6 Strategies to Help You Overcome Imposter Syndrome

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Do you ever feel like a fraud, despite evidence of your achievements and success? If so, you’re not alone. In 2020 a systematic review of 62 studies evaluated prevalence of imposter syndrome, showing rates as high as 56% to 82% in graduate students, college students, nurses, medical students, and other professions.

These numbers are shocking, but the good news is that it’s possible to overcome it. In this blog post, we’ll explore what imposter syndrome is, its symptoms, contributing factors, and its impact on mental health. We’ll also delve into the different types of imposter syndrome and share effective strategies for overcoming it. By the end of this post, you’ll have the tools you need to conquer self-doubt, embrace your accomplishments, and thrive in any environment.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome, also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome, is when individuals doubt their accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud, despite having clear evidence of their competence. It’s been gaining attention in recent years, particularly in higher education and among high achieving women. Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, from college and graduate students, to top executives.

People who experience imposter syndrome tend to think thoughts like, “I’m not smart enough,” I’m not talented enough,” “I don’t deserve this,” or “I’m a fake.” These thoughts can lead to doubting your own abilities, low self-esteem, anxiety, and even depression, making you feel even more overwhelmed and insecure.

Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome

Impostor syndrome can manifest through various symptoms, such as:

  • self-doubt

  • negative self-talk

  • undervaluing contributions

  • attributing success to external factors

  • procrastination

  • perfectionism

  • people pleasing

  • over-preparation

  • avoiding challenges

  • anxiety

  • guilt and shame

  • setting unrealistic expectations

  • fear of being “found out”

What is the Imposter Syndrome Cycle?

The imposter syndrome cycle refers to the recurring steps or phases people go through when experiencing Imposter Syndrome. Though not formally defined in scientific literature, this cycle is often described as follows:

  1. Task Assignment: You are given a task or a project, and you immediately feel anxiety or worry about your ability to complete it successfully.

  2. Preparation and Over-preparation: You either procrastinate out of fear of failure or you over-prepare and obsess over details to make sure nothing goes wrong. You may put in more effort than required to ensure that you meet or exceed expectations.

  3. Task Execution: You complete the task. If you’ve over-prepared, there’s a good chance that the outcome will be successful, reinforcing the belief that over-preparation (or stress, anxiety, sleepless nights, etc.) was necessary for success.

  4. Initial Relief: After successfully completing the task, you feel a brief sense of relief and accomplishment.

  5. Validation and Praise: Others validate your work, often with praise or other forms of recognition.

  6. Doubt and Discounting: Despite the positive feedback, you start to doubt your abilities and discount your efforts. You may think you’ve fooled everyone or attribute your success to external factors like luck, timing, or other people’s contributions.

  7. Fear of Future Exposures: You worry and experience anxiety about the next project or task, believing it will be the one where people finally realize you’re not as capable as they thought. This returns you to Step 1, and the cycle repeats.

This cycle can be emotionally draining and often leads to burnout, decreased life satisfaction, and a diminished sense of accomplishment. Even when you achieve success, you have a hard time being able to accept that as truth and continue to feel like a fraud.

Factors Contributing to Imposter Syndrome

There are several factors that contribute to impostor feelings, including:

  • Family upbringing

  • Childhood experiences

  • Personality traits

  • Social pressures

  • Existing mental health conditions

  • Perfectionism

  • New roles or responsibilities

  • Comparison

  • Lack of representation (being in a minority group)

  • Competitive environments

  • Work culture

  • Social dynamics

Understanding the contributing factors can be a crucial step in managing and overcoming impostor syndrome. Identifying the triggers and underlying causes can help you develop more effective coping strategies.

Imposter Syndrome and Mental Health

Imposter syndrome can exacerbate existing mental health issues, such as social anxiety disorder, anxiety, and depression, and create a cycle of self-doubt and negative thinking. For example, if you struggle with impostor syndrome you may become overly invested in the quality of your work and contributions, leading to rigid thinking and an unhealthy attachment to your self-worth.

When faced with failure or negative feedback, you experience heightened anxiety and stress, further reinforcing your internal beliefs and fears of being exposed as a fraud. This cycle can negatively affect your overall mental health, making it essential to address imposter syndrome and its root causes.

Types of Imposter Syndrome

There are several types of imposter syndrome, each with unique characteristics and challenges. The five types are: the perfectionist, the natural genius, the soloist, the expert, and the superhero.

The perfectionist type is characterized by setting extremely high standards for your and feeling like a failure if these standards are not met.

The natural genius type is associated with the belief that success should come naturally and easily, leading to feelings of shame or inadequacy when having to work hard for something. The soloist type of imposter syndrome involves feeling more like an imposter when you have to do everything on your own, without seeking help or support, resulting in feelings of inadequacy when unable to manage tasks independently.

The expert type is characterized by a strong urge to possess all the knowledge and experience before taking on a job, leading to feelings of incompetence if you feel you lack expertise.

The superhero type involves feeling like you must excel in every aspect of life, leading to guilt or embarrassment when unable to achieve perfection.

Identifying the specific type of imposter syndrome can help you better understand and address your imposter feelings.

Strategies for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Build a Support Network

Building a support network is a crucial step in overcoming imposter syndrome. A strong support network can provide valuable encouragement, advice, and validation, helping you to recognize and affirm your achievements. To build a support network, start by talking to people you trust, such as friends, family members, or colleagues, and be honest about your insecurities and imposter feelings.

In addition to personal connections, you can also seek out mentorship in an academic or professional environment or join support groups focused on imposter syndrome or related topics. Sharing your experiences with others who may have experienced similar feelings can help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation, while also providing much needed perspective and reality checks.

Challenge Negative Self-Talk

Taking on negative self-talk forms an integral part of the strategy to overcome imposter syndrome. Reframing negative thoughts into positive ones involves recognizing the negative thought, challenging its validity, and replacing it with a more positive and realistic thought. For example, if you catch yourself thinking, “I’m not good enough for this job,” challenge that thought by considering your accomplishments and skills, and replace it with a more positive thought, such as “I have the qualifications and experience to succeed in this role.”

Viewing failures as learning opportunities is another way to counter negative self-talk. Instead of seeing failure as a confirmation of your imposter feelings, try to see it as a chance to grow and develop. Embracing a growth mindset can help you become more resilient in the face of setbacks and better equipped to overcome imposter syndrome.

Celebrate Achievements

Celebrating achievements and recognizing accomplishments is crucial for stepping out of impostor syndrome. By taking the time to reflect on your successes and genuinely appreciate them, you can help internalize your accomplishments and combat imposter feelings. When you receive praise or compliments, practice accepting them graciously and genuinely, and responding with gratitude.

In addition to celebrating your own achievements, it’s also important to recognize and appreciate the accomplishments of others. This can help create a supportive and positive environment, fostering a sense of belonging and reducing imposter feelings for everyone involved.

Identify Strengths

Identifying your personal strengths and focusing on areas of expertise can help you gain confidence in your abilities, making it easier to combat imposter syndrome. To identify your strengths, consider seeking feedback from others, reflecting on your past successes, and taking time to appreciate your accomplishments.

You can also try using self-assessment tools or engaging in activities that highlight your strengths. By recognizing and capitalizing on your strengths, you can build confidence and challenge any irrational beliefs or self-doubt that may be fueling your imposter syndrome.

Focus on the Facts

Concentrating on concrete evidence of your achievements and positive feedback can aid in neutralizing imposter feelings and self-doubt. When imposter syndrome strikes, remind yourself of your achievements, the skills you possess, and the positive feedback you have received from others. This can help provide a more realistic perspective of your abilities and counter any irrational beliefs or self-doubt you may be experiencing.

Get Help From a Professional

Seeking help from a mental health professional can provide guidance and support in challenging imposter syndrome and breaking the cycle of self-doubt and negative thinking. Therapy options, such as individual psychotherapy, and group therapy, can help you address negative self-talk and unhelpful thinking patterns, leading to improved mental health and well-being.

Professionals experienced in treating imposter syndrome can offer a safe and supportive space to explore the root causes of your imposter feelings. Imposter syndrome therapy can help in developing coping mechanisms and building self compassion, self worth and self confidence. Finding a professional who aligns with your needs and has experience in treating imposter syndrome is vital.

That’s a Wrap

While imposter phenomenon is not an official diagnosis, it can affect anyone, regardless of background or achievements. By understanding its symptoms, and contributing factors, we can take steps to overcome it and learn to embrace our accomplishments.

If you’ve ever felt like you’re just winging it and worried someone might call you out, know you’re in good company! Most of us feel that way at times. Remember you’ve got the skills, the achievements, and now some handy strategies to tackle those impostor feelings. Always remember, everyone’s figuring things out as they go, and you’re way more competent than your self-doubt lets you believe. So, next time that little voice of doubt speaks up, remind yourself that you are not a fraud – you are more than capable of achieving success and deserve every bit of it.

If you struggle with imposter feelings, The Clance Impostor Syndrome Scale is a tool that can help in measuring impostor phenomenon.

That's So Well Therapist Arielle

It's me, Arielle!

Holistic Therapist, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and Yoga Instructor in Elk Grove, California.

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