Impostor Syndrome is a phrase that I hear over and over again when I join women’s support and networking events when we talk about lack of success. It is a near constant topic of discussion, although I have never heard it defined. It is so common that there came a point where I felt I needed to do my homework and figure out what it was that they were talking about. What is it? How does it affect you? And most importantly, how do you get past it?
Impostor Syndrome Basics
Have you ever been sitting at your desk after a meeting that went really well shaking off a near panic attack? You feel so thankful that no one realized that you were full of crap. You cant believe that they haven’t figured out you don’t know what you are doing or your not as good at your job as they seem to think you are? You are so afraid that at any moment ‘they’ are going to figure you out and your world will fall apart?
Then you already know what Impostor Syndrome is and you are far from alone. Even I have found myself sitting in those feelings far more often than I care to admit, even to myself. When I experience it, I feel worthless. I don’t understand why those I’m working with don’t understand that I don’t belong there with them.
They are all so amazing. I hear them telling me how wonderful they think I am and I hang my head with a sheepish smile and say ‘thank you’. All the while being afraid that they will see past my mask and realize that they could find people that are so much better to work with. After all, I’m an amateur playing at being an expert that doesn’t actually know anything, right?
Defining Impostor Syndrome
Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that continue, despite evident success. ‘Impostors’ continually suffer from self-doubt. They often feel like they are frauds, and any feelings of success or proof of their success are dismissed.
It really doesn’t matter how successful you actually are in your field; you can’t quite ever seem to wrap your head around it and believe in yourself. In fact, some of the highest achieving and most successful people are members of this horrible club of self-doubt and self-belittlement.
Impostor Syndrome is not the same thing as a lack of confidence or low self-esteem. Researches across the last 50 years have actually linked it with perfectionism, prominently showing among women, intellectuals, and academics.
Now why doesn’t that surprise me in the least?
The Facts of Impostor Syndrome
The original impostor syndrome study was done in the 1970’s. It centered on high-achieving women who were having trouble attributing their own success to themselves or their efforts.
But if you look at the world that we work and live in today, everyone experiences Impostor Syndrome. Hes, shes, theys, adults, teens, children…..it doesn’t matter how you describe yourself, chances are you have felt it. It can rear its ugly head at any time and attack.
One study I found suggests that as many as 82% of people have faced the feelings that are associated with impostor syndrome. They struggle with feelings that what they have accomplished is unearned and they are a fraud. Think about that. 4 out of 5 people have experienced these feelings at some point or another. Einstein even said once that he thought his research had gotten far more attention than he thought it deserved.
Impostor syndrome isn’t a yes or no. It’s not that you have it, or you don’t. It is a spectrum that comes and goes, being hidden and prevalent in a horrible never-ending cycle. At its worst, it can begin to affect someone’s mental health and over all ability to function. It can even lead to self-destructive behaviors that cause you to wash out at what you are doing.
The Symptoms of Impostor Syndrome Simplified
I have already talked about many of the symptoms in a first or second person perspective. But I haven’t laid it out yet. So, what are the ‘symptoms’ of impostor syndrome?
-Crediting luck or other reasons for your successes
-Fear of being seen as a failure or a fraud
-Feeling that overworking is the only way to meet expectations
-Feeling unworthy of attention or affection
-Holding back from reaching attainable goals
-Feeling that you are alone in your struggles
Each one of these feelings can be powerful and overwhelming on their own. Unfortunately, they so often come on as a team. They work together to lower you and it can feel like a loosing battle. After all, there is no one that can help or that would want too. At least that is what they are telling you. But they are wrong. There are things you can do to help drive those feelings away.
Things You Can Do to Help Your Impostor Syndrome
Never think that you are alone. You are worth every bit that those around you say you are, not that you need their validation. There are so many points of view on all this, but a few things rise to the top when it comes to overcoming those nasty feelings. You only need two things, yourself and a journal. Witha little work you will overcome your Impostor Syndrome and revel in your success.
-Recognize when you are experiencing Impostor Syndrome
Being aware is always the first step to change. When those thoughts creep up on you, write it down or make an entry into your video journal. Track those nasty thoughts. Make sure you take note of what the thought was, what caused it to surface, and how you reacted to it.
At the end of the day, Impostor Syndrome is nothing more than cognitive distortion. You are not seeing clearly. Your thoughts and experiences are skewing the way that you are seeing whats happening. When your mind tells you that you are a fraud, say to yourself “I am capable of more than I think I am. I know what I am talking about because I have put in the work to be here.”
-Rewrite your mental programs
Instead of telling yourself that they are going to figure you out or that you don’t deserve what you are getting, just remind yourself that it is normal to not be perfect. You don’t have to know everything. You will learn as you go.
In your journal, write down your accomplishments. It is extremely important as a part of your combat strategy. It really is a war that you are waging and you are your own worst enemy. Impostor Syndrome is all about self doubt. So, by writing down your accomplishments you are collecting evidence to prove yourself wrong. Just like in a trial your Impostor Syndrome is on the defensive and your journal is your book of evidence proving that you are a success despite its best efforts.
Make copies of certificates, awards, and positive feedback you get from co-workers and clients. You cant argue with the results when they are in black and white.
-Consider the Context
Most people experience moments or points in their day when they don’t feel at their best or most confident. You might even feel out of your depths and then, self-doubt is a normal reaction. But its all about how you frame that moment.
When you catch yourself saying ‘I’m worthless’ or ‘I’m useless’ change it around. Don’t invalidate your feelings because that will just make it worse in the long run. Instead, say ‘ Just because I feel that way right now doesn’t mean its true. That’s not who I really am.’
-Alter Real Failure into a Learning Opportunity
Sometimes, you actually are going to fail and that is okay. It really does happen to everyone from time to time. But, when it happens, figure out what you can learn from it.
If you are trying to be perfect all the time it is not going to do anything but give you anxiety that hilariously often lead to you making more mistakes. But, if instead of panicking, you stop and say ‘what can I learn from this’ or ‘what do I need to learn form this’, you are arming yourself with tools for the future.
In the back of your journal, write a plan of action. The catch is, it has to be kind. Give yourself room to breathe and make a plan on what you should do to correct and overcome mistakes in the future. That way, when they happen you already know what to do and don’t stress over how to fix it.
-Be Kind to Yourself
The last thing you can do for yourself is to be kind. Just forgive yourself. It is okay if you make a mistake from time to time. You cant expect to be perfect. No one is and if they say they are they are either conceited or lying.
You don’t have to lower the bar for success. But you do have to adjust they way you measure success so that Impostor Syndrome cant sneak in. You have to make it easy to see your own accomplishments and internalize them. Focus on your progress not where you are going.
If you can focus on progress you are letting go of your rigid rules that you have set for yourself. And reward yourself! When you get the big things right, you deserve it. Your rewards don’t have to be big things, but you have to be kind to yourself or no one else will be.
One researcher I read said that people with Impostor Syndrome often see themselves as helpers. They are the people that come to the rescue when something is going wrong for others. She said that you have to let go of those roles so you can be someone who doesn’t know-it all or someone who can’t always help. This allows you room to grow and lets you be a tougher and more resilient person.
Things You Can Ask for Help With, when it Comes to Impostor Syndrome
-Talk About Your Feelings with Someone You Trust
Many other people know what you are going through. They feel like impostors too!
You can have an open discussion with someone rather than hanging on to the thoughts that are trying to drown you.
If you don’t think that you can trust your own ‘facts’, get someone else’s perspective. The catch here is, it has to be someone that you trust. If you don’t trust the person you are opening up to, you will hold things back. Anything you hold onto is still weighing you down and will continue to follow you.
Sharing your thoughts isn’t just good for you though. Like I said, others are experiencing these thoughts too. Expressing them could help someone else to process their feelings. You sharing could help reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness in others and open the door for them to share the same way you are. Impostor Syndrome only blocks our success when we let it.
I mean, what do you think I’m doing right now? I felt driven to write this very article because I thought to myself, If I feel like this there have to be others that do too, and I can help.
-Ask for Help
You have to recognize that everyone needs help from time to time. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, its just the opposite. Recognizing that you need help is a huge sign of strength.
Someone else can help you get a good dose of reality far quicker than you can on your own. You cant convince yourself of something that you don’t feel or believe in. But, if you hear it from someone else often enough, it implants in your subconscious.
Author Weldon Long goes into great detail about the role that the subconscious plays in how you view yourself and behave. He has a theory, T>E>A>R. Our Thoughts become our Emotions. Our Emotions become our Actions. Our Actions become our Results.
What you think, directly influences the results that you will get if you follow this linear path. So, if you can’t change your thoughts on your own, ASK FOR HELP!
–Find a Visualization or Accountability Partner
Visualize your success and what it looks like. As they say, keep your eyes on the prize. Focus on what you want to accomplish. When you are focused, you are calm. Calm is the opposite of the horrible feeling that sits in your chest when Impost Syndrome is crushing you.
Those that struggle with Impostor Syndrome often overlook their success. You are so convinced that you are a swindler that the truth hides from you. By keeping your eye on the outcome, you don’t move in a frenzy. It allows you to pay attention and respond in the moment instead of that place in the future where you will be outed. You can be more positive about yourself because you are present and not wrapped in the worries of the future.
Final Thoughts on Being an ‘Impostor’
I cant stress this point enough, YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Whether you need help or think you are the only fraud in the room, you are never alone. To many people have lived in this world for you to be the only person to have ever felt what you feel. We are all so much more alike than we like to admit.
Not feeling like you are enough is the simplest form of what we have been talking about. This means that even if the person you are reaching out to doesn’t know exactly what you are going through, they can relate.
Never doubt that there is kindness and love in the world. Your share of it is just waiting for you to claim it. Let someone help you carry your weight and reach out your hand for hope. This is not the feeling that proceeds your fall. It is just a warning that you need a hand. Don’t let the world crush you. You are not alone!