What Is Impostor Syndrome?
Impostor syndrome. You’ve likely heard the phrase uttered among work colleagues or fellow students. Or maybe you’ve seen it mentioned on Google after searching “why is everyone better at their job than me?”
If you have ever felt like you didn’t belong at your job, thought that everyone else in your profession is just better or more talented than you, felt like a fraud, or realized that you are often feeling burned out and anxious at school or work, you are not alone!
The above descriptions refer to a phenomenon called “impostor syndrome” and while this is not a diagnosable condition, it is familiar to many. Often, folks who experience impostor syndrome have difficulty owning their successes and instead attribute their achievements to luck. They may feel as though they will be “found out” as a fraud at any moment. Interestingly, this experience is quite common among high-achieving individuals, including well-known folks such as Emma Watson and Maya Angelou.
Why Do I Feel This Way?
Although the experience of impostor syndrome is not uncommon, the factors that contribute to the problem can be quite varied. Some of these risk factors for impostor syndrome are:
- Intense messages in childhood or early schooling about the importance of working hard and getting good grades. These messages can result in overly emphasizing achievement later in life.
- High value on achievement in family of origin or cultural norms that becomes internalized.
- Absence of others with similar identities (e.g., racial, ethnic, gender, sexual orientation) in your space that leads to feeling out of place.
- A tendency to compare oneself to others leading to assessment of oneself as less competent, capable, or talented than others.
How Do I Know If I’m Experiencing Impostor Syndrome?
As this is not a diagnosable condition, there is not a standardized scientific way to know if you are experiencing impostor syndrome. However, there are some common patterns to be aware of.
Typically, people who experience impostor syndrome have self-doubt or second-guessing thoughts that make negative assumptions, minimize accomplishments or disqualify the positive. These are sometimes referred to broadly as cognitive distortions. Some examples of these thought processes are listed below.
- “Everyone else knows more than me. I shouldn’t be here.”
- “I’ve only worked here for a few years, I’m not good enough to apply for a promotion.”
- “I’ve had some training in this area, but my colleague is better than me at this.”
Those with impostor syndrome also tend to behave a little differently. They tend to not advocate for themselves, hold themselves back in career advancement, or have a pattern of missed opportunities. Frequently, people with impostor syndrome will experience burnout and may also feel anxious, unmotivated, down, or stressed.
What Can I Do to Address My Impostor Syndrome?
Identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts or cognitive distortions.
Challenge unhelpful thoughts that include assumptions, such as those listed above, as they arise by asking “Is there evidence to support this thought? Is there evidence against this thought?” or “Do I know this to be 100% true?” It can also be helpful to reframe your thoughts by viewing “failure” as an opportunity to learn something new or by considering other possible explanations other than identifying yourself as an impostor.
Create a list of your accomplishments.
Creating a list of accomplishments or personal strengths can help remind you of what you do well. When creating or reviewing this list, you are also helping your brain create evidence to counter the idea that you are an impostor or do not belong.
Take a small risk.
If you realize that you may have been missing opportunities by holding yourself back, identify one area where you can take a small risk and advocate for yourself, perhaps by volunteering to take on a special project or applying for a promotion. This type of action, even a small one, can help challenge your view of yourself as an impostor.
Seek assistance of mentors.
Talking to trusted colleagues or mentors about your experience can help you receive validating and encouraging support as many are able to relate to feeling like an impostor. Talking with others can also remind you that you are not alone in this experience.
The Take-Home Message
Impostor syndrome is a commonly occurring experience among high-achieving individuals that is often reinforced by unhelpful thought patterns or self-limiting behaviors. Strategies such as those above can help reduce the impact of impostor syndrome and create a new, more confident approach to work. If you are significantly impacted by impostor syndrome, please contact our office to discuss how we can help!