“It was sheer luck that I was promoted last week. I really didn’t deserve it”— a common confession I have heard from successful professionals. Many high-achieving men and women minimize their successes by attributing it to luck or timing, or telling themselves that they are undeserving of it, or feeling like a fake or a fraud, or fearing being “found out” sooner or later. Does this internal dialogue seem familiar to you? If so, know that you’re not alone. You might be suffering from a phenomenon called the Impostor Syndrome, which nearly 70% of people experience at some point in their professional life.
What is Impostor Syndrome?
The term “Impostor Phenomenon” was coined in 1978 by two American psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. They described the phenomenon as a persistent belief that one is unintelligent, inadequate, incompetent, and undeserving of success despite knowing the facts that provide evidence for one’s skills and accomplishments. While there can be several causes and forms of the impostor experience, some common ones include:
- A sense of inadequacy internalized in childhood
- Perfectionism that leads to wanting to be 100% perfect, 100% of the time
- Setting unrealistically high standards for oneself
- Fear of criticism or failure
- Distrust in internal validation and as a result seeking out external validation perhaps by overworking or people pleasing
- Automatic thoughts of “you’re not good enough”
- Comparison with other more accomplished people
- Cultural expectations and determinants of self-worth.
Most people with the syndrome suffer in silence and if unrecognized can potentially lead to feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression and stress among other issues. It rears its ugly head especially when you’re thinking of starting a new endeavor or wanting to do something that’s out of your comfort zone.
How to battle Impostor Syndrome?
Here are some ways you can fight your impostor feelings:
Recognize and name it:
Take a few minutes and think about how you frame your accomplishments or how you feel when you want to take a risk (switching jobs, starting your own business, or sharing your creativity with others etc). Recognize the voice in your head and the next time you fear being exposed as a fraud, call it for what it is- impostor syndrome. When you name it, you take the first step towards putting yourself in the driver’s seat of self confidence and self love. Remember, YOU are in charge!
Check your response to it:
Now tune into your response to impostor feelings. Does it make you want to go down the path of perfectionism, push you to overwork yourself and as a result do you experience anxiety or toxic stress? Or does it paralyze you, make you procrastinate and bring up feelings of shame and embarrassment? Being able to identify and label feelings accurately as well as your behaviors associated with them can help you understand your reflexive response to your impostor feelings.
Journal your accomplishments:
Write down your strengths, compliments, and testimonials you have received from colleagues, customers or friends. Also include any past accomplishments, small everyday triumphs and continue to add to them as you go along. Anytime the voice of self-doubt comes back, pull out this journal and remind yourself of how awesome you are for having done so much and accomplished so much in life!
Develop personal mantras:
Repeated positive affirmations are a great way to send positive messages to your brain. For example you can say, “I am enough.” “I’m smart.” “I’m a work in progress and I’m proud.” Choose an affirmation that resonates with you and make it your daily mantra. It will likely feel strange saying it in the beginning but keep doing it to make way for creating a new self belief.
Reach out, you’re not alone:
Remember, you’re not the only one who struggles with feelings of inadequacy and chronic self-doubt. Even the most successful people, who appear to have it all together, have to fight their own inner critic to get to where they are in life. However, unspoken fears or negative thoughts that induce self-doubt can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies and get in the way of you realizing your full potential.
It isn’t easy to admit out loud one’s feelings of inadequacy but it sure is liberating and empowering to understand its roots and learn ways to break the cycle of impostor thinking. In the words of Louise L. Hay: “You have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”
If you want to develop a different relationship with your inner critic, don’t be afraid to reach out for a free consultation so that we can help figure out a plan for therapy to help you. Remember, you deserve your successes and you can learn to talk about them with pride.
Maria Mirza is a therapist at Colliance Wellness. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your emotional health and well-being, contact Colliance Wellness and see how therapy can help.