Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever been about to join a meeting at work, attend a professional event or attend a party and been hit with a racing pulse, ache in the pit of your stomach, sweaty palms, and an overall feeling of “what am I doing here?”.

A constant, nagging feeling that you are a fake and will be discovered at any time?

While feeling nervous or anxious before a big event is natural, for some people, the feeling of not being good enough or that they have somehow fooled everyone into thinking that they can do a job or earned that promotion, can lead to constant feelings of anxiety, self-loathing and ultimately, self-sabotage. A constant fear of failure and anxiety will make you miserable and prevents you from taking the risks in life that might help you attain your goals. It can lead to burn-out, depression and other serious mental health issues.

Typically, for anyone with Imposter Syndrome, any praise or positive feedback is always deflected and rarely accepted. Apart from the constant anxiety, you may also be sabotaging your own career by downplaying your achievements and not going for promotions or other opportunities. You might find yourself putting off projects and tasks because of an overwhelming fear of failure. Imposter Syndrome often goes hand in hand with a sense of perfectionism – what is the point of starting that project – if it isn’t going to be perfect?

Imposter syndrome presents in various ways, but it is generally described as an individual’s inability to attribute their successes in life to their actual competence and performance, rather, they feel that their achievements are down to luck or that they have hoodwinked their way into their role or situation. Setbacks are usually seen as evidence of their inadequacy. This can lead to a constant undermining of their abilities and a ‘hyper vigilance” that they will be found out and inevitably fail. These feelings of doubt and the fear of letting others down results in high levels of stress and anxiety.

On a societal level, research shows that Imposter Syndrome threatens diversity both within higher education and the workplace as it can be more common in women and minorities. Universities and corporates can go some way to addressing this by reviewing their recruitment policies and implement mentorship programs. Often however, this syndrome is difficult to spot as the symptoms are internalised.

Do you recognise these symptoms in yourself? Or a loved one? Our world is filled with highly pressured, high performing work environments. The pressure to perform and do well at school is ever present and continues until university and beyond. The constant pressure can instil a belief in children and adolescents that they are not ‘good enough’. These feelings often continue into adulthood.

What can you do about it?

  • Relaxation techniques: Initially, when you feel the anxiety building – start practicing breathing exercises and grounding techniques. Abdominal breathing will help calm the parasympathetic nervous system.
  • Tackling negative thoughts and beliefs: Automatic negative thoughts can trigger an anxious response – the fear in your stomach, the feeling of dread, the anxiety. Practice identifying your automatic negative thoughts and start challenging them. Do you have any evidence that the people around you think you are a fake? Challenge those negative thoughts with the more positive thoughts “I have earned my place here”; “I am doing a good job”, “I have prepared for this meeting, and I will do well” …
  • Positive self-talk: Focus on your achievements and your strengths. Practice listing down your achievements both at work and in life. These will come in handy when its appraisal time!
  • Face your fears: it is important that you put yourself into situations where you are stretched and even feel uncomfortable. Do you get nervous before presentations? Do you hate talking to the boss? Work out what you want to achieve and go for it! Each positive experience will give you a greater understanding and respect for your abilities.
  • Talk to your friends about your feelings: You might be surprised to hear that people actually think you are pretty great. Receive a compliment? – own it!
  • Time management: Are you stressed because you put off jobs due to a fear of failure? Break down duties into manageable pieces, do little by little, take breaks but also set deadlines. Do not allow yourself to sabotage yourself by procrastination.
  • Focus on the things you love: Studies show that ensuring a well-balanced life incorporating work, friendship, love, exercise, and laughter will all contribute to a sense of well-being. Be grateful for what you have and spend your time with those you love, doing what you enjoy.
  • Mindfulness practice: Focusing on the ‘here and now’ can help you feel grounded, rather than worrying about what the future may have in store. Practice enjoying what you have, now.

Above all, be kind to yourself. Always reassess if your current work/life/friendship environment is the right one for you. If you are affected by these issues and wish to explore them further, speak with a trained counsellor.

Bravata DM, Madhusudhan DK, Boroff M, Cokley KO. Commentary: Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Imposter Syndrome: A Systematic Review. J Ment Health Clin Psychol (2020) 4(3): 12-16
Feenstra S, Begeny CT, Ryan MK, Rink FA, Stoker JI and Jordan J (2020) Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”. Front. Psychol. 11:575024. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575024

Laurence Munoz & AM Team

MsC., MoC. Member of: ACA, BACP

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Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.