Impostor Syndrome and How to Overcome It

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Post By Jennifer Drean, Deliberate Directions Success Strategist

Jennifer is passionate about helping people grow their businesses. She can assist with leadership development, career advancement, and systems design.

Jennifer continues to successfully run her own family medical practice, Gem State Family Eyecare, which she founded in 2011.

Have you ever struggled with the thought that you are a complete and utter fraud? Do you fear that at any moment, someone is going to realize that you are not the expert they think you are, or you claim to be? Do not worry; you are not alone! It is believed that 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their life. If you do share these feelings, you may be experiencing Impostor Phenomenon (aka Impostor Syndrome).

 So, what is Impostor Syndrome? First, it is not a disease, mental illness, or condition which must be “cured”. Therefore, much current research and literature call it an experience or phenomenon and eliminate the negative connotation. This common experience is characterized by the inability to “internalize and accept [our] success.” Often, people who experience this will chalk their success up to luck instead of genuine personal ability, and they are preoccupied and fearful about being “found out” as a fraud.

People who suffer from Imposter Syndrome are likely to be high achieving, anxious, lack self-confidence, and in some cases, are associated with higher rates of depression. Early research focused on the occurrence in women. Although its prevalence is greater among women, this number may be grossly inaccurate since many people do not report these feelings due to a fear of being found out as a fraud.

In 1985, six dimensions were identified in the Clance Impostor Phenomenon (CIP) Scale, two of which must be present to be classified as experiencing this phenomenon. The six dimensions are:

Imposter Cycle

This cycle starts with an achievement-based task such as getting a good grade on a paper. The “impostor” will begin to have anxiety, self-doubt, or worry about the task and then react in one of two ways. They will either over-prepare for a job or procrastinate. Success from overpreparation is viewed as coming from arduous work. Success from procrastination will be considered luck, neither of which results from true talent or personal ability. Therefore, any positive outcomes or praise from the achievement is discounted. This will serve as further evidence to the “impostor” that they genuinely are a fraud and others can’t discover how unqualified they genuinely are, so the cycle repeats itself.

A Perceived Need to be Special or the Best

Do you have a fear of being mediocre? I know this is something I would almost brag about as a high school and college student when people asked me my greatest fear.

Characteristics of Superman/Superwoman

Fear of Failure

Though kind of self-explanatory, this can be debilitating. You either let it stop you by never starting on a dream or as most people experiencing Impostor Syndrome do, they over-prepare to the point of sacrificing their health and wellbeing.

Denial of Ability and Discounting Praise

You may hear highly successful people downplay their abilities or unable to take a compliment. We may assume they are just very humble, which is a good trait. But in actuality, these people cannot internally accept their success and praise because they feel like a fraud and cognitive dissonance prevents them from receiving it.

Feeling Fear or Guilt about Success

Sometimes, we engage in self-sabotaging behavior because we are afraid of what a certain level of success will mean. We may even feel guilty and undeserving of the successes we have achieved, and so we may downplay them or even pay “restitution” to those we think we have surpassed.

Conclusion

Without a doubt, Imposter Syndrome has some positives, like driving us to further success and creating great things in the world. But there are many negative consequences to be overcome to produce the results we want in life while protecting our mental, physical, and emotional health. Let us look at some ways to overcome impostor syndrome.

Finding a role model or mentor who is like you and talking to them can positively affect the doubts we feel about our performance. Chances are they have experienced similar feelings, and when we know we are not alone, it can be easier to accept these feelings and move on from them. Also, when we admit we feel like this, we take back the power we must control our fears instead of letting them control us.

Naturally, we want to be great at what we do and find purpose in our day-to-day activities. However, as a society, we have been forced to shift from focusing on these intrinsic motivations to extrinsic motivations like key performance indicators to prove success. If we can readjust our focus back to the intrinsic, we are more likely to meet our self-esteem and self-actualization needs per Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Often, we have limiting beliefs about who we are and what we are capable of. Using positive affirmations is a great way to create liberating truths that will set us free to achieve our true potential and accept ourselves and our achievements. The trick is not just to say words you cannot believe. If the positive affirmations you are saying to yourself are too far off from your current belief system, then cognitive dissonance occurs, and you can’t change your belief system. You must choose the wording you can start to believe today, and then once you can say it with no doubt in your mind, you adjust your language to get a little closer to the belief you desire to possess. I call this the thought ladder, start where you are and climb to what you want to believe in incremental steps.

Sometimes we need help to change our thinking and beliefs. How can we think like a “non-impostor”? Changing your thinking can be challenging if you never attempted it before or if your thoughts and beliefs are too embedded. If you find you cannot quite get there on your own, consider reaching out to an executive coach or a therapist.

When trying to recognize and overcome your impostor experience, remember, nobody is perfect, so stop trying to be and embrace your imperfections! We all have talents and expertise; recognizing and owning our strengths can help us live our best lives and serve others in the most impactful way. There is a cost to not overcoming this phenomenon. Are we slowing down our team by not asking for help, or are we damaging our mental health by increasing our anxiety, worry, and depression?

If you are struggling with impostor syndrome, do not let it hold you back and ruin your health. Try the tips above and reach out to one of our executive coaches. We would be honored to coach you through this common struggle by helping you practice thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors you desire to improve, build your confidence, and mitigate the impostor feelings so many of us experience as high achievers.

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