Is Imposter Syndrome real?

As a leader in a school, I often asked myself whether my success was due to luck. I frequently questioned whether I was good enough to do my job and I was afraid somehow, that I may be found out as a fraud. Have you ever experienced similar thoughts? Well, this phenomenon, originally coined Imposter Phenomenon (IP) by Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, is certainly real and much research has been conducted over recent times. The good news is that while this is a real phenomenon, there are strategies that you can implement to overcome Imposter Syndrome.

What are the characteristics of Imposter Syndrome (IS)?

While there are a number of characteristics of IS, here are just a few:

  • while you experience fear of failure, you compensate with over-preparation to ensure you do not fail
  • you discount praise and deny your competence
  • your expectations of yourself are exceptionally high and you are very self-critical
  • you make unreasonably low assessments of your performance despite you being a high achiever
  • you attribute your success to external factors such as luck and help from others but not to your skills, intelligence and abilities

Interestingly, the consequences of experiencing Imposter Syndrome may manifest in anxiety, feelings of inadequacy and an inability to enjoy personal success – all resulting in possible distress or depression.

What can you do if you have these feelings described as Imposter Syndrome?

  • Recognition: being aware of these feelings as they emerge is the first step to change. It’s important to track your thoughts and know what they are and when they occur.
  • Change your thinking: while it can be difficult to stop telling yourself that you don’t deserve success, reminding yourself that it’s normal not to know everything, is sure to alleviate negative feelings.
  • Share your feelings: talking to others can certainly help to get your feelings into context and with an outside perspective, this may assist you to rid yourself of irrational beliefs. Also, sharing your feelings with others who feel like imposters may encourage them to talk about their own experiences.
  • Reframe failure as a learning opportunity: a critical lesson is to actually find out the lesson so that you can use it constructively in the future.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others: if you compare yourself to others, you will find fault in yourself, which may back up that mindset that you are not good enough. Everyone is different, with unique abilities. What new perspective can you offer that others may not have considered?
  • Be kind to yourself: you are entitled to occasionally make mistakes and forgive yourself. Reward yourself for getting the big things rights.
  • Seek support: know that it is completely acceptable to seek assistance and you do not have to do everything alone.

While many people experience Imposter Syndrome, overcoming it is a matter of creating your own strategies which will support you to not feel like an imposter. It’s important to be kind to yourself and when you get things right, reward yourself. Maintaining focus and keeping your eye on the outcome will assist with positive thoughts. Continue to remind yourself of your achievements and avoid comparing yourself to others. Question your negative thoughts and talk to a trustworthy person about your experiences. You are not alone and there are people who can support you.