Imposter Syndrome is something I have personally struggled with and I’m in good company. It’s more common than you might think with more than 70% of people reporting an experience of it at some point in their career (Wilding, 2018). Imposter Syndrome is the psychological term that refers to chronic self-doubt and inadequacy about one’s abilities, often along with anxiety about being exposed as a fraud, despite evidence that invalidates such feelings. Have you ever had an internalised fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed for not being experienced, knowledgeable or successful enough for your job? About to give a presentation and your inner narrative is that you have nothing to say that could add value to your audience. Dealing with self-doubt can be completely derailing, crippling your confidence to go after new opportunities or share your thoughts and ideas in a meaningful way.
So where does it stem from? Research indicates that although Imposter Syndrome is influenced by the situations we find ourselves in, it is also likely to be heavily influenced by habitual thought patterns rooted in our background. My personal encounter is rooted in a childhood experience and I can almost pin-point the circumstances around which this limiting thought pattern became engrained. Whether it was nerves or that I simply did not know the answers, I had earnt myself a pre-high school exam score that would land me in the ‘below average’ stream during my first year of high school. It turns out that this was completely debilitating in terms of the development of my intellectual confidence. In order to ‘move up’ the following year into an intellectually ‘average’ streamed class, I would need to work hard and prove myself. Knowing what I know now, this only further drove my tendency to perform, perfect and please (see blogpost on perfectionism), but I did just that, moved up and life went on. Other facets known to influence the likelihood of developing Imposter Syndrome, include family expectations, undeserved praise or lack of any praise, a tendency toward perfectionism, fear of failure and family labels (for example “the smart one” or “the competitive one”).
What Can I do to Help Combat my Chronic Self-Doubt?
There are a number of things that can significantly help deal with feelings of self-doubt:
1. Share your fears with a mentor, coach or leader. This helps to normalise the feelings associated with Imposter Syndrome and helps you understand that you are not alone.
2. Seek constructive and honest feedback that validates your efforts and embrace praise objectively.
3. Remove luck from the equation when it comes to talking about your accomplishments.
4. Devote time to self-reflection as you work towards becoming more comfortable internalising your achievements – are there any aspects from your upbringing or past experiences that might have influenced your feelings of self-doubt?
5. Try extracting self-doubt before an event by reframing common thoughts. An example would be to change: “this presentation might be terrible, what if they don’t get any value out of it?” to “this presentation doesn’t have to be perfect but it will go well, and there is value in it for the audience”.
6. Seek support from friends and family.
7. Write a list of your achievements, successes and skills and reflect on this regularly, adding to it as you go.
8. Explore therapeutic approaches and/or seek professional guidance.
At the end of the day, self-doubt is something most people deal with at some point in their lives, so if you are feeling like an imposter then know that many people around you are too. Personally, through a deeper understanding, I have been able to grow through my own experiences and can now recognise self-doubt when it arises and assess whether it is helpful or harmful. A little bit of self-doubt isn’t a bad thing from time to time, it keeps me grounded and in some regards has fuelled my own career ambition. However, I too know the negative effects of too much self-doubt and have needed to work through this in order to enjoy a professional career helping others do the same. From a wellness perspective, no matter what face we are all capable of living fulfilling and effective lives with awareness, support and a passion for making a difference. Be kind to yourself and remind yourself daily that you are probably better than you think you are, and you are worthy.
Rebekah Dawson is an Organisational Psychologist and works for Progress People in corporate wellbeing. If you would like further information or if you would like to get in touch, please click here.