What is Imposter Syndrome and how to overcome it

Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition in which a person doubts their abilities or achievements and feels like a fraud. Every person is susceptible to imposter syndrome. Many people doubt themselves and believe they are alone in thinking that way. But this is not true.

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Health Assured team

16 May 2023

What causes Imposter Syndrome?

Estimates suggest that 70% of people experience feelings of imposter syndrome at some point in their life – making it a common occurrence. Although imposter syndrome is not a mental illness in and of itself, individuals struggling with this condition often suffer from anxiety and depression.

A range of factors can trigger imposter syndrome. These include personality traits, societal pressures, and family background. One leading theory suggests that imposter syndrome is triggered by families who prioritise achievement and success. In this article, we’ll look at what imposter syndrome is, how it manifests itself and how to overcome it.

What are the characteristics of imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or social status. Being a psychological condition, Imposter Syndrome is invisible to the naked eye; making it difficult to notice when someone is suffering. Here we’ll provide some of the common characteristics associated with the condition:

  • Extreme lack of self-confidence
  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Negative self-talk
  • Dwelling on past events
  • Overachieving
  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • Burnout

Different types of imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can vary from person to person. According to Dr. Valerie Young, a globally recognised imposter syndrome expert, there are five types of imposters:

The perfectionist: strives to be their absolute best, believing anything other than perfect is a failure. They are never satisfied with their work and often fixate on small mistakes.

The superhero:  struggles with work addiction and often feels inadequate when comparing themselves to others. This feeling of inadequacy leads them to overwork themselves which results in burnout.

The natural genius: sets exceedingly high goals that they feel will be easily achievable. As a result, when they encounter a difficult task, they often feel ashamed and give up.

The soloist: prefers to work independently without support. They believe asking for help is a sign of weakness and won't seek assistance for fear of appearing incompetent.

The expert: is never satisfied with their knowledge. They strive for more knowledge, more experience, and more accolades. They often fear being exposed as incompetent.

Strategies to overome imposter syndrome

For many people, imposter syndrome can persist – causing negative feelings to linger for years. While there is no precise treatment or cure for imposter syndrome, there are ways to help yourself. Here we’ll provide some strategies to help you overcome imposter syndrome:

Be kind to yourself

Self-affirmation can be an effective technique to eliminate imposter syndrome. Self-affirmations are positive acts used to challenge negative thoughts. These acts can be verbal reminders like saying something positive to yourself each morning or physical reminders such as leaving a positive note on your desk at work. Research shows that self-affirmation can restore self-competence, helping you prevail over feelings of self-doubt. It is also beneficial for improving workplace performance and health.

Stop comparing yourself to others.

It has become common practice for individuals to compare their achievements to those of others. It has become even more prevalent in the current digital age - with many people contrasting their lives and careers to those curated online. Research suggests engaging in this social comparison can elicit negative emotions leading to self-doubt and low self-esteem. You don’t need to avoid social media, but you should be aware that the images you see are not an accurate depiction of everyday life. Instead, focus on your achievements - celebrating your success whenever you reach a milestone. 

Seek support

Dealing with imposter syndrome can be overwhelming. If you feel like the above methods are not working for you (and you feel ready to do so), you should consider talking to a mental health professional. Seeking help from a professional is often a step in the right direction.

Therapists can help you recognise where these negative feelings come from and help you implement strategies to get past them. They can also help you understand the commonality of conditions like imposter syndrome. Remember, 70% of people are affected by this condition; many of your colleagues likely feel the same way. Sometimes, it’s important to know that you’re not alone.

Health Assured is here to support you

Here at Health Assured, we know dealing with imposter syndrome can be difficult. By practising the above techniques, you can work to overcome these feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Reach out to us if you want to talk through any of the topics above. 

Support your employees with Imposter Syndrome

Our Employee Assistance Programme provides manager guidance on all types of wellbeing at work. We can help you create a safe, productive workspace that supports all employees.

We can also support employees with any problems they might be facing in their professional or professional lives with our 24-hour counselling helpline.

If you have any questions, call us on 0800 206 2532

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