WHAT IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME?
Imposter syndrome is the concept that despite evidence of your abilities, you feel like a fraud—or like a child in your parents’ clothes. According to an article written in the American Psychological Association, 70 percent of people will suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their life (Craig, 2011). Many who experience imposter syndrome struggle with fears of failure. Often these fears cause self-doubt, thinking negative thoughts about themselves are based in facts (which they are often not) rather than feelings. The internal tug of war of imposter syndrome can lead to symptoms of anxiety and burn out. Overly focusing on criticism while overlooking compliments can seriously impact self-worth.
Despite education, abilities, and life experiences, you may still feel like a stranger in your own skin. And you might find yourself thinking you don’t deserve what you have (or you’re not competent enough to have it).
IMPOSTER SYNDROME AND TRAUMA
Imposter syndrome is often linked with anxiety, burnout, and the avoidance of goals and dreams. In other words, feeling not good enough can become a fixed belief you have about yourself and can take away your confidence. But before you can change those beliefs, it’s help to understand where they began.
It is important to recognize that trauma (any event you’ve found distressing or overwhelming) can be where many of your beliefs about yourself (e.g. “I’m not good enough”) are established. Often, belief development is linked to childhood. For example, how did your family view success and failure? How did they instill their values in you? Did you feel you were allowed to be yourself? What kind of criticism occurred that may have instilled self-doubt or feelings of not being worthy or good enough? The answers to these questions might lead to you understanding the beliefs you have about yourself.
TIPS FOR OVERCOMING IMPOSTER SYNDROME
Ok, so you feel like an imposter. Dozens of high-profile people have publicly stated they have as well. You may want to consider owning it, because doing so removes you from the negative chatter in your head. For example, “I don’t deserve it” is a lot easier to distance yourself from if you acknowledge you may FEEL like an imposter but that doesn’t mean you ARE an imposter.
2. NOTICE MORE THOUGHTS
Now that we’re noticing thoughts, what else is up there? Take a minute. Pause. Be real with yourself. Listen to how you talk to yourself. What’s going on in your thought life? Are you picturing yourself getting fired for a simple mistake in an email? Having to tell your husband or wife that the “big promotion” didn’t work out after all? Worst-case-scenario thoughts often fill the minds of those who feel like imposters. But let’s take a step back: how’d we go from an email you wish you took a second longer write to you getting fired? Imposter syndrome anxiety can make it challenging to think through the logical steps. Think of it this way: what would you tell a friend if they were focused on the worst case scenario?
3. NOTICE EVEN MORE THOUGHTS
Where are your thoughts are coming from? Is this the voice of someone critical from the past? Is it society telling you what you “deserve or not?” Are you a survivor of a shame-based employment setting or place of learning? Keep getting distance by figuring out where your negative thoughts may be coming from. Look at your thoughts versus behaviors and ask yourself: are my fears based on facts or feelings?
4. DON’T LET YOUR INNER CRITIC RUN YOUR ACTIONS
Behavior is powerful. Leaning into behaviors in line with your goals can help the inner critic learn from repetition. Look for small ways to play your part. If you play a role long enough, your ownership of it will start to sink in. Turns out “fake it till you make it” is actually real.
We all have imposter syndrome moments. It is very important to be your own cheerleader. This is about more than seeing the glass as half full. This isn’t about sunshine and sprinkles without merit. This is about taking back the power and allowing yourself to embrace the evidence of your strengths. If you feel like an imposter, that means you are likely doing something you earned. Finding those moments each day to notice your accomplishments is key. This takes confidence out of the hands of chance encounters and puts you in control of your value.