Is Impostor Syndrome Holding You Back?

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By Cynthia Dalton
Trust yourself — you know more than you think you do. — Benjamin Spock

What is Impostor Syndrome?

In her article for psychologytoday.com, The Reality of Imposter Syndrome, Megan Dalla-Camina defines impostor syndrome:

The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have. They call their success luck, good timing, and dismiss other’s as believing they were better, more intelligent and more competent than they actually are. And whilst yes, early research from the psychologists’ work focused on high achieving women, the syndrome has actually been found to impact men and women in roughly equal numbers.

In his article, The Effects of Imposter Syndrome, for allpsych.com, Neil Petersen points out:

Imposter syndrome is especially common among high-achieving people. Recently, a group of German researchers surveyed 242 people in leadership positions across a variety of industries to learn more about the effects of imposter syndrome. The study found that imposter syndrome tends to be associated with all of the following:
  • Anxiety
  • Dysphoric moods
  • Emotional instability
  • Negative self-evaluations
  • Perfectionism

The Impact of Impostor Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can have a huge impact on how we live our lives. In her article, How to Handle Impostor Syndrome, for medicalnewstoday.com, Jayne Leonard points out that those with impostor syndrome:

  • Worry that they will not live up to expectations.
  • Avoid extra responsibilities.
  • Get stuck in an "impostor cycle" (“Every time they accomplish something, they become more worried that others will discover the ‘truth’ about their abilities”).
  • Attribute success to outside factors.
  • Self-sabotage.
  • Suffer from low self-confidence and a fear of failure.
  • Experience job dissatisfaction.
  • Avoid asking for a raise.
  • Go overboard on tasks and goal-setting.

How to Combat Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome robs us of so much that makes life worth living including:

  • Self-confidence
  • Contentment
  • Self-actualization
  • Spontaneity
  • Fulfillment
  • A sense of adventure
  • A sense of accomplishment

Is impostor syndrome holding you back from living your life to the fullest? If so, it’s time to reclaim your life.

In her article, How Imposter Syndrome Torpedoes Our Success, fortalkspace.com, Kate Harveston advises:

You can find relief for imposter syndrome through mentoring, self-help, or counseling like that provided by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Opening up to those you trust in your social and professional circles may also help. Has a friend previously expressed feeling like a fraud to you? Do you have a mentor you can turn to with your feelings of doubt? Your life and job have unique demands, and you need someone you can relate to who will help ground you. Start by challenging your negative self-talk and worst-case scenarios. Accept them and develop a plan of action to strategize proactive steps to head off this negativity. Track your successes and compliments. Return to these when you feel less than confident about your abilities. Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that keeps you from internalizing your accomplishments. When others provide proof of your success or competence, or give you praise, you dismiss it as timing or luck. You may not feel deserving of praise, but the truth is that everyone feels like a fraud at some point. Once you recognize these feelings, you can take steps to make things better and feel like the success you truly are.

Additionally, it is helpful to recognize your feelings without judgement. Acknowledge your feelings as an observer, not a receiver. Giving yourself ‘distance’ between your feelings and how you react to them provides you with balance and perspective.

Note: fun fact about spelling, according to grammarist.com:

The noun referring to one who takes an assumed identity in order to deceive is variously spelled imposter and impostor. Impostor has the edge, and it is the form recommended by most English reference sources, but imposter is not wrong. Not only is it nearly as common as impostor, but it is also nearly as old. Impostor came to English from the French imposteur in the late 16th century,1 and imposter first appeared almost immediately thereafter.2 And though the -or spelling has always been more common, imposter has always been present to some degree.

This article uses impostor but retains imposter when other sources quoted have used that spelling.

What do you think?

  • Do you ever feel like a fraud?
  • Do you see impostor syndrome in people you know?
  • What tips do you have for overcoming impostor syndrome?

Do you have a question, comment or an idea for an article? Email: [email protected]

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