What is impostor syndrome?

Do you ever feel like you’re doing something, speaking, acting or behaving in a way that you’re ‘pretending’ and you don’t really feel like you? When your inner critic is saying, “Who do you think you are saying or doing this?” When you feel like a fake, a fraud and you doubt your abilities?

Welcome to the ‘impostor syndrome’.

What is impostor syndrome?

According to Verywell Mind, “Impostor syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. To put it simply, impostor syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don’t belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck.”

Clinical psychologists, Dr Pauline Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes, first described the syndrome in 1978. It was then Dr Valerie Young, an internationally renowned expert on the syndrome, who identified the five different types of impostors (see HRM Online).

It can affect anyone regardless of their background, social status, education, employment, level of experience, skill or expertise. It definitely has links to our inner perfectionist!  It may sometimes feel like you are wearing different masks in different situations.

How do you know when you have impostor syndrome?

These are some of the common signs and characteristics of impostor syndrome:

  • Feeling a fraud.
  • Being a perfectionist; never feeling that what you’ve done is good enough, despite having good experience and knowledge in your area of expertise.
  • Having strong critical thoughts and a judgemental inner dialogue about your work, talents and abilities.
  • Unable to realistically discern and assess your competence, abilities and skills.
  • Believing that your success is down to factors other than yourself.
  • Creating goals for yourself that aren’t actually achievable without being very damaging to your wellbeing.
  • Feeling unworthy of success.
  • Thinking that your accomplishments must be down to luck alone.
  • Distrusting others, even when they’re being genuine and offering support, advice and help.
  • Over-preparing for events and situations.
  • Feeling uncomfortable when someone praises you for your abilities.

Do any of the above feel familiar?

“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” – Nobel Laureate Maya Angelou

The 5 types of impostor syndrome

  1. The perfectionist: Sets unrealistic goals for themselves and when they don’t achieve them are really hard on themselves. They can be over controlling as they want things to ‘be perfect’ and success is rarely achieved as they feel they could always do better.
  2. The superman/woman: Tends to overwork themselves to make up for feelings of inadequacies, may push themselves irrespective of their wellbeing, which could lead to mental and physical health problems.
  3. The natural genius: This person may feel they have a natural talent and set themselves up to fail by putting their expectations of themselves and their abilities beyond their capacity. They often feel devastated when they can’t or don’t achieve them.
  4. The soloist: Prefers to work alone, may resist help from others or won’t reach out to others for support even if they do need help, for fear of failure or appearing weak. They’re often driven for their sense of self-worth.
  5. The expert: Assesses themselves on how much they know and how much they do and are never satisfied with their level of knowledge. They’re always leaning more but in a competitive way rather than an evolving way.

(Source: The Muse)

If you notice some of these characteristics within yourself you will know how detrimental, exhausting, undermining and challenging it is to live in this way. Having some degree of impostor syndrome really effects our lives in a negative way impacting our health and wellbeing.

Wellbeing in not just about how we eat and exercise, it is also about how we think, act, and feel. Any ways that negatively affect our mind, body and heart depletes our inner resources and ultimately life engagement and enjoyment.

So, what can we do to help ourselves?

How to support yourself with impostor syndrome

What is imposter syndrome?

If you’re suffering from impostor syndrome, here are some ways you can start to support yourself:

  1. Awareness: Know what impostor syndrome is, so you can recognise it when you feel you’re ‘in it’.
  2. Common humanity: Know that you’re not the only person that feels this way.
  3. Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself; this is a difficult, negative belief system to work with.
  4. Reach out for help: Don’t keep it a secret, locked away within. This is how negative belief patterns become toxic in our body, heart and mind. Talk to friends, family or work colleagues who can support you.
  5. Know the 5 types: Be aware of the different types of impostor syndrome (see above) and which one you tend to act out. Be gentle but firm with yourself when you notice you’re becoming that type.
  6. Appreciate your achievements: Reframe the way you see ‘success’. Learn to appreciate your small achievements, set realistic goals for yourself and make steps towards larger ones, acknowledging the small steps that you achieve along the way.
  7. Changing nature: Know that you can change this way of being. Often, impostor syndrome gets played out in certain situations and circumstances and will soon pass.
  8. Focus on facts, core beliefs and values: This is the heart of the practice of self-awareness, as this is what really matters, e.g. truthfulness, honesty, integrity and authenticity.

Next time you notice your impostor syndrome being activated, see if you can try a simple way of changing your belief patterns and bringing the light of awareness to yourself and the situation. Self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-love are really the healing balms that will help to transform this undermining impostor.

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