What is imposter syndrome and how do you overcome it?

Customisable business insurance
08 July 2021
5 minute read

Have you ever looked around you and thought ‘I don’t deserve to be here’. You could be suffering from imposter syndrome. It usually affects people when they have experienced some sort of success. But it can really put a dampener on things, making it harder for those suffering to enjoy their triumphs.

Luckily, there are ways to minimise imposter syndrome through coping mechanisms. This article will run through a few that you can try out as well as how to do identify whether you have imposter syndrome.

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome (IS) is a persistent feeling of self doubt and inadequacy. It can happen to anyone at any time but statistically appears more-so in high-achieving people who struggle to accept their victories, despite their education, experience or accomplishments.

People with imposter syndrome can feel like someone is trying to unveil that they’re a fraud and that they’re going to be found out at any time. But it can also manifest as feelings of not belonging and that you got to where you are through luck instead of talent, brains and competence.

While people usually experience imposter syndrome through intrusive thoughts, it can also cause physical feelings of anxiety and stress.

Identifying if you have imposter syndrome

There are some common symptoms of imposter syndrome that many people who deal with it feel. You might not go through all of these, but if you feel as though you have imposter syndrome you may experience the following:

  • Feeling insecure about your position
  • Overcompensating by trying harder
  • Feeling as though someone will catch you out as a fraud
  • Worrying that you’re not doing as well as you should be
  • Still feeling inadequate even after being reassured
  • Persistent feelings of incompetence even after achieving what you set out to do
  • Putting your achievements down to luck

Pinpointing whether you have imposter syndrome means you can then focus on performing the coping mechanisms that are designed to quell these feelings.

There are loads of coping strategies out there, the trick is just to find the one that works for you.

Here are our top 6 recommendations for dealing with imposter syndrome.

1. Remember, it’s a common feeling

It’s said that over 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their life. Some of the most successful people in the world, people who you wouldn’t expect, have suffered from imposter syndrome. These include Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Arianna Huffington and even Einstein.

It can be comforting to understand that you’re not alone in feeling this as it helps to normalise the experience and put things into perspective.

2. Ask yourself why

Feelings of insecurity, while sometimes unjustified, often don’t come from nowhere and may be an indication of something deeper going on.

For instance, imposter syndrome can be a good indicator that you want to protect whatever it is you’re worried about. If you’re worried someone is going to catch you out, it’s probably because you’re proud and happy with what you’ve got and you’re afraid to lose it. So, instead of thinking someone is going to come and take that away, we need to focus on the good things in our life and turn feelings of worry into gratitude.

Imposter syndrome can also affect different areas of your life, such as your career and relationships. If you feel it in one area of your life but not the other, you need to address why this may be.

3. Open up

Instead of hiding your feelings from the people around you, you might find that a lot of people are going through the same thing if you open up and talk about it. Not only will this help you further see that you’re not alone, but might give you some new coping mechanisms that you haven’t tried.

The sheer amount of people who experience imposter syndrome will make it easy to find someone who can empathise and offer advice. However, if you need further help to process your feelings it can help to talk to a therapist or practise CBT methods – especially if it’s causing you to sabotage things in your life.

4. Turn your feelings around

While this is easier said than done, all it takes is a bit of practice.

By making a conscious effort to check what you’re saying to yourself and change it if it’s negative, you’ll start changing the way you think about the situation and hopefully the feelings of being a fraud will dissipate.

So, for instance, if you’re having such thoughts as:

  • I don’t deserve to be here
  • My success is only built on luck and nothing else
  • I should have done better

You can actively switch these into thoughts like:

  • I was chosen to be here for a reason. I'm worthy and talented and my place here is completely justified.
  • I've worked hard to be where I am and I'm proud of that.
  • I did my best and that's enough.

5. Keep an accomplishments list

If you’re feeling the familiar pangs of imposter syndrome, this exercise can feel a bit strange at first. But writing down all of your wins – big and small – is so affirming and will remind you of how much you’ve already achieved.

If you have a to-do list of bigger things you want to accomplish or try, instead of deleting items when they’re done, write them down on your accomplishments list.

This could be anything that put you out of your comfort zone or that you’re even mildly proud of, from getting praise on a presentation to trying out a new communication strategy with a friend. Try and remember some past achievements and write them on there, too.

As your list grows and you can see all the great things you've done on paper, your feels of inadequacy should be replaced with self-confidence.

6. Check out some resources

Psychologists have studied imposter syndrome for years and our understanding of how many people suffer from it has increased, resulting in some really great resources that include useful coping tips, interviews and first-hand accounts.

It’s true that the more you understand about something, the less scary it becomes. So, becoming well-versed in the ins and outs of imposter syndrome could contextualise your feelings and give them less free reign over your mind and body.

Some of the best books about imposter syndrome include:

The Telegraph has also released a podcast about imposter syndrome called ‘Imposters’, which interviews famous women – who statistically suffer from imposter syndrome more – about how they overcame it.

And TED has a whole series of videos dedicated to the topic of imposter syndrome by different speakers.

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