Here’s everything you need to know about imposter syndrome, including the signs you may suffer from it, and effective ways to overcome those destructive feelings.
What Is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a behavioral health phenomenon defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud despite your competence. This term was coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in a research paper in 1978. Though Clance and Imes originally used “imposter phenomenon” to describe a condition they observed in highly successful women, anyone can suffer from imposter syndrome.
Here are three main characteristics of those who may be experiencing this phenomenon.
- Thinking that others have an exaggerated view of their abilities.
- The fear of being exposed as a fraud.
- The tendency to downplay their achievements and sabotage their own success.
If not addressed, imposter syndrome could have a detrimental impact on your work performance and even lead to burnout and depression.
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?
“As humans, we’re hardwired to be self-critical. We have a built-in system for detecting threats called negativity bias, which sensitizes us to negative experiences and attunes us to our mistakes and shortcomings,” says Alison McKleroy, a licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness. So, it’s not surprising that many workers experience imposter syndrome at some point.
It’s worth noting that imposter syndrome can affect certain demographics more than others. Imposter syndrome may be especially common among high-achieving individuals or people with underrepresented identities who feel they don’t belong. This may include people of various racial and ethnic groups who work in predominantly white environments or trans and nonbinary people, according to experts quoted in the American Psychological Association’s magazine.
Do You Have Imposter Syndrome?
If you’re wondering whether you’re dealing with imposter syndrome, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel insecure about my achievements?
- Do I underestimate my achievements?
- Do I have a hard time accepting compliments without deflecting them?
- Do I often compare myself to others?
- Do I punish myself when I make a minor mistake at work?
- Do I often credit my success to chance?
- Am I a perfectionist?
- Do I overwork to cover up my feelings of inadequacy?
- Do I tend to underperform under pressure?
- Do I always feel like I have something to prove?
Strategies to Kick Imposter Syndrome to the Curb
If you answered yes to most of the questions above, use these strategies to overcome imposter syndrome.
Remember That Even the Most Intelligent People Feel Like Imposters
“Some of the most intelligent and capable people are likely to feel imposter syndrome because they’re smart enough to realize that they don’t know everything and still have room to grow,” says Dr. Charlynn Ruan, a clinical psychologist and founder of Thrive Psychology Group, a nationwide group therapy practice. “I tell clients to reduce the power of the imposter syndrome internal critic by giving it a funny name and persona.”
For example, she says, when you hear that internal voice of doubt, you can just say, “There’s Chad again, running off his mouth and acting like he knows what I’m capable of.”
Shift to a Growth Mindset
Another effective way to overcome imposter syndrome is by shifting your fixed mindset toward a growth mindset. A growth mindset is a belief that intelligence and aptitudes are malleable and can be improved through effort, practice and learning.
Adding “yet” to a fixed mindset statement is a great way to reframe your thought processes. For example, Ruan suggests that instead of saying, “I can’t do spreadsheets. I’m so stupid,” say, “I can’t do spreadsheets yet, but I’m good at learning and growing. Plus, it’s OK not to know everything. No one knows how to do everything.”
“Whenever you think you aren’t good at something, try to remember another time you felt that way about a difficult thing that you eventually mastered, and give yourself a pep talk and know that you can overcome this new challenge, too,” Ruan says.
Identify Your Inner Critic
You can become so accustomed to your self-critical inner voice that you don’t even notice its presence. Over time, these negative thoughts can make you feel worthless, inferior and incompetent.
If you struggle with negative self-talk, McKleroy recommends you start paying attention to your inner critic. “Over the next five days, each time you’re giving yourself a hard time, feeling inadequate or experiencing failure, write down – verbatim – what you’re saying to yourself,” she says. By bringing focus and awareness to this voice, you can loosen the grip of your inner critic’s negative thought loops and manage the feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy.
If you suffer from imposter syndrome, you may always feel like you could be doing more, but it’s crucial to take a step back and appreciate how far you’ve come.
So, if you have not already, take the time to celebrate your victories. Maybe you finally completed a project that’s been nagging you for months, or you landed a new job. Whatever it may be, McKleroy suggests writing down five personal and/or professional wins – small or big – and taking a moment to savor the effort, skill and courage it took for each accomplishment.
“Imposter syndrome can blind you to your incremental progress and victories. By taking stock of your accomplishments and acknowledging your progress, you’ll be inspired and motivated to keep going,” McKleroy says.
Rewire Your Brain to Believe in Yourself
Thanks to your brain’s neuroplasticity, you can rewire your mind. “We have the power to choose – moment by moment – and look compassionately and honestly at our mind and disentangle from the imposter syndrome thoughts that keep us stuck,” McKleroy says. If you’re feeling like a fraud at your workplace, don’t let it sabotage your success. Give yourself grace and try the strategies above to gradually rediscover your worth.