February 23, 2023

Imposter syndrome - everything you need to know

Imposter Syndrome is the term that we hear more often around us but do not necessarily understand. While some think they have never encountered it, others struggle with it daily. The truth is we are all imposters to some extent. The only difference is someone mastered the skill of overcoming the syndrome while others are just starting their journey of dealing with it.

The stats are worrying – women are more exposed to imposter syndrome than men. Based on the KPMG's Advancing the Future of Women in Business Summit Report, 85% of women have not spoken to someone at work about their struggles for fear of being seen as weak. 75% of female executives who participated in the survey reported experiencing imposter syndrome. Working mothers make up 50% of imposter syndrome sufferers who feel guilty when focusing on their personal life than their careers.

To better address the imposter syndrome, we need to understand what it is, who can suffer from it, and how to overcome it. 

Definition of imposter syndrome 

Before we get into ways to overcome imposter syndrome, we need to understand what it is, where it comes from, who suffers from it the most, and the most obvious signs to recognize it. 

What is imposter syndrome

Although imposter syndrome might have been with us for many centuries, the term originated just over 40 years ago, in 1978. Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes wrote a paper, "The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention," where they theorized that women were uniquely affected by impostor syndrome. However, the syndrome is not limited to women – men can experience the feeling similarly. 

According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, imposter syndrome is "a psychological condition that is characterized by persistent doubt concerning one's abilities or accomplishments accompanied by the fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of one's ongoing success." In other words, imposter syndrome is a feeling of self-doubt, a belief that you are a fraud without the required competence. The person who suffers from it is usually successful and performs the job well; however, the feeling and belief in their head say otherwise. 

Who suffers from imposter syndrome 

Imposter syndrome is a feeling that can affect anyone, no matter their gender, social status, or job position. The latest report from The Hub Spot revealed that 80% of men feel like an imposter, while 90% of women suffer from the same. Despite the widespread syndrome, only 25% are aware of this. In addition, imposter syndrome can occur in a variety of environments: in the workplace, academic setting, and even in relationships.

According to Valerie Young, the author of "The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women," there are five types of people who experience imposter syndrome. 

  • Perfectionists set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they're going to feel like failures;

  • Experts need to know every piece of information before starting 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 and won't ask questions not to seem stupid;

  • Natural geniuses think they aren't good enough if they work hard to accomplish something. They are used to skills coming quickly, and when they have to put in the effort, their brain tells them that's proof they're an imposter; 

  • Soloists feel 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;

  • Superwomen or Supermen push themselves to work harder than those around them to prove they're not imposters. They need to succeed in all aspects of life and may feel stressed when they are not accomplishing something.

How to recognize the imposter syndrome

There are many ways to recognize imposter syndrome, including the imposter syndrome quiz you can take. Generally, there are four main symptoms that a person with imposter syndrome can identify in themselves.

The first symptom is pressure not to fail, never. A person affected by imposter syndrome feels intense pressure not to fail or disappoint in each and every aspect of their life. The feeling originates from the fear of being exposed as a fake. People usually think that if they don't deliver, others will recognize fraud in them.

The second symptom attributes success to luck. A person believes they don't have what it takes and all successful work is a sign of luck, not their skills and experience.

The third symptom, a basis for all other symptoms, is feeling like a fraud. A person sincerely believes they don't deserve to be where they are. They are convinced they don't have the necessary skills and abilities, and they remain in their place because others have not yet revealed their incompetence. They are sure they will be uncovered and are intensely stressed by this idea.

The last and fourth symptom is downplaying achievements. A person believes that success might not seem like such a big deal in the end. They don't accept the praise from others and think what they did was not enough, not big enough, or achieved only by luck.

Overcoming imposter syndrome 

Now that we know what imposter syndrome is, who suffers from it, and what its signs are, we can think of ways to overcome it. Thankfully, there are many tips that can be implemented today, including many books and workshops to learn from. 

How to comfort someone with imposter syndrome 

Whether you are a leader, team manager, or a good friend – we all need to learn how to comfort someone with imposter syndrome. As described above, imposter syndrome is a feeling, and it's not that easy to stop the feeling from happening. However, it's possible to reduce its volume and turn it upside down. 

It's important to acknowledge the feeling and accept that it's OK to feel like that. The stats come in handy – if 80% of people out there feel like imposters, the person is totally not alone and shouldn't deal with it on their own. What also helps is to realize that that person would never say such things to someone else. When we talk, we select the best words to give constructive feedback; however, when talking to ourselves, we don't use any filters and are hardest on ourselves. Knowing how to be kind to yourself and become your best friend can help a million and create a healthy base for further improvements. 

How to deal with imposter syndrome by yourself 

Before getting any help, you or someone else would probably want to try to tackle it independently. Depending on the level of imposter syndrome, the tips below might or might not be helpful, but it won't hurt to try them. Don't forget, though, that you shouldn't deal with imposter syndrome all by yourself, and it's totally fine to ask for help or even discuss it with a friend or a manager.

Step #1: Stop a negative self-talk 

The hardest step out there is to stop talking to yourself negatively. But it's the most crucial step to follow. Every time you think of yourself as a failure or fraud - say "STOP" in your head or get a rubber band on your wrist and lightly snap it. Talk to yourself as a best friend, choosing kind words and appreciating everything you have done so far. Don't compare yourself to others – remember that all of us are special, working on weaknesses and focusing on strengths.

Step #2: Capture your accomplishments

Write down five goals and achievements you have achieved in the last month or a year. Don't take only significant life-changing accomplishments but think of everything that brought you joy once you did it. Use a diary, post-it notes, or a sheet of paper. Make sure to display the list somewhere visible to see what you've achieved and be proud of yourself!

Step #3: Own your skills and talents

To ensure you get away from feeling like an imposter, stop attributing your successes to luck. Our professional skills, abilities, and competencies don't just sit there and wait for a chance. If something weren't right – success wouldn't happen, so make sure you appreciate the knowledge and level of professionalism you hold.

Step #4: Appreciate failure

Failure doesn't mean imposter. We must understand that failure is a way to move forward and a natural part of evolution – without mistakes, we would never learn how to walk or speak. Remember to treat yourself kindly when you fail and be human to yourself. Even experts fail, and it's all part of the process. 

Step #5: Dream of success

The last step tightly connects with the first step – changing the negative mind into a positive one. Instead of thinking how everything will go wrong – think how everything will go great! Visualize the ideal scenario, smile, and be kind. Think of as many details as possible so your brain can start believing it has already happened. And before you know it, you have won!

How to deal with imposter syndrome with help from others  

Remember that it's OK to ask for help. There are many professionals out there who experienced imposter syndrome themselves and are now ready to help others. There are mentors who can help you get rid of feeling like an imposter in your career. There are coaches that can help you dig deeper and find the root cause of that feeling to get rid of it once and for all. 

However, personal and deep work is highly recommended to get the best result. For that, Femme Palette is organizing an Imposter Syndrome course where you can learn how to manage your imposter syndrome. The course includes a 4-hour workshop led by organizational psychologist Olga Zimmermann and 2 hours for 1:1 discussion with a personal coach.

The course will help to understand what modern psychology knows about imposter syndrome. It will help to connect to your personal imposter syndrome story, reflect on it, and gain tools that will help you embrace this story and overcome imposter syndrome step-by-step. Don't hesitate to join the course and fight your imposter. 

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