Imposter syndrome is a condition which affects a surprising number of us. Sufferers are often extremely talented individuals who others consider to be great at their jobs. Although for some reason, they doubt their own abilities which can hold them back in their careers. Fortunately for sufferers, it is possible to overcome this common workplace fear.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Also referred to as Imposter Experience or Imposter Phenomenon, Imposter Syndrome is an intense feeling of fraudulence in your own abilities. With quite aptly named, “Imposter” Syndrome, the sufferer usually feels they are acting or faking their talents. Typically, individuals fear that they lack sufficient skills to do their job or resulting in internalised feelings of not belonging or being different.
Psychologist Pauline Rose Clance was the first to investigate ‘feeling like a fraud’. Her study began after identifying that a number of her undergraduate students felt that they didn’t deserve a spot at the university, despite being high achievers. While Clance knew these claims were unfounded, she remembered feeling a similar way when she was younger.
Clance, with the help of Valerie Young, decided to investigate these feelings. She conducted a study of women at the university she worked at – those either studying or working at the Institution. The study found pervasive thoughts of feeling like an imposter. To analyse the concept further, she introduced studies across race, age, gender and a range of job occupations. These emotions were more prevalent in minority groups. However, all of the groups established imposter-like feelings and fraudulence.
Famous Faces in Cases:
Now, some are quick to dismiss this concept as a ‘millennial-type’ problem. However, evidence suggests that this syndrome has existed within the human psyche for a long time, often in places, you wouldn’t expect. World-renowned Scientist, Albert Einstein, has been quoted to suffer from the syndrome after once noting that he didn’t understand why his work received such high accolade.
Of course, the condition was unheard of in Einstein’s day. Therefore, he simply referred to himself as an “Involuntary Swindler” connoting his core beliefs that he did not think that he was a genius, despite what his accolades and following would suggest.
Furthermore, Einstein is not the only famous brain to suffer from the syndrome. Author and Civil Rights Activist, Maya Angelou, felt that she too did not deserve her accomplishments stating:
“I run a game on everybody, they’re going to find me out”Maya Angelou
Despite her worldwide success as a novelist and undeniable voice of strength for the Civil Rights Movement, she did not believe that she should receive the attention she did for her works. Her self doubt was a result of her thoughts on other successful women and how she compared herself to them.
Due to the research started by Clance and Young, we now recognise this learned behaviour to be Imposter Syndrome.
Do I Suffer From Imposter Syndrome?
10 Signs you could be suffering from Imposter Syndrome:
- Feeling like an ‘imposter’ or actor in your occupation/everyday roles
- Thinking that the people around you are very different from yourself
- Comparing yourself to others unfairly
- Positive feedback and acknowledgement don’t make you feel any more confident in your abilities
- Fearing judgement/people realising you’re not good enough
- (As a result) You often stop your self contributing ideas/thoughts
- Do not volunteer yourself for tasks/promotions/job vacancies
- Have a negative view of your abilities but a very positive outlook about your peers’ abilities
- Feeling that you don’t deserve accolades/ other people deserve them more than you
- Failing to see how anyone else could feel this way/ feeling alone in your woes
What Causes Such Fraudulent Feelings?
It is important to note that Imposter Syndrome is not a result of possessing inadequate skills; it is because the sufferer fails to see how everyone else could also be flawed.
How does this happen? Well, a hugely unhelpful picture of what we think other people are like could be to blame. Asa primary human condition, we know ourselves internally – how we feel and think. However, we only know others from the outside; we have no idea how they’re thinking or feeling. A sufferer assumes that no other individual thinks the way that they do and therefore, they must be right in their worries.
For example, if we think of Royalty or our favourite celebrity, we believe that they are so far removed from ourselves that they couldn’t possibly feel similar feelings of inadequacy, because they’re so obviously talented.
Some say that Imposter Syndrome originates during childhood. A particular child will feel very far removed from the older individuals around them, such as their parents, siblings, aunts or uncles. These feelings stem from an the admiration for particular talents or activities that the child cannot yet perform. This admiration then transpires into the child feeling distant, as though other people are not like them. For example, to a 4-year- old child, it is tough to imagine their mother at the age of 4 learning how to do mundane tasks for the first time.
This gulf in status appears unbreachable and only further implies feeling different to other people.
Can I Conquer Imposter Syndrome?
How Can I Shake the Feeling?
Because Imposter Syndrome is a learned behaviour, there is no overnight cure to conquer Imposter Syndrome. However, like any learned behaviour, this can be rectified over time with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Now, this isn’t as scary as it sounds. Essentially, the idea is that you train your brain to think and perceive yourself differently (or sweeter) than you currently do. Here are three suggestions of things you can try to conquer your imposter syndrome:
1) Take Note of Positive Feedback
Sufferers are often reluctant to take on board, or sometimes forget, instances of positive feedback.
For this reason, it is a great idea to physically note of positive feedback. Whether this is daily, weekly or five highlights of your month, starting a list can help to provide evidence for your abilities. This way, when you’re next feeling fraudulent, you can refer to this list and be sure of your skills. Small actions like this are the basis to conquering your imposter syndrome.
2) Communication is Key
Talking about Imposter Syndrome is seriously underrated, and underused.
One of the critical factors of Imposter Syndrome is feeling like you’re suffering alone. Usually, sufferers are reluctant to share how they’re feeling for fear of judgement, being correct in their worries, and so on. But actually, sharing these concerns can help both you and your listener.
For example, if you share that you feel as though you don’t deserve such acknowledgements, or that you’re feeling a little vulnerable in your abilities, you will most likely be met with positive reinforcement. Something you can you note down on your list for the next time you’re feeling particularly fraudulent!
On the other hand, you may also find that you’re not alone in your thought process. By acknowledging that other people suffer from the same thoughts as you, you are helping to conquer your Imposter Syndrome as the ability of your peers no longer seem better or so far removed from yours.
For example, take someone you admire. A boss, a colleague, someone who you think has a better set of skills than your self. Now imagine them telling you that they sometimes feel inadequate. Provides some relief, right?
3) Ignorance is Not Bliss
‘Pluralistic ignorance’. Essentially, this is a fancy term for realising that everyone is susceptible to feelings of inadequacy.
Imposter Syndrome sufferers often hold the talents and opinions of their peers above their own. They do not believe (or are not yet aware) that it is merely part of human nature to feel this way about the people around us.
As mentioned above, we only know our interior, how we feel why we act a certain way. We, therefore, do not see the interior of another individual unless they tell us. By comparing our inner feelings to the exterior of others, we are drawing unfair and inaccurate conclusions on our self.
Indeed, by realising that what we see on the surface isn’t always the reality of what other people are feeling, it can help to alleviate feelings of inadequacy, helping to conquer your Imposter Syndrome. Recognising that sometimes we all feel a little fraudulent in our talents, that’s how we learn new skills.
From Imposter to Prosper!
Suffering from Imposter syndrome is not always a bad thing.
Usually, it means you’re very analytical. Being self-critical is vital for a wide variety of career paths. It’s also a great way to inform others that you look at situations closely, a very reliable asset and transferable skill!
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