How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

The concept of Imposter Syndrome was first introduced by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. Their initial research focused on high-achieving women who, despite their brilliance, felt like they didn’t deserve their success and would at some stage be found out. Clance and Imes had written a paper was called “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.” Over time, the term evolved into Imposter Syndrome.

The phenomenon is recognised when these individuals doubt their skills, talents, or accomplishments and have a persistent, internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud or imposter. Studies have shown that 80% of women have at some time identified as suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

Below are some of the Characteristics of Imposter Syndrome, see if you recognise yourself.

Self Doubt, constantly questioning your abilities and achievements even when the evidence is there telling you otherwise.

Lacking Confidence, not believing in yourself and what you can do.

Not taking ownership of success, believing that success is due to luck, timing or other people rather that the person’s own abilities.

Fear of being found out, always believing that someone will realise that you are a fraud and you will be found out.

Downplaying achievements, dismissing your accomplishments in case you don’t success in the future.

Clance and Imes later pointed out that the change from phenomenon to “syndrome” had distorted the idea that there was something wrong with women who suffered from it. Clance explained, the phenomenon is “an experience rather than a pathology,” and their aim was always to normalise this experience rather than to pathologise it.

Their subsequent observations were that it is particularly common among high-achievers, women, and minority groups who may already face external discrimination or stereotyping. But that also it wasn’t exclusive to women, men too suffered from it.

Another challenge for high achievers and hard workers is the feeling of inadequacy which can be hard to overcome, this can lead to incredible pressure to do more and be better. These high levels of stress can often lead to burnout. These women are so used to overworking that it can be too late when they notice they are at their limits. That’s why HelpGuide created this very useful resource: Burnout Prevention and Treatment, In it they cover, the difference between stress and burnout, why burnout happens and how to prevent it, and key tips for handling burnout.

A 2021 Harvard Business Review Article Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome mentions successful women like Charlize Theron, Viola Davis, Sheryl Sandberg and even Michelle Obama having confessed to experiencing it. However the article points out how the phrase is doing more damage to women. First off, the word Imposter implies they don’t belong and syndrome is a medical condition, which it is not. The concept of Imposter syndrome may be hiding bigger issues of systemic bias and racism.

In my experience working with high-achieving women, there are three main reasons for the Imposter feelings.

  1. Systemic and racial bias, a minority female working in a male-dominated industry will feel like she doesn’t belong, no matter how inclusive her colleagues are, it will be difficult to overcome the history of her not belonging at the table.
  2. Lack of skills, there are times when woman or men are promoted too quickly. They may be brilliant at their technical role only to be promoted to management and not have the experience of leading people. This will increase feelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence which can be addressed by upskilling.
  3. The third reason is a person’s background, many people were bullied in their youth, and some had parents who were perfectionists and struggled to please them. Many have experienced trauma. Our past emotions impact how we feel and behave at work, so very often we take our past wounds and let them affect us in present time.

If we first identify why we are experiencing what we are feeling it is easier to work to overcome it. Overcoming Imposter Syndrome often involves a combination of self-awareness, self-compassion, and practical strategies to manage the feelings and thoughts that come with it.

Once the feelings are recognised and the source is identified we can look at the strategies for overcoming it.

Challenge negative thoughts

When you catch yourself thinking you’re not good enough, ask yourself, Is that really true? Challenge your thoughts, thoughts can be habitual and often don’t have truth in them. To balance the negativity seek out evidence of your success, recognise and acknowledge every achievement. You could also try using positive affirmations to boost your self-esteem and counter negative thoughts.

Build Self-Confidence

By setting goals you can achieve. Start with small, manageable goals that you know you can achieve and gradually work your way up to more challenging tasks. Keep a record of your successes, however small, and review it regularly.

Get Support

If you don’t already have a mentor get one, a mentor can provide valuable feedback, help you see the truth and what you are capable of. Also make sure to surround yourself with supportive people who uplift you.

Stop with the Label

Most importantly stop labeling yourself with Imposter Syndrome, identify and recognise what it is exactly you are dealing with if it is self-doubt or lack of confidence, and if the environment or the task you are preparing for is a little scary or merits self-doubt then you don’t have imposter syndrome you are just experiencing normal human emotions.

Remember firstly you are not alone and second overcoming Imposter Syndrome is a journey that involves continuous self-improvement and self-compassion. If it is seriously impacting your quality of life seek help and take proactive steps to manage your feelings.


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