Have you ever felt like you’re not qualified to hold your position at work, or maybe somehow you fluked your way and you worry that people will find out? It wouldn’t be surprising if you had! In fact, 70 per cent of people will experience the feeling that they are a fraud at some point during their working lives. We may all have imposter feelings at times, but when the concerns about being exposed as a fraud or an imposter (despite objective successes), persist and impact us personally or at work, this is known as imposter syndrome (Bravata, n.d.).
What are the risk factors?
There are both situational and individual factors that heighten one’s risk of imposter syndrome. For example, starting a new occupation or role at work, public speaking, and writing are all ‘risky’ times for imposter syndrome. However, while some people will thrive in these situations, even those who are highly successful can be prone to experiencing imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. For example, those who are perfectionistic, self-critical, and high achieving may be at increased risk for imposter syndrome (Kearns, n.d.)
So how do we deal with it?
First, it is important to recognise and name it! This includes understanding how imposter syndrome can affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
Learning to reframe our thoughts can assist. This involves:
- Recognising our thinking traps and avoid catastrophising, black-and-white thinking, ‘should-ing’, and labelling.
- Challenging our thoughts—is there evidence to support/contrary evidence, facts, or another perspective?
- Coming up with a more helpful thought (reframing).
Here is an example:
Situation: Starting at a new job.
Thoughts: I won’t know what I am doing. They’ll realise I’m not cut out for it.
Reframe: The first week or two are always challenging. I can only do my best and they know it’s hard and will take time.
I wrote a chapter in my new book, ‘The Flourishing Woman’, all about self-belief. It is something that we struggle with at times. Self-belief relates to how we think about ourselves and therefore our level of self-confidence.
Low self-belief and self-criticism can affect your health and wellbeing in many ways:
- Contributing to stress, anxiety, and low mood.
- Negatively affecting sleep and eating habits, or ability to exercise, and therefore general health.
- It can be tiring and distracting to focus on our limitations, and low self-belief can affect coping behaviours, such as not having the energy to engage in leisure activities.
- Affecting our confidence with others, and possibly preventing us from socializing or going to work functions.
- It may affect assertiveness or cause us to not put ourselves forward for tasks at work through fear of failing.
Self-belief is influenced by:
- Our stories: We all develop stories about ourselves in life, some of which can be highly self-critical (e.g., ‘I am not enough’)
- Our thinking: We may need to be more aware of self-critical thoughts and practice reframing.
- Self-compassion: We can be our own harshest critics, so we may need ot practice more kindness towards ourselves (especially in our thoughts and behaviours) and accept our ‘humanness’!
There are many things we can do to improve our self-belief and deal with imposter feelings.
- Take time to reflect.
- Remember that we can grow – our brain is changing every day through neuroplasticity.
- Re-author any self-critical stories (e.g., ‘I am enough’).
- Recognise your strengths (even perceived weaknesses are also strengths (e.g., being stubborn might mean you are determined and persist at tasks.)
- Drop comparisons with others.
- Challenge and reframe any ‘imposter’ thoughts.
- Do the opposite: Act like the person you want to be!
- Accept compliments – say ‘thank you’.
- Practice self-compassion.
- Celebrate your successes (Howell, 2023).
Meditation is a great way to practice self-compassion and be more mindful of your imposter thoughts! We can be mindful or our thoughts and feelings, noticing them, rather than getting caught up with them. Through mindfulness we can learn that thoughts and feelings come and go. In this way mindfulness can also assist us to develop greater self-acceptance, as we experience less judgment about ourselves.
Remember that these feelings ultimately mean that you care! Try to acknowledge your strengths and accomplishments and celebrate your successes. Recognise that we are all human and find comfort in the fact that you are not alone in experiencing imposter feelings or thoughts. Finally, we all make mistakes, it’s how we learn from them that matters.
Bravata, D., Madhusudhan, D., et al. (n.d.) Commentary: Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Imposter Syndrome: A Systematic Review https://www.mentalhealthjournal.org/articles/commentary-prevalence-predictors-and-treatment-of-imposter-syndrome-a-systematic-review.html
Howell, C. (pub Oct 2023). The Flourishing Woman A mental health and wellbeing guide, Exisle, NSW.
Kearns, H. (n.d.) The Imposter Syndrome: Why successful people often feel like frauds, https://www.ithinkwell.com.au/the-imposter-syndrome
Scopelianos, S., Jensen-Mackinnon, K. (15 Jul 2021). Imposter syndrome hasn’t held these women back. So, what’s their secret? https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-07-15/imposter-syndrome-doesnt-have-to-hold-women-back/100261634