We all have doubted at one point that we could do a certain task and achieve the desired results. We probably have heard the term imposter syndrome, or we have, at some point, wondered what imposter syndrome is all about.
Imposter syndrome is the feeling of not being good enough or, commonly described, feeling like you are a scam.
Ironically, imposter syndrome is very common among high-achieving women, who, in most cases, feel like they do not deserve their achievements and fear that at some point, someone will find out that they are a scam.
While many people who focused on studying imposter syndrome focused on its effects in the workplace and educational institutions, imposter syndrome also affects our social fabric and romantic relationships.
Imposter syndrome, in most cases, prevents people from maximizing their strengths and over-amplifies one’s weaknesses. Some marginalised groups are more affected by imposter syndrome than others. For example, women of color and the LGBTQ community are more susceptible to imposter syndrome than white males.
Signs that you could be dealing with imposter syndrome.
In real life, imposter syndrome may come in various forms and traits. Don’t get me wrong, feeling a little bit nervous when you are about to undertake a new task is completely normal. In most cases, imposter syndrome will feel like:
Feeling worthless and low self-esteem could be a huge indicator that you have imposter syndrome. A feeling of worthlessness is almost always accompanied by a feeling that you do not deserve anything good. There is always someone better than you, and people will soon discover that you are not “ that good” after all.
Imposter syndrome is usually accompanied by shame, probably from the thought that someone might discover that you are not that awesome. In relationships, a partner dealing with imposter syndrome might experience shame from the vulnerable close relationship they share with their partner.
Also, someone may feel shame and the need to hold back some parts of themselves in the fear that if their partners find out, they might leave. Partners dealing with imposter syndrome also feel shame from thinking that they are “tricking” their partners into believing they are greater than they are.
Imposter syndrome comes with a lot of insecurity. At the workplace, the insecurity might look like not taking up new roles in fear that you might let other people down if you do.
In a relationship, insecurity might look like feeling like the next bad thing is going to happen or feeling like something is going to happen and the relationship will end.
The need to be perfect.
Imposter syndrome comes with the need to be perfect. People dealing with it tend to over-prepare. In a relationship, you might feel the need to live up to a certain image which may cause you a lot of anxiety and depression.
Fear of rejection.
Imposter syndrome brings along the fear of rejection. You always think that when people find out you are a scam, they will leave or at work, and you will get fired.
As a result, people dealing with imposter syndrome tend to build walls to shield themselves from the emotional damage that may result from rejection.
At the workplace, some people may go to the extent of resigning. In romantic relationships, people may self-sabotage and have a lot of self-defeating behaviors. People may even break such relations in fear of giving their best and failing.
Causes of imposter syndrome.
While there is no specific cause of why people suffer from imposter syndrome, previous studies have shown that some things and circumstances may predispose people to imposter syndrome.
Systems and Culture that enables the Imposter syndrome.
Many studies show that imposter syndrome focuses on fixing the people experiencing it rather than looking at what might fan it in the first place.
For example, suppose a male-dominated workplace has a culture of picking on women and not consulting them during decision-making. In that case, there is a likelihood that the women in that role will suffer from imposter syndrome.
Workplaces that encourage the visibility of the minority and treat all employees fairly while encouraging everyone to go for the top are better placed to deal with imposter syndrome.
So ideally, instead of trying to fix people dealing with imposter syndrome, it would be more valuable to fix the systems in which such people work.
Childhood and parenting
Depending on how people were brought up, they tend to experience imposter syndrome. For example, kids that grew up with controlling, overprotective parents tend to deal with imposter syndrome when grown.
Other things in one’s childhood that may result in imposter syndrome include; constant comparison with other people, a requirement to excel in school, an overemphasis on natural intelligence, abuse, etc.
Existing mental health problems.
In most cases, people who are already dealing with depression and anxiety have felt a sense of worthlessness. While imposter syndrome can result in anxiety and depression, these mental health disorders can also reinforce imposter syndrome. Meaning mental health issues coupled with imposter syndrome can be an endless cycle of one leading to another.
Sometimes getting a new job or joining a new learning institution could be coupled with the fear of the unknown. While this fear is healthy to a certain degree, if left unchecked, it could result in imposter syndrome, where you begin to feel like the opportunity belongs to others, not you.
How to deal with imposter syndrome.
After realizing that you are dealing with imposter syndrome, what is the next step? I will share some of the best ways to deal with it. I have dealt with imposter syndrome for years. I was a high-performing student throughout my school life, making it crazy hard for me.
Trying to apply for jobs after I graduated college also proved hard because imposter syndrome can cripple you unbeknownst to you.
I have found myself slowly climbing out of the pitfall, and I will share a few tips to help you overcome imposter syndrome.
Acknowledge the feeling of being an imposter.
You probably know that you can’t fix what you don’t know. The same applies to imposter syndrome. Objectively identify whether you portray any signs of imposter syndrome.
Write them down and try to track them down. Where are they coming from? Do you have a new role? Is your workplace supportive? Is it negative self-talk?
Once you identify the emotion, it is easier to deal with or even seek help.
Let go of perfection.
I read somewhere a while back that “ perfection is the enemy of progress.” every time you think that you need to be perfect to do something, you will never do it.
I embraced the journey of learning. I love winning. I am obsessed with achievement and am number 3 on the Enneagram. This constant need to win always crippled me if I figured that I could lose or not deliver something to perfection.
I was afraid to try some things lest I fail. However, I put myself on a learning journey. If something does not produce the anticipated outcome, I try to evaluate what I can learn from that. I won’t lie that this is easy; sometimes, I still catch myself agonizing about something that didn’t go as planned. However, I consciously focus on the process and the lessons.
Also, I read a great book, “Sometimes we win and sometimes we learn,” by John C. Maxwell, and I would say my perspective shifted.
Build authentic communities.
Knowingly or unknowingly, the people we choose to hang out with, those we spend most of our time with, and what we commit our time to impact our thinking about ourselves.
Building authentic communities may sometimes look like dropping off some people you would hang out with if they stimulate your insecurities.Being around people you trust and who are there to see you succeed is one way to kick imposter syndrome in the butt. Also, let go of the idea that you should win alone. It is okay to ask for help.
Do not burn out while you can use the help of your friends and colleagues. Open up to someone that you can trust about your imposter syndrome. Genuine people can help you monitor your growth and catch you when you are falling back to your defeat place.Intentionally spend your time in places where they lift you. Sometimes we stick for too long in jobs and relationships that make us feel unworthy. This does not mean that you should run at any provocation, no.
If your organization has a culture of putting women down or different marginalized groups, then that’s a red flag that I would say, run for your life.
Understand You are not alone.
One of the benefits I would say that came from sharing my journey with imposter syndrome is that I realized I was not the only one suffering from it.
Many women struggle with imposter syndrome, especially at the start of their careers. Some famous women like actress Viola Davis and Mrs. Michelle Obama also admitted to struggling with imposter syndrome.
Celebrate your accomplishment
Sometimes when dealing with imposter syndrome, it becomes very hard for people to take compliments. One way to consciously deal with it is to own your success and take compliments from coworkers, friends, and professors.
It would be best if you took some time to internalize your wins and even look at the physical representation of the win. For example, if you receive an email congratulating you for something that you did well, read that email, take the time to reply, and you can even print it and keep it on your desk.
Though I do a lot of positive affirmations nowadays, I also allow other people to appreciate me, and I consciously take in those compliments. When I reach the dead end and am ready to fall back to my porthole, I always remind myself of what others see in me and try to get back up.
You can also get into the habit of rewarding yourself for any progress you make. For example, buying yourself a bouquet at the end of the school semester or when you finish a presentation. These small acts of kindness towards yourself will make you conscious of the things you are achieving, which will be a game changer.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
Someone said that the only person you should be better than is the person you were yesterday, which can’t be truer.
The digital era has exposed us to everything that could remind us that we are not enough or that our lives are not good enough. When you scroll through Instagram, all your friends from high school are getting married, moving countries, or doing XYZ. When you switch to LinkedIn, everyone is getting a promotion at work, getting a new job, or starting a business.
Sometimes without even knowing it, we compare ourselves with others. My main point of pain was LinkedIn. When I graduated from university, as mentioned earlier, I did not get a job immediately. I would go to LinkedIn often to apply for jobs. In the process, I would see a bunch of my classmates already changing jobs and climbing up the ladder, and I felt even more worthless. I had to actively affirm myself when I noticed the pattern of sadness that would follow my job applications.
I taught myself to walk my path without comparing myself to others. Today, I genuinely celebrate when my friends and former classmates win.
How did I get here? I realized that my path could be different, and that’s okay. We don’t have to take the same paths, which does not mean that either of the paths is less than the other.
Practice positive affirmation.
I cannot emphasize enough how positive affirmation and how we think about ourselves changes our lives. Tell yourself what you wish someone had told you. Look at yourself in the mirror and whisper something nice to the person looking back at you. Avoid being self-critical every time you look at yourself in the mirror.
Writing positive affirmations and saying them out loud to yourself is one of the ways to train your brain to think positive thoughts towards you. As you probably know, the brain is so powerful that if we tell ourselves that we are failures, that tends to manifest in real life because our actions are geared towards failure.
On the flip side, if you tell your brain good things about you, your actions will likely lean towards things that can make you as great as you tell yourself.
So, be mindful of what you tell yourself! Also, consciously replace a negative thought with a positive affirmation. When you feel down and drained, it is very easy to tell yourself all the bad stuff and even repeat what someone once told you, whether a colleague or a friend, that highlighted that you are an imposter.
To beat the imposter syndrome, you must live consciously and replace all those negative thoughts that often crawl our brains with positive thoughts.
Dealing with imposter syndrome will require you to be nice to yourself. Sit your inner critic down and serve him with some really good facts about you.
Do not be too harsh on yourself. You are where you are supposed to be; keep pushing towards your goals but always remember, you are valuable whether you achieve your set goals or not.
You will also need to shift your sense of worthiness from the outside to the inside. Let go of other people’s opinions about you. Cultivate worthiness from the inside. Remember, there is a lesson when things do not go as planned. You are not a scam just because something didn’t go as planned.
Dealing with imposter syndrome will require you to challenge the thought that you are not good enough. No, I do not mean that you are supposed to prove yourself or anything to anyone. I mean that you should take a bet on yourself, and soon, you will realize how overqualified you are.
If, for example, you are given a new role that seems challenging, take up that task. People do not win because they are unafraid; they do because they choose to do it afraid. Do not give up positions and roles because you doubt you are good enough. If someone believed in you to put you in that position, try to believe in yourself too.
Prepare and Learn a New Skill Outside Your Comfort Zone.
Although most times, when dealing with imposter syndrome, people always tend to over-prepare, sometimes fear can cripple you so much that you fail to prepare.
When given a task, prepare enough, commit some time to it, but don’t overdo it. Preparation gives you some confidence and allows you to be creative with the options of tackling a certain task.
I also learned how to create a blog, something that was outside my area of training and built on that skill. Seeing how much I have done with blogging and the people I have helped create their own blogs always give me a big shot in confidence.
Always remember that you are not alone. Imposter syndrome has lurked in women before us, but they still achieved what they did. When you are afraid and feel like a total scam, always remind yourself of powerful women like Maya Angelou, Viola Davis, Michelle Obama, and others who have felt not good enough but ended up winning and making an impact that will be felt through generations.
Remember, the goal is not to be unafraid but to do it afraid. If you have a question or a concern, let me know in the comments, and I will be more than happy to help.
Best of Luck!