Overcoming The “Imposter Syndrome”
1. Recognize imposter feelings when they surface.
As I said tonight in the service, awareness is the first step to change, but first you must identify the problem. Imposter syndrome can be defined as feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt, and often feel like intellectual frauds. They are unable to internalize their accomplishments, regardless of how successful they actually are in their field. High achieving/successful people often suffer, so “IS” doesn’t necessarily equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism (especially in women and among academics).
2. Rewrite your mental programs.
This theme keeps coming up in a lot of my teaching lately, but I really do believe that the mind can be re-programmed. So, instead of telling yourself they are going to “find you out” or that you don’t deserve success, remind yourself that it’s normal not to know everything, and that you will find out more as you progress. Ask yourself where the feelings came from in the first place. Some researchers believe it has its roots in the labels parents attach to particular members of the family. For example, one child might be designated the ‘smart’ one and the other the ‘sensitive’ one. Another theory is that parents can program the child with messages of superiority, so that the child is so fully supported that the parents and child believe that he/she is superior or perfect. Both scenarios are destructive and require re-programming.
3. Rely on the power of honest communication.
As much as I believe in talking up the positive aspects of your life, I do think that it’s healthy to openly talk about your feelings, when and where appropriate. There may be others who feel like imposters, too, and it’s better to have an open dialogue rather than harbor negative thoughts alone. There can be a huge amount of pressure not to fail in order to avoid being “found out”, and open dialogue can alleviate that pressure. It can also help you deal with the fact that success brings the added pressure of responsibility and visibility, which can also lead to an inability to enjoy promotion.
4. Remember to always consider the context.
Context is such an important word. Most people will experience moments when they don’t feel 100% confident. At times you may feel that you’re in over your head, and self-doubt can be a normal reaction to that. If you catch yourself thinking that you are useless or unworthy, reframe it: “the fact that I feel useless right now does not mean that I really am, and I am worthy of my success, even if I don’t feel that way at the moment.” Imposters generally believe they do not deserve success or accolades, and feel that somehow others have been deceived into thinking otherwise. This goes hand in hand with a fear of being “found out”, or “unmasked”. They believe they give the impression that they are more competent than they are, and have deep feelings that they lack knowledge or expertise. Often they believe they don’t deserve a position or a promotion and are anxious that “somebody made a mistake”. To avoid feeling this way you must keep it all in perspective.
5. Reframe failure as a learning opportunity.
At the time of this writing I currently have something about this on my entrepreneurs blog (A Word For Winners). Discover the lessons that need to be learned and use them constructively in the future. The tendency to attribute success to luck or to other external reasons (and not their abilities) is a clear indicator of imposter syndrome. You may typically say or think, “I just got lucky” or “it was a fluke”, which often masks the fear that you will not be able to succeed the next time. But if you learn from perceived failure, then you have, indeed, actually succeeded!
6. Respect yourself enough to give yourself a break!
Remember that you are entitled to make small mistakes occasionally and forgive yourself…and don’t forget to reward yourself for getting the big things right! The tendency to downplay success and discount it is marked in those with imposter syndrome. Don’t attribute your success to it being an easy task, don’t be so hard on yourself when you’re not perfect, and learn how to accept a compliment. It’s OK to be human.
7. Readily seek support.
Everyone needs help, so recognize that you can seek assistance and that you don’t have to do everything alone (because no one succeeds alone!). People want to help you, so don’t perceive their offering it to you as an indictment to your ability. Asking for help when you need it will give you a good reality check, and will also enable you to talk things through, which can ultimately create synergy.