilities & accomplishments. Those with Imposter Syndrome struggle to internalise their success because they don’t feel worthy or deserving of it. They believe they’re fooling everyone and will soon be exposed as a FRAUD.
‘Despite their glowing achievements & praise from others, an individual who suffers from Imposter Syndrome doesn’t believe their success is a direct result of her hard work’.
If not addressed at it’s root cause (a limiting belief that you’re not good enough/smart enough) Imposter Syndrome can dramatically impact the level of success an individual achieves and/or rob them from the acknowledgement and joy of what they have deservedly achieved.
It can be a dark and relentless cycle but there is certainly light at the end of the tunnel. You can learn to manage it or even overcome it entirely.
Now let’s peel back some layers on this so-called PHENOMENON.
The term Impostor Phenomenon as it was first coined, was identified and researched in the 1970s by two female American Psychologists, Dr Pauline R Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes.
Despite being first documented by Psychologists, and commonly being referred to as a ‘Syndrome’, Imposter Phenomenon/Syndrome is not a clinically diagnosed mental health/illness condition. It’s a series of feelings (the main one being fear) which affects a person’s perception of themselves and their success.
It isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ feeling either, meaning how I have experienced Imposter Syndrome might not be exactly the same as how you have experienced it.
Imposter Syndrome has many layers.
Who can experience Imposter Syndrome?
Anyone can experience Imposter Syndrome, and although it had been most widely discussed amongst high-achieving women, the discussion is no longer just about women. Imposter Syndrome can impact all genders / identities.
Imposter Syndrome no longer just impacts high-achievers either, with recent research and global experts discovering that Imposter Syndrome is blocking wildly talented and capable people from succeeding at all. They don’t step out of their comfort zones, seek opportunities for growth or take risks due to Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome is incredibly common.
In fact, up to 70% of people have experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives. Seventy percent! Including many celebrities, successful business people, politicians and sports stars as well.
Yet you feel like you’re alone, because often no one talks about it.
That’s one of the hardest things about it: because Imposter Syndrome is a constant fear of being exposed as a fraud, you feel like you mustn’t talk about it. And deeply rooted emotions like shame, guilt and embarrassment are heavily tied/felt by those with Imposter Syndrome, so we tend to stay quiet to ‘protect ourselves’ from experiencing these emotions.
But if you did talk about it, you’d find that a lot of people have felt the same way at some point.
Common signs of Imposter Syndrome include:
- Working / living with a fear of being ‘exposed’ or ‘found out’ as a fraud or not good enough
- Chronic doubt over your own skills, talents and ability despite evidence of your competence and success (you know the work experience, awards, certifications, study, medals results etc)
- Not believing you’re worthy/deserving of your current role or future opportunities
- Inability to accept praise and compliments
- Attributing your success to other people, luck or anything else other than your hard work
- Perfectionist tendencies like setting unrealistic expectations on yourself, criticising yourself harshly and never being satisfied even if you do produce good results
- Excessive fear of failure, constructive feedback and making mistakes. No one particularly likes these things but to those of us with Imposter Syndrome these are seen as ‘proof’ that we are not good enough. We are prone to catastrophising.
Where does Imposter Syndrome come from?
The seed of unworthiness for many who suffer Imposter Syndrome is planted in childhood. This is due to a parental, guardian or social situation in which you were made to feel ‘not good enough’. We call this your ‘origin story’. Then later in life (adulthood) this limiting belief of ‘not being good enough, smart enough, worthy enough’ resurfaces causing Imposter feelings when ‘triggered’ by a situation or person.
Triggers can also change throughout your life as you and your career grow. More to come on common triggers in a future blog, but for now what’s important is that you become AWARE of your individual origin story and common trigger.
Take a moment to think about when you first had that feeling of not being ‘good enough’…
When was as it ?
- A particular moment in time?
- A childhood experience?
- Another person’s opinion or statement to you?
- An environment you found yourself in?
Awareness of YOUR origin story & key trigger is the first step to managing Imposter Syndrome.
And they may be things from both your work or personal life. I’ve discussed many work scenarios but Imposter Syndrome isn’t only a workplace fear.
It can show up in your education, such as when you compare yourself to your classmates and feel like you don’t/didn’t deserve to be there.
It can show up in relationships, when Imposter Syndrome makes you feel unworthy of your partner or family. It can cause you to think and feel:
> That you have to be perfect because they won’t like the real you
> That your partner deserves better than you
> That you should break up with them before they break up with you
All forms of self sabotage driven by Imposter thoughts and feelings.
When is it just Self Doubt rather than Imposter Syndrome?
Despite chronic self doubt being a symptom of Imposter Syndrome, it is important for me to state that you can in fact experience Self Doubt and have it NOT BE Imposter Syndrome.
Let me explain…
Self doubt is when ‘you lack belief in yourself and/or your ability to perform a task or action’.
Like Confidence, Self Doubt is situational. You could be awesome at your job, but then be offered a new task to do that you’re not confident in completing. You will therefore doubt your ability to complete that new task, and depending on your Confidence levels, you may even decline to take it on all together. However, this is not the same as Imposter Syndrome.
If you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome in the same situation, you will feel like you’re not worthy to be asked to complete the new task in the first place. You’ll think you don’t know enough to complete it (even though you do) or that you’re not good enough to complete it, and that there are more qualified people. If you do accept the task it will need to be perfect or you’ll need to work around the clock so nobody finds out you’re a fraud. It’s a heightened state of feeling like an intellectual phoney despite evidence of your competence. That’s the thing about Imposter Syndrome: when triggered, it blocks you from seeing your success and acknowledging the great work that you do. Imposter Syndrome is an identity level fear and belief. It makes you question yourself, who you are as a person at your core, before you focus on what you can do.
So if you’re doubting yourself WITHOUT a fear of being exposed as a fraud or feeling like you’re not worthy/deserving of your position and or accomplishments to date, then it is NOT Imposter Syndrome.
It’s important to make the distinction between self doubt alone, and self doubt as a self-sabotaging behaviour triggered by Imposter Syndrome.
When you know what you’re experiencing, you can take the right corrective action and learn the right skills to manage or overcome it.
Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome?
Now you know what Imposter Syndrome is, and which signs to look out for.
If you believe you are experiencing Imposter Syndrome and you’d like some help, there are experts like me who can help you.
Learning to manage Imposter Syndrome takes work, but as I’ve mentioned above there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Sometimes it can take a few short weeks to see positive shifts in thinking, behaviours and actions, sometimes it can take months.
Your journey is unique, but you can beat this.
Trust me I know, I’ve done it myself and now I help others around the world do the same.
Imposter Syndrome is also known by other names and spellings. In Australia and the UK, it’s Imposter Syndrome. In America, it’s known as Impostor Syndrome, Impostor Phenomenon, Impostor Complex, or Fraud Syndrome.
The term Impostor Phenomenon was coined by American psychotherapists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978 in their article “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”, which you can access her