Throughout my career, I have had occasions where I have doubted my own abilities and felt that despite the feedback and recognition being provided that I didn’t deserve the promotion, the praise, or the award and that at some point I would be caught out and people would realise that I wasn’t good enough.
I have been lucky that through these times I had people around me who recognised the signs and supported me to reduce those feelings and enable me to recognise my own achievements and value when those feelings of self-doubt, not being good enough, feeling a fraud or general anxiety kicked in.
I still have days when I doubt myself, especially when I take on new challenges like writing my own column but have learned to focus on what I have achieved and look at the facts not just what’s going on internally for me.
So, this month I thought I would focus on imposter syndrome, looking at what it is, how it affects individuals, and what are the signs you may be struggling with it before looking at you can help yourself overcome it.
What is it?
This is a condition that affects a large number of the population and can affect you in every part of your life, be it work or personal. It stems from feelings of inadequacy, not being good enough, feeling like a fraud, and that you don’t deserve to be where you are or have what you have. It causes feelings of anxiety that at any point you will be found out and that in turn will cause you to lose something that is important to you. That may be your job, your relationship, your standing, the way people see you, or more importantly the way you want people to see you.
The first time I remember suffering from imposter syndrome myself was after I returned to work from maternity leave and for the first time, in my career, I found myself feeling anxious about my abilities and overwhelmed by the work. I felt that my colleagues and peers didn’t think I was capable of doing my role anymore and I needed to prove to them as well as myself that I could cope and do a great job. My feelings were being exacerbated by the fact that whilst I had been away a member of my team had been given the opportunity to step up and cover for me as a development opportunity and all the feedback I was getting was that he had done a great job, but because of how I felt this just confirmed in my mind that the team didn’t think I was up to the role.
Added to this, initially, people continued to go to him with any questions or queries they had which was quite natural as
1. It was what they had got used to in my absence
2. He had been involved in meetings and projects that I hadn’t as I wasn’t there so he had answers on things that I wouldn’t know about.
3. They were also trying to be supportive and help me in transitioning back into work smoothly
At the time I just saw it as evidence that others felt I wasn’t up to the role and it backed up my negative thoughts and beliefs. This just added to my feelings of anxiety and overwhelm and increased the level of self-doubt I had.
I was lucky that I had a colleague who had been through a similar experience when she came back from maternity leave and she recognised what was happening and that I was struggling and she reached out and got me to open up and share how I was feeling. She helped me focus on the facts and reframe my thoughts which in turn helped me recognise what was happening and overtime helped me see the reality about my abilities and accept it.
At one point it was widely thought that imposter syndrome predominantly affected women, which may well have been true at one point, however, recent research has shown that this is not the case and Imposter syndrome can affect anyone in many different situations.
Common causes of imposter syndrome
Whilst there are many reasons why people suffer from imposter syndrome, I have listed below some of the most common reasons/situations where throughout my years of coaching and counseling most often come up and have been at the root of my client's personal challenges with imposter syndrome.
1. Changes in work roles – Promotion, change of company.
-Going from a position where you know what you are doing and knowing the answers to one where you have to learn new processes, manage individuals you used to work alongside.
2. Returning to work after a protracted absence - this could be caused by illness, unemployment, redundancy, maternity/paternity leave.
3. Social anxiety – Feelings of being inadequate or not being able to meet others’ expectations.
4. Perfectionist tendencies – Unrealistic target setting for yourself, generally over and above anything you would expect from others. Not recognising your achievements and focusing on minor mistakes/areas to improve.
5. Being a high achiever/having high achieving parents/family – Not recognising your achievements and measuring yourself against others' perceived expectations.
6. Being a mum – Feelings that you have to be better than anyone else and go further than others just to prove you as good as others. This may be in the form of doing additional work, doing longer hours, putting work before family to prove yourself.
How it affects you and the signs to look for in others.
Whilst the causes for imposter syndrome may vary the effects and signs to look out for are similar in terms of how they affect people.
Some of the most common signs include
a. Feelings of not being good enough and doubting your own abilities to deal with not only new situations but ones you have experienced previously.
b. Wanting everything to be absolutely perfect and treating minor issues as if they are catastrophic.
c. Worrying about negative feedback and consequences when there is no reason to.
d. Fear of others finding them out
e. Not acknowledging your own achievements and successes.
f. Minimising your achievements and inputs when you are given credit
g. Focusing on your weaknesses and not acknowledging your strengths. It’s all about what you can’t do as opposed to what you can do.
The impacts it can have include:
· Low self-esteem
· Inability to function
· Withdrawal – trying to go unnoticed
Are you suffering from Imposter Syndrome?
Ask yourself the following questions and if you answer yes to any then you may be suffering from imposter syndrome
- Do you believe that no matter what you achieve it’s/you are not good enough and you need to improve/change?
- Do you focus on minor mistakes?
- Do you ignore compliments and praise and focus on what you need to change to improve?
- Do you expect more from yourself than others?
- Do you criticise yourself for things that you wouldn’t criticise others for?
- When you do achieve something question whether you can do it again?
- Do you believe that your achievements are down to luck?
- Do you feel you need to work harder/do more than others just to be equal?
- You hope to receive recognition and praise but when you do you don’t believe you deserve it?
- Do you recognise others' achievements but dismiss your own?
What can you do to help you overcome your imposter syndrome?
1. Acknowledge your feelings about the situation and talk to friends, family, colleagues to help you gain a sense of perspective and recognise that you have support around you.
2. Understand what you are telling yourself, is your self-talk all negative. Focus on the facts of the situation and the evidence that supports it. Often the message we give to ourselves isn’t based on facts and once we establish the reality it demonstrates that our thoughts are misleading us.
3. Be clear on what others' expectations are in the situation and match to your own. Are you expecting more of yourself than others do? What are the gaps and write down what areas you feel you need to improve in. Recognise the areas where you are overachieving and take time to acknowledge them.
4. Create SMART (see below) targets for yourself in the areas you want to improve in.
-Relevant and realistic
Ask friends, family, colleagues or managers to review with you and confirm that they meet the criteria.
5. Create an achievement log – this can be in a notebook or just notes on your phone or computer. List three things you have achieved each day. These should be around the area of your life where you are suffering from imposter syndrome. The size of the achievement isn’t relevant, this is to start you focusing on the positives and things you are achieving.
6. Don’t try to do everything at once as this will only add to your feelings of overwhelm.
All of the above actions will help you manage your imposter syndrome and over time help you overcome the feelings that you are having and reduce/get rid of the anxiety and overwhelm you may have been feeling but the key thing is that you need to address is the way you think.
The only difference between someone with Imposter syndrome and someone without it is the way that they think, it's about the script that you are running in your head, the way you react to feedback, and the way you view your achievements.
Fear and excitement produce exactly the same reaction in the body as each other but have a different emotional impact on us. By changing what we are telling ourselves in our self-talk we can change our emotional responses.
If we can reframe our fear and treat it as excitement, we can alter the way we react and behave in many situations.
If for instance, we feel anxiety and fear when having to do a presentation if on our way to do it we reframe our emotion and tell ourselves we feel excited repeatedly our body will start to accept that’s what the feeling is. Better known as fake it until you make it.
How we talk to ourselves matters when we have a negative thought acknowledge it and think about how you can reframe it to be neutral or an opportunity.
If you tell yourself that “I don’t know the answers but I should” - then change that to “That’s ok, nobody has all the answers, just because I don’t know the answer right now doesn’t mean I can’t find out”
If you say” I should know/be able to do that” – change it to “the first time/few times anyone does something they have to ask for help/support/training".
If you say “I’m not good enough” – change it to “What is good enough, how is that being defined and what do I need to do to achieve that".
By reframing how you think it can make the difference between living an imposter life or just having an Imposter moment.
Daniel Boone when asked whether he had ever been lost in the wilderness replied “I have never been lost but I will admit to being confused for several weeks”
If you feel that the above content resonates with you and would like to learn more, then please contact me using the below details and we can discuss how I can help and support you.