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Recognizing And Overcoming Imposter Syndrome




“I’m a fraud.” “I don’t deserve to be here.” ”I didn’t earn this, I just got lucky.” “Soon everyone is going to discover that I don’t belong here.” If you have ever had thoughts like this, you may have experienced imposter syndrome – and you are not alone: it is estimated that over 70% of people have had this experience at some point in their lives, and 25-30 percent of high achievers suffer from it frequently.


Understanding Imposter Syndrome


While it is not a psychological diagnosis, “imposter syndrome” refers to the experience of feeling like a fraud despite any evidence of one’s accomplishments. It is also the fear that others will discover “the truth” about their unworthiness. Someone who experiences imposter syndrome may find themselves in a cycle of self-doubt and overfunction to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. They usually downplay or dismiss one’s accomplishments or positive feedback from others. Damage to one’s personal and professional life can include anxiety, depression, missed opportunities, unfulfilled ambitions, overwork, and relationship struggles.


Imposter Syndrome’s Origin


The origins of imposter syndrome in individuals may differ, but roots can often be traced back to the family of origin. Many factors may contribute to imposter syndrome, from growing up in a family where achievement is valued above all else or where there is high conflict and low support. At times, parents are highly controlling or overprotective, or they frequently flip between lavishing praise and piling on criticism. Also, there could be an extremely high-achieving “shining star” sibling that others struggle to live up to. All of the above are associated with the development of imposter syndrome.


The personality trait of perfectionism can also make one more susceptible to imposter syndrome, as can social anxiety. Systemic issues such as being different from the majority of those who surround you in your workplace or social group – such as by race or gender – can also fuel feelings of being a fraud. When imposter syndrome was first studied, the subjects were women in leadership positions, who at the time were few in number and therefore “different” from their work peers.


Overcoming Imposter Syndrome


The first step toward overcoming imposter syndrome is examining where in your past experiences or belief system it might have originated. Some questions to ask yourself might include:

  • Growing up, did you feel loved and valued?

  • What do you believe makes you loveable and worthy as a person?

  • Do you think you need to do everything perfectly or be the best at something to earn others’ approval?


Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome


Naming and confronting the deeply ingrained beliefs that have led to imposter syndrome begins to take away their power. You can then question and counter them with evidence that can help form a healthier, more realistic, and more accepting concept of self. Other strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome are:


  • Give yourself credit for your accomplishments: It may feel unnatural at first because you are accustomed to chalking up your successes to luck or other external factors. However, you should practice praising yourself through self-talk or journaling. Focus not just on the result but also the effort itself.

  • Set limits and boundaries to fight perfectionism: If you overwork as a way to compensate for feelings of incompetence or a drive for perfection, set limits to how much time you devote to a project or task, and set realistic goals. Find a way to let go of the obsession with perfecting every detail. This will help break the loop of overwork and anxiety in which those with imposter syndrome often find themselves stuck.

  • Find your definition of success: Explore one that is based on your values rather than approval or validation from others.

  • Avoid comparisons: Frequently comparing yourself to others in social or professional situations can fuel feelings of inadequacy. Instead, try to view people as different, complex individuals rather than compare their accomplishments or qualities to your own. This may mean limiting your social media usage as well. Social media breeds comparisons between one’s reality and other people’s highly curated image that they put forth in the world – a recipe for feelings of inferiority in anyone, and all the more so in those who suffer from imposter syndrome.

Talking to someone you trust can help you view yourself and your skills and accomplishments more clearly. Figure out where your feelings and beliefs may have originated, and challenge the inaccurate, damaging feelings and behaviors that come with imposter syndrome. At The Hellenic Therapy Center, 567 Park Avenue, Scotch Plains, NJ we have a team of licensed professionals with day, evening, and weekend hours available.  Please visit us at www.hellenictherapy.com, FaceBook, or Instagram.  Call us at 908-322-0112 for further information.


Sources


Langford, J, & Clance PR. (1993). The imposter phenomenon: Recent research findings regarding dynamics, personality and family patterns and their implications for treatment. Psychother Theory Res Pract Train. 30(3):495-501. doi:10.1037/0033-3204.30.3.495

Li, S, Hughes, JL, & Myat, Thu S. (2014) The links between parenting styles and imposter phenomenon. Psi Chi J. 19(2):50-57. doi:10.24839/2164-8204.JN19.2.50.

Weir K. (2013). Feel like a fraud? American Psychological Association.

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