Always Feel an Imposter?

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Do you tend to downplay your achievements and consider them to be achieved out of sheer luck? Constantly convinced that you will be found out as a fraud?

Chances are you are experiencing imposter syndrome, and you’re not alone.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, 82 % of us have felt like an imposter at some point in our lives.

"Impostor syndrome" is used to describe the constant inability to recognise your accomplishments, doubting whether they were achieved as a result of your own efforts and skills.

This is accompanied by the fear of not being as competent as others perceive you to be, leading you to feel like an imposter.

Impostor syndrome tends to arise during moments of success, such as starting a new job, or receiving a promotion. However it’s not always career-related. It can also come to those who may have taken on extra responsibilities in their personal lives, such as becoming a first-time parent, or getting into a new relationship.

How Do I Know if I Have Imposter Syndrome?

Although imposter syndrome is not recognised an official diagnosis, some of the common signs include:

  • difficulty accepting your success, competency and skills
  • inability to believe you’ve earned your accomplishments and regarding it as luck or other external factors
  • feeling unworthy of your success, of praise, or of positive feedback
  • downplaying your capabilities
  • over-exaggerating your mistakes or shortcomings
  • fearing you’ll be exposed as a ‘fraud’
  • fear of failure and of not being able live up to your own and other’s expectations.

Why it matters

The feelings and beliefs bought on by always feeling a fake can lead to:

  • sabotaging your own success
  • taking on too much work to prove your worth
  • burnout
  • relationship problems triggered by low self-esteem
  • a lack of motivation and ambition
  • job dissatisfaction.

What causes it?

While there is no specific cause, there are several underlying factors that contribute to the general experience of imposter syndrome.

1. Family dynamics.

Were your parents highly critical of you? Did you not receive much praise or encouragements as a child?

According to research, the way we deal with our success and failure could be influenced from our childhood and family dynamics. This is because most of our core beliefs were formed when we are children, shaping how we see ourselves.

For example, if your achievements often went unacknowledged during your childhood, you may have felt dismissed. This could lead you to assume that your accomplishments are unimportant.

2. Perfectionism.

Perfectionists often set impossibly high expectations for themselves and tend to feel like a failure, regardless of their accomplishments or how hard they worked. This may result in an extra level of self-doubt and procrastination.

3. Social anxiety.

Mental health conditions associated with low self-confidence and self-esteem, such as social anxiety, has been shown to possibly increase your risk of feeling like a fraud.

Those who struggle with social anxiety tend to experience a level of self-doubt and worry about how they’re being perceived by others. This can fuel impostor cycle, reinforcing the belief that you do not belong.

What Can I Do to Feel Worth It?

1. Acknowledge your feelings.

Whenever faced with uncomfortable emotions, it’s always worth taking the time to acknowledge how we feel without any judgement or shame. This makes it easier to identify why you feel the way you do, allowing you to address it. It also helps you to rationalise your thoughts, easing those nagging moments of self-doubt.

So, the next time you start feeling like an imposter, pause and observe how you really feel.

2. Talk to others.

While it’s not easy talking about our inner fears, sharing how you’re feeling can reduce the intensity of it. Talking to others can not only make us feel less alone, but it can also help us make sense of how we’re feeling. Whether it’s to a friend or someone you trust, it’s important to feel supported.

3. Reaffirm your worth.

Sometimes, we need a gentle reminder of our own brilliance. Reaffirming your worth is a great way to challenge your inner critic.

Rather than worrying about the expectations of others, bring your awareness back to what you have already accomplished. Start small, and focus on your strengths and achievements.

Once you’ve acknowledged those, you can begin practising giving yourself praise for your past and current efforts.

Can therapy help?

Working with a talk therapist can allow you to explore the roots of how you’re feeling in a safe, non-judgmental environment.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), for example, can be a great place to start. It helps you to recognise any negative core beliefs that are upholding your imposter syndrome, providing you with the best tools to move forward.

Ready to stop feeling like a fake and start recognising your own brilliance? Use our easy booking tool now to find your perfect therapist and get started.

Claudia Cole is a London-based writer and journalist. She is passionate about sustainable living, mental health, and wellbeing.

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