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How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

  • 8 March 2019

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

Feeling Like a Fraud? How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Have you ever felt like a fraud in the workplace? Like at any moment, your boss or colleagues might walk over to your desk, tap you on the shoulder and tell you they’ve finally realised you’re not qualified for the job?

If so, you’re not alone. About 70 percent of people feel the same, grappling with a feeling named imposter syndrome, according to a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Psychology Today defines imposter syndrome as “a psychological term referring to a pattern of behaviour where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalised fear of being exposed as a fraud.” While it’s not an actual disorder, the term “imposter syndrome” was first coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.

Clance and Imes’s paper originally theorised that solely women were impacted by imposter syndrome, however it’s since been established that imposter syndrome is experienced by both genders. In fact, people from all parts of life are affected by imposter syndrome, whether they’re young or old, wealthy or middle class, new to their career or well-established.

There’s no single answer as to why people are subject to imposter syndrome. While some believe its stimulated by internal traits, like anxiety or neuroticism for example, external factors, like one’s workplace environment, have been shown to be a major contributing factor. Certain professional fields, like creative professions, medicine and technology as well as racial and ethnic minorities often play a major role in spurring feelings of imposter syndrome. This is why women in STEM are particularly prone to imposter syndrome; they are part of two groups with a great deal of stereotypes against competence.

If you’ve ever experienced imposter syndrome, you know it can be truly debilitating. You excuse your successes as luck or good timing, and dismiss compliments from others referring to their competence or intelligence. It can also inhibit your courage to pursue new opportunities, explore potential areas of interest, or put yourself out there in unfamiliar or uncomfortable situations. So how do you learn to cope with these feelings?

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

As Dr. Valerie Young, imposter syndrome expert and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women advises, “The only way to stop feeling like an imposter is to stop thinking like an imposter. You do this by becoming consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head and then step back and reframe that conversation the way a non-imposter would.”

A great way to overcome the symptoms of imposter syndrome is by dedicating time in your day to mental health. One of the many effects of imposter syndrome is overworking, as a way to compensate for a perceived deficit. However, working until burnout can be detrimental to both mental and physical health. Practice positive affirmations: replace any doubts or negativity with a positive statement until this becomes the default pathway in your brain. Keep your brain and body in peak condition with good quality sleep, nutrients, hydration, exercise and mindfulness. From a scientific perspective, activities such as venting out loud or writing in a journal have been shown to release survival emotions such as fear and shame.

Most people experience moments of doubt, and that’s normal. The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions. Learn how to embrace your fears and know that you’re not alone in these feelings. Imposter syndrome impacts many, even those that you might not expect.

About the author

Today on International Women's Day we're delighted to post this article by Amande Peterson. Amanda Peterson is a software engineer by day and contributor to her site, Enlightened Digital, by night. A lover of all things tech, Amanda enjoys writing about anything up and coming in technology and business. Her experiences until now led to her current passion project of getting girls interested in technology and tech-related jobs. Thank you Amanda