Do you feel like a fraud?
Like an imposter, pretending to be someone you’re not? So that at any moment you’ll be found out? And people will discover that you donèt really know what you are doing or what you’re talking about?
And when they figure that out, you’ll be discarded. Fired. Cast aside?
That’s Imposter Syndrome.
I’m fairly confident that most of us have had this idea flash through our minds on one occasion or another because it’s quite normal.
But for some of us, we are bombarded by these thoughts of being ‘found out’ to the point that it sabotages our relationships, careers and ability to accomplish what we want to in our lives.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
According to Psychology Today, Imposter syndrome is characterized by an underlying belief that the person “is undeserving of their achievements and the high esteem in which they are, in fact, generally held. They feel that they aren’t as competent or intelligent as others might think—and that soon enough, people will discover the truth about them.” It may be that the person is highly accredited or has several degrees, but this feeling exists regardless of the accomplishments.
Basically Imposter Syndrome is the idea that you have succeeded based on luck, and not because of merit, talent or qualifications. It is the tendency to believe that we are not as intelligent, competent, or interesting as others perceive us.
Signs & Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome
1. Fear of Being ‘Found Out’
The fear of being ‘found out’ is one of the main signs of imposter syndrome.
When you’re feeling like an impostor, you have a deep fear of being discovered as inadequate or incompetent for a certain role.
This fear can be so intense that it lingers in the back of your mind, eventhough you’ve consistently proven your performance and competence.
Other times, this fear can be so intense that it affects your ability to engage in new activities or accept new challenges for fear of being found out.
2. Persistent Feelings of Inadequacy
Dealing with imposter syndrome means you feel unreasonably incapable in your day-to-day roles and responsibilities.
No matter how much you accomplish, at the end of the day, you feel as if you’re somehow tricking everybody into believing you’re valuable and capable.
These feelings can be profound and persistent, leading to a constant fear of being discovered as an impostor and a high level of performance anxiety.
You may have difficulty accepting your achievements, tending to minimize your successes or attribute them to other factors.
3. Avoiding Activities that Test Your Knowledge and Skills
People with imposter syndrome often avoid putting themselves in situations that test their abilities. They’re afraid of being discovered as ‘fake’ and worries about being able to meet other people’s expectations.
This feeling worsens as you compare yourself to others, resulting in a belief that you’re not as good or capable as them.
Whenever you avoid a situation that tests your abilities, you miss out on the opportunity to prove you are capable. This avoidance will harm your growth by keeping you from testing your limits. It is only when we consistently prove our capability that we can recover from Imposter Syndrome.
4. Intense Feelings of Stress and Performance Anxiety
As you can probably imagine, dealing with imposter syndrome takes much mental space, inevitably translating into stress.
Getting involved with people, activities, and daring projects is tough when you underestimate yourself at every turn and believe that your success results from pure luck or external factors.
5. Fear of Failure
In essence, fear of failure is a sense of insecurity that you experience whenever you’re faced with the possibility of making a mistake or, for various reasons, being unable to achieve a goal.
Mistakes are a normal part of the human condition, and most things we try to achieve are not entirely in our control.
In other words, failure is an ever-present shadow for those who wish to move forward in life. The more you fear it, the more it negatively affects your self-confidence.
Fear of failure often results from rigid expectations, societal pressure, constant comparison and imposter syndrome.
6. Trying Too Hard
When you consider yourself a ‘fraud’ and are constantly worried what others think and that they will find out. Because of this, you might try to hide it by keeping yourself as busy as possible.
Regardless of your personal life, you are always the first in and last out when it comes to working. You take on task after task and volunteer to help others to convince them (and yourself) that you’re capable, valuable, and knowledgeable.
Unfortunately, all the hard work you put into maintaining a certain image comes at the expense of your health and well-being. People with imposter syndrome often struggle with burnout and depression.
7. Doing the Bare Minimum
On the opposite spectrum, there are those who, because of feeling like imposters, choose to run away from responsibilities.
Instead of taking on tasks and projects that can demonstrate their abilities and build self-confidence, they choose to do the bare minimum. We need to understand that these people struggle with intense feelings of inadequacy.
This feeling can be so intense that they even avoid participating in volunteer activities because they’re afraid not to compromise others’ efforts.
8. You Feel Overwhelmed by Negative Self-Talk
At its core, imposter syndrome is founded on a set of beliefs you hold about yourself.
These beliefs shape your perspective in the sense that you consider yourself unworthy of your achievements, doubt your abilities, and reject the appreciation you receive for a job well done.
Some examples of beliefs that fuel imposter syndrome are:
This syndrome is often associated with perfectionism and the tendency to set extremely high or unrealistic standards for yourself. The goal is always that once you achieve them, you will finally feel good/competent/intelligent enough.
9. Attributing Success to External Factors
For those with Imposter Syndrome, they tend to attribute success to external factors. Deep down, they feel like they’re not competent enough to deserve others’ appreciation. THe more they hold on to these self-defeating beleiefs, the worse they feel about themselves.
While this attitude can make you excel in your field because it makes you try harder and work smarter, there is a dark side. The downside is the unpleasantness of living with the burden of inadequacy and never letting yourself experience a sense of pride
10. Inability to Accept Constructive Feedback
Let’s get something straight – no one can do everything right from the first try.
When dealing with imposter syndrome, every piece of advice, feedback, or recommendation feels intolerable, even though the other person might be well-intentioned.
That’s because, despite the good intentions behind the feedback, your profound feeling of inadequacy makes you see it as absolute proof that people are starting to notice you’re a ‘fraud.’
Types of Imposter Syndrome
While there are varying degrees to which people identify with this concept, there are different ways in which this manifests.
- The Perfectionist: Sets extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence.
- The Expert: Feels the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or training to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or speak up during a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.
- The Natural Genius: Their struggle or hard work to accomplish something, forms a belief that they simply aren’t good enough. They are used to skills coming easily, and when they have to put in the effort, their brain tells them that’s proof they’re an impostor.
- The Soloist: Feels like they have to accomplish tasks on their own, and if they need to ask for help, they think that means they are a failure or a fraud.
- The Superman or Superwoman: This person is individualistic and prefers to work alone. They push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove that they’re not impostors. They feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life—at work, as parents, as partners—and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.
Why do People Experience Imposter Syndrome?
There’s no single answer as to why these ideas develop. Suggestions have been made that childhood memories, being inferior to a sibling or being made to feel that you were never good enough, can leave this kind of lasting impact. Some researchers suggest that this tendency develops because of anxiety while others suggest that fostering a sense of confidence in a child works against feelings of being an imposter.
How to Overcome Feelings of Being an Imposter?
- Acknowledge your thoughts. Creating awareness around the thought and putting it into perspective by simply observing it as opposed to engaging in it. Questions like “does that thought help or hinder me” are powerful tools in seeing the behaviour or idea for what it is.
- Reframe your thoughts. The difference between someone struggling with Imposter Syndrome and someone who’s not is simply their ability to think differently about a situation. Learning to value constructive criticism is a skill that will build resilience over the long run.
- Question your thoughts. Assess your abilities so that when the Imposter rears its’ ugly head, you can contradict it with your list of accomplishments. Question whether your thoughts are rational or even correct. Does it make sense that you are a fraud, given everything that you know?
- Stop Comparing. Every time you compare yourself to others in a social situation, you will find some fault with yourself that fuels the feeling of not being good enough or not belonging. Instead, during conversations, focus on the other person and be genuinely interested in learning more about others. In addition, limit social media. This fosters comparison and sets unrealistic and unattainable ideals and standards.
- Do something uncomfortable. Lean into your feelings and challenge them by doing something new. Take risks and prove to your self that what you think is really not accurate. By unravelling these core beliefs, you can begin to sever the ties that are holding you back.
Most people experience self-doubt but the not to the extent of Imposter Syndrome. Clearly confidence is at the root of feeling like you’re not enough.
The key is to not allow that doubt to control your actions. Challenge that thought and unravel the beliefs behind it. Taking one small uncomfortable step each day can move you forward towards creating the beliefs that you seek.
PS: If you would like to discuss how working together can help move through Imposter Syndrome, please reach out.
Katrina Murphy is a Professional Intuitive Mindset and Confidence Coach in Ontario, Canada, serving clients across Canada and internationally. Katrina helps professionals to change the relationship that they have with themselves so they can reconnect both in their relationships and at work. She’s been featured in various publications and is the creator of the Power-Passion-Purpose Framework.