Do you doubt your abilities and achievements?
Do you feel like a fraud?
Do you ever feel like you are going to be caught out at work or in college?
Imposter syndrome concerns those unfounded feelings of incompetence and self-doubt that you may feel on a daily basis, at work, in college/school or with friendships. It describes an experience where someone feels they are not as competent or capable as others may think they are and that they are going to be caught out and exposed for being a fraud. These unfounded feelings of self-doubt can bring about a cascade of emotions: anxiety, fear of being exposed and insecurity, and they can persist despite your education, experience or accomplishments.
The most common signs of Imposter Syndrome include:
• Frequent self-doubt and negative self-talk
• Criticising your performance
• Experiencing a constant fear that you will not live up to the expectations of others.
• A misjudged assessment of your skills and competence
• Setting overly challenging goals, which cause disappointment on failure.
• Attributing success to timing and good luck and not to your talents.
Because of these feelings, you may put yourself under pressure to work even harder so that nobody may recognise your failures or shortcomings or you feel you have to make up for your lack of intelligence as you perceive it. You may feel you have to keep up the illusion of success. Over time, this can fuel a cycle of anxiety, depression and guilt and can lead to burnout.
Where does it come from?
Research has shown that imposter syndrome comes from a combination of factors.
1. Family Environment: Growing up in a family where you were pressured to do well at school, compared to other siblings and were overly protected or criticised.
2. Personality type: Some personality types can be linked to pressure, doubt and failure. For example, people with perfectionistic tendencies or those with low self-esteem or confidence in their ability to manage their responsibilities may develop imposter syndrome. Feelings of inadequacy and anxiety can lead people to avoid opportunities or challenges that would enable them to grow and shine.
3. Social pressures: Being part of a social circle where approval or worth is connected to achievement - for example: receiving bonuses and rewards for performance at work but being met by disappointment on failure to achieve these results.
4. Existing mental health issues: Living with anxiety and depression can result in experiencing self-doubt, a lack of self-confidence and constant worry about how you are perceived by others. This mindset of feeling inadequate can reinforce the belief that you don’t belong in your workplace or educational institute. Imposter syndrome can make existing mental health symptoms more severe thus creating a cycle that may be difficult to escape.
Although experiencing imposter syndrome is daunting, it can be helped using one of the most effective modern therapies: Cognitive behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is one of the most effective techniques, proven by research to reverse the adverse effects of the self-limiting beliefs of imposter syndrome. CBT usually involves efforts to change both thinking patterns and behavioural patterns.
How does Cognitive behavioural Therapy help?
With CBT, the therapist will help the client to replace negative core beliefs and damaging critical self-talk that has become a habit with a more balanced, useful and constructive mindset. CBT will help you to identify and acknowledge your thoughts first. Identifying imposter feelings and thoughts and bringing them out into the open can accomplish several goals.
Once you have identified the negative beliefs, you are in a position to evaluate their validity and accuracy. More often than not, you will find that these beliefs are flawed and there will be no evidence to support your negative thoughts.
It is then helpful to consider that if these self-beliefs were actually true, what would be the worst possible outcome? What would you say to a friend if they told you they had imposter syndrome? Would you agree with them? - more than likely you would advise them not to be so hard on themselves and that others do not see them like that. When we reframe our cognitions, our behaviour would follow suit and putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes can help facilitate this process.
Finally, it is important to realise that everyone has unique abilities. Someone has recognised your talents and that is why you are where you are today. Learn to celebrate your successes, focus on progress rather than aiming for perfection. Try to stop comparing yourself to others in social and in work situations. Life will be filled with new experiences and new roles. Instead of self-doubt and harsh judgement, offer yourself kindness and compassion and you will be motivated to pursue a goal of healthy self-growth.
Thanks for taking the time to read this blog. To make an appointment with me you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org and request to work with Aideen.
Aideen Neville (Counsellor)