What is Imposter Syndrome?

by | Feb 4, 2021 | Career, Imposter Syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Do you ever feel like a fraud or a fake? 

Or that you’re not worthy 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 a persistent and internalized fear that makes an individual doubt their skills, talent and accomplishments despite evidence of their competence. They constantly feel like they’re not worthy of their success and that they will be exposed as a FRAUD. 

‘Despite her glowing achievements & praise from others, a woman who suffers from Imposter Syndrome doesn’t believe her success is a direct result of her hard work’. 

If not addressed, Imposter Syndrome can dramatically impact the level of success a woman achieves and/or rob her from the acknowledgement and joy of what she has 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 condition. It’s a series of feelings which then turn into 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. 

This is why Imposter Syndrome is a complex and layered fear. 

Who can experience Imposter Syndrome? 

Both women and men can experience Imposter Syndrome, but it is most prevalent in high-performing women. 

By high-performing, I mean women who are stepping out of their comfort zones, pushing boundaries, working hard, chasing goals, creating new things and advancing themselves in whatever avenue they choose. 

Imposter Syndrome is incredibly common. 

In fact, up to 70% of people have experienced Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives. Seventy percent!

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. 

But if you did talk about it, you’d find that most people have felt the same way at some point.

Common signs of Imposter Syndrome include: 

  • Working / living with a constant fear of being exposed as a ‘fraud’ or not knowing enough
  • Chronic doubt over your own skills, talents and accomplishments despite evidence of your competence (you know the work experience, awards, certifications, study, medals results etc)
  • Not believing you’re worthy of your current role or future opportunities
  • Inability to accept praise
  • 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

Where does Imposter Syndrome come from?

There are many triggers to Imposter Syndrome. Some stem from childhood, and others are not triggered until adulthood. 

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 trigger.

Take a moment to think about when you first had that feeling of being exposed as a fraud or as not being ‘good enough’… Was 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 trigger is the first step to managing Imposter Syndrome. 

And it may be something from 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 a woman compares herself to her classmates and feels like she doesn’t deserve to be there. 

It can show up in relationships, when Imposter Syndrome makes a woman feel unworthy of her partner or family.

>  I have to be perfect because they won’t like the real me
>  My partner deserves better than me
>  I’d better break up with them before they break up with me

This can cause women to sabotage their relationships as well. 

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 to complete. 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, 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 phony 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.

So if you’re doubting yourself WITHOUT a fear of being exposed as a fraud or feeling like you’re not worthy of your position and or accomplishments to date, then it is NOT classified as 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 who can help you.

Imposter Syndrome certainly does need specialist attention, not personal opinion. And trust me there are A LOT of bad opinions out there. 

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 do the same. 

If you’d like help to tackle Imposter Syndrome, I run an intensive coaching program called Cultivating Confidence. In 6 x 1 hour sessions over 6 or 12 weeks, I can help you to identify your Imposter Syndrome trigger(s) and break the self sabotaging Imposter Cycles. Or send me an email to discuss your situation.

Footnotes:

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 here.

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Alison Shamir is a Career Coach, Confidence and Imposter Syndrome Specialist, International Speaker and former Corporate Executive. Her work has been featured on Australia’s leading TV networks and digital platforms. Through 1-1 Coaching, Workshops and Speaker roles, Alison empowers her audience with the knowledge, tools and methods they need to Overcome Imposter Syndrome, build unshakeable Confidence and achieve the success they truly want. Prior to launching her own business, Alison held multiple leadership positions across the Technology & Media sectors. Alison’s mission is to help women tame their inner critic and own their greatness.