August 28, 2023

Here’s How to Recognise and Overcome Imposter Syndrome
By Jayne Warwicker

After the sad passing of the much-loved Michael Parkinson, his son spoke out and revealed that his father suffered from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome involves unfounded feelings of self-doubt and incompetence. If this rings a bell with you…read on as it can have a devastating effect on your development, both personal and professional and seriously damage your career progression, self- esteem and sense of self worth, goal achievement and overall happiness.

The official definition is:

Imposter syndrome, also called perceived fraudulence, involves feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments.

You may have thoughts such as:

“What am I doing here?”

“I don’t belong.”

“I’m a total fraud, and sooner or later, everyone’s going to find out.”

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone in any profession, from graduate students to top executives.

To counter these feelings, you might end up working harder and holding yourself to ever higher standards. This pressure can eventually take a toll on your emotional well-being and your performance.

What it feels like

Imposter feelings represent a conflict between your own self-perception and the way others perceive you.

Even as others praise your talents, you write off your successes to timing and good luck. You don’t believe you earned them on your own merits, and you fear others will eventually realise the same thing.

Consequently, you pressure yourself to work harder in order to:

  • keep others from recognising your shortcomings or failures
  • become worthy of roles you believe you don’t deserve
  • make up for what you consider your lack of intelligence
  • ease feelings of guilt over “tricking” people

The work you put in can keep the cycle going. Your further accomplishments don’t reassure you — you consider them nothing more than the product of your efforts to maintain the “illusion” of your success.

Any recognition you earn? You call it sympathy or pity. And despite linking your accomplishments to chance, you take on all the blame for any mistakes you make. Even minor errors reinforce your belief in your lack of intelligence and ability.

Over time, this can fuel a cycle of anxiety, depression and guilt.

Living in constant fear of discovery, you strive for perfection in everything you do. You might feel guilty or worthless when you can’t achieve it, not to mention burned out and overwhelmed by your continued efforts.

If you are recognising these traits in yourself, be assured you are not alone. I myself suffered from imposter syndrome having risen in my management career very quickly. Despite me achieving good results, achieving goals and targets, passing inspections with flying colours and progressing in my career I never considered that it was by my own hard work and talent in this area. I convinced myself I got my first management job, not because I interviewed well and had transferable skills from my previous career; but because no one else wanted the job. When I passed inspections, it was purely ‘luck on the day’, when I passed all my exams and gained qualifications again it was luck.

It wasn’t until I took my Coaching qualifications that I started to be aware of this syndrome and that I needed to change my thinking and that’s all it is…changing the way you think about things and reframing. I’m not saying that this is easy to do. Some will be able to research and make inroads themselves, some may need a coach such as myself to support them through the process and some; if it is having a severe effect on your well-being and mental health will need to see a health professional.

So, let’s learn a little more and look at the 5 types within this syndrome and how they manifest:

The perfectionist

You focus primarily on how you do things, often to the point where you demand perfection of yourself in every aspect of life.

Yet, since perfection isn’t always a realistic goal, you can’t meet these standards. Instead of acknowledging the hard work you’ve put in after completing a task, you might criticise yourself for small mistakes and feel ashamed of your “failure.”

You might even avoid trying new things if you believe you can’t do them perfectly the first time.

The natural genius

You’ve spent your life picking up new skills with little effort and believe you should understand new material and processes right away.

Your belief that competent people can handle anything with little difficulty leads you to feel like a fraud when you have a hard time.

If something doesn’t come easily to you, or you fail to succeed on your first try, you might feel ashamed and embarrassed.

The rugged individualist (or soloist)

You believe you should be able to handle everything solo. If you can’t achieve success independently, you consider yourself unworthy.

Asking someone for help, or accepting support when it’s offered, doesn’t just mean failing your own high standards. It also means admitting your inadequacies and showing yourself as a failure.

The expert

Before you can consider your work a success, you want to learn everything there is to know on the topic. You might spend so much time pursuing your quest for more information that you end up having to devote more time to your main task.

Since you believe you should have all the answers, you might consider yourself a fraud or failure when you can’t answer a question or encounter some knowledge you previously missed.

The superhero

You link competence to your ability to succeed in every role you hold: student, friend, employee, or parent. Failing to successfully navigate the demands of these roles simply proves, in your opinion, your inadequacy.

To succeed, then, you push yourself to the limit, expending as much energy as possible in every role.

Still, even this maximum effort may not resolve your imposter feelings. You might think, “I should be able to do more,” or “This should be easier.”

This was me and while I was trying to be a superhero (which nobody else expected or wanted), I burned out.

Where it comes from

There’s no single clear cause of imposter feelings. Instead, a number of factors likely combine to trigger them. Potential underlying causes include the following.

Parenting and childhood environment

You might develop imposter feelings if your parents:

  • pressured you to do well in school
  • compared you to your sibling(s)
  • were controlling or overprotective
  • emphasised your natural intelligence
  • sharply criticised mistakes

Academic success in childhood could also contribute to imposter feelings later in life.

Maybe at school, both primary and secondary education never posed much of a challenge. You learned easily and received plenty of praise from teachers and parents.

In college, however, you find yourself struggling for the first time. You might begin to believe your classmates are all more intelligent and gifted, and you might worry you don’t belong in college, after all.

Personality traits

Experts have linked specific personality traits to imposter feelings.

These include:

  • Perfectionist tendencies
  • low self-efficacy, or confidence in your ability to manage your behaviour and successfully handle your responsibilities
  • higher scores on measures of neuroticism
  • lower scores on measures of conscientiousness

Existing mental health symptoms

Fears of failure can prompt plenty of emotional distress, and many people coping with imposter feelings also experience anxiety and depression.

But living with depression or anxiety might mean you already experience self-doubt, diminished self-confidence, and worries about how others perceive you.

This mindset of feeling “less than” can both lead to and reinforce the belief that you don’t really belong in your academic or professional environment.

Imposter syndrome can worsen mental health symptoms, creating a cycle that’s difficult to escape.

A coach such as myself can support you with feelings of self-doubt, diminished self-confidence, and worries about how others perceive you. However, if you are suffering from, or think you may be suffering from depression or severe anxiety I would always advise you seek the support of a medical professional.

New responsibilities

It’s not at all uncommon to feel unworthy of a career or academic opportunity you just earned.

You want the job, certainly. It could even be your dream job. All the same, you might worry you won’t measure up to expectations or believe your abilities won’t match those of your coworkers or classmates.

These feelings may fade as you settle in and get familiar with the role. Sometimes, though, they can get worse — particularly if you fail to receive support, validation, and encouragement from your supervisors or peers.

How to deal with it

If you feel like a fraud, working harder to do better may not do much to change your self-image and may result in burnout.

These strategies can help you resolve imposter feelings productively.

Acknowledge your feelings

Identifying imposter feelings and bringing them out into the light of day can accomplish several goals.

  • Talking to a trusted friend, coach or mentor about your distress can help you get some outside context on the situation.
  • Sharing imposter feelings can help them feel less overwhelmed.
  • Opening up to peers about how you feel encourages them to do the same, helping you realise you aren’t the only one who feels like an imposter.

Build connections

Avoid giving in to the urge to do everything yourself (again, I was guilty of this!) Instead, turn to classmates, academic peers, and coworkers to create a network of mutual support.

Remember, you can’t achieve everything alone. Your network can:

  • offer guidance and support
  • validate your strengths
  • encourage your efforts to grow

Sharing imposter feelings can also help others in the same position feel less alone. It also creates the opportunity to share strategies for overcoming these feelings and related challenges you might encounter.

Challenge your doubts

When imposter feelings surface, ask yourself whether any actual facts support these beliefs. Then, look for pieces of evidence to counter them.

Say you’re considering applying for a promotion, but you don’t believe you have what it takes. Maybe a small mistake you made on a project a few months ago still haunts you. Or perhaps you think the coworkers who praise your work mostly just feel sorry for you.

Fooling all of your coworkers would be pretty difficult, though, and poor work probably wouldn’t go unnoticed long term.

If you consistently receive encouragement and recognition, that’s a good sign you’re doing plenty right — and deserve a chance for promotion.

Avoid comparing yourself to others

Everyone has unique abilities. You are where you are because someone recognised your talents and your potential.

You may not excel in every task you attempt, but you don’t have to, either. Almost no one can “do it all.” Even when it seems like someone has everything under control, you may not know the whole story.

It’s OK to need a little time to learn something new, even if someone else seems to grasp that skill immediately.

Instead of allowing others’ success to highlight your flaws, consider exploring ways to develop the abilities that interest you.

The bottom line

Success doesn’t require perfection. True perfection is practically impossible, so failing to achieve it doesn’t make you a fraud.

Offering yourself kindness and compassion instead of judgment and self-doubt can help you maintain a realistic perspective and motivate you to pursue healthy self-growth.

If you continue to struggle with imposter feelings and want more information or guidance, please feel free to contact me at 07818504541 or and arrange a totally free call where we can discuss this further and see how you can banish these feelings of self-doubt and ensure you are living life to the full 😊

Jayne Warwicker BSc – founder of The Lioness Power Coaching Programme

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