In our quest for happiness, we all work hard to be successful, right? But sometimes, scenarios arise where we need to pay the price of success. For some people, accolades come together with misery. Despite being very good at what they do, they feel like they are not good enough. Worse, they feel like they’re a fraud or an imposter. They might be suffering from Imposter Syndrome.
Also known as 'fraud syndrome' or 'imposter phenomenon', Imposter Syndrome is neither a disease nor a mental illness. Instead, it is an experience that occurs in an individual when they begin to doubt their abilities despite their achievements and tends to find it challenging to accept or see their accomplishments. 2020 research shows that up to 82% of people will experience this phenomenon at least once in their lives.
Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes first described this phenomenon in their research in the 1970s. They described it as a universal feeling of discomfort, second-guessing and mild anxiety, experienced mostly by women in the workplace. In their 1978 study, which focussed on high-achieving women, they found that “despite outstanding academic and professional accomplishments, women who experience the imposter phenomenon persist in believing that they are not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.”
While early research focused on high-achieving women, Imposter Syndrome can affect men and women equally at any age. Recent research has demonstrated that it can affect anyone regardless of job, social status, race or ethnicity. However, the risk is exceptionally high among ethnic minority groups and those who also show symptoms of anxiety and depression, such as low self-esteem.
This phenomenon occurs in different settings: new environment, academic settings, in the workplace, at home and family, social interactions, even in platonic and romantic relationships.
Dysfunctional family relationships, bad childhood experiences and negative childhood upbringing play a significant role in low self-esteem. Being brought up by parents with very high expectations, or on the other hand, having been constantly criticized by parents will result in a conflicted self-identity and negative beliefs about oneself. Hearing derogatory remarks from teachers and frequently being bullied as a child may also lead to depression and anxiety as an adult.
New environments often pose a challenge for any person. A new school, a new job, a recent promotion or a new relationship can trigger a feeling of fraudulence. A sense of inadequacy to the new role may overwhelm a person. Some may believe that they are undeserving of what they have.
Competition in the classroom or the race to climb the corporate ladder can often elicit stress or burnout. Comparison between classmates or colleagues becomes the breeding ground for limiting beliefs about one’s abilities and skills. On the other hand, overachieving puts stress on sustaining the status, thereby falling into the pit of making pretences.
Experiences of racial discrimination can be a traumatic and self-degrading experience.
All these may lead to Imposter Syndrome. No matter how high one’s possibilities for success is, the poor perception of his skills and the fear of being exposed as a fraud push him to downgrade his goals and stay on the low, keeping him from realizing his true potential.
In 1985, Clance designed the first scale to measure the characteristics of the Impostor Phenomenon. She called it the Clance Imposter Phenomenon (CIP) Scale. It has six dimensions. For a person to experience the syndrome, at least two of these have to be present.
In the book published in 2011, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of It, Dr Valerie Young defined the five types of imposters:
Did you identify with any of the stereotypes described above?
With as high as 82% occurrence among the population, any one of us may feel the snares of this syndrome creeping upon us. How do we deal with it?
All our feelings are valid. There are no right or wrong ones. So whether you are in a happy or gloomy situation, stay in tune with your heart. Be aware of how something makes you feel and try to understand why.
Sometimes, though, distortions arise when our thoughts literally misrepresent the facts of what actually occurred. This is what probably happens in the Imposter Phenomenon. First, it brings pain, frustrations and anger to our hearts. Then, it continues to fill a person with feelings of inadequacy, doubt and worry. We are finding out why it activates our emotional reasoning. It turns our emotions into facts so we can sort through them and keep them in check.
I can never stress positivity enough! A dose of positive thoughts goes a long, long way. While sorting through your thoughts and feelings, try to stay with the positives and veer away from all the negatives. Challenge them, if you must. Focus on your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Hold on to your empowering beliefs instead of those that limit you. Ask yourself empowering questions to get empowering answers! You can also write and declare new ones whenever you need them.
Keeping positive thoughts help keep our inner dialogue positive as well. For example, when we declare and believe that we are appreciated and valued, our internal dialogue becomes this warm and loving tone inside our heads that guides and encourages us to work for our dreams.
Reach out and talk to the people you trust. You might be surprised that you are not alone in this struggle. Imposter Syndrome strikes even the famous and successful people we look up to. Maya Angelou, Tom Hanks and Michelle Obama are some of those who reportedly experienced this phenomenon.
Getting an outside perspective might help you shake off your irrational beliefs and bring you back to reality. Constructive feedback from your friends, family and relatives might be the inspiration that you need.
Our actions and decisions shape life. Remember that hard work always pays off. Whether it is successful or not, owning up to your mistakes is the same as owning up to your successes! So go ahead and take that credit. You deserve it!
If you feel that something or the lack of it holds you back, decide to upgrade yourself! Build your skills, increase your abilities and break your thoughts of incompetence! Aim for life-long learning and continue to hone your talents. It will be another thing to celebrate when you finish :)
Perfectionism is a common denominator among people with Imposter Syndrome. Break free from it by being content. The great philosopher, Lao Tzu, said that “Perfection is the willingness to be imperfect.” So pursue contentment instead of perfection.
Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and mindfulness practices may help to overcome perfectionist habits. Set challenging but realistic and achievable goals. Adopt a growth mindset and remember that failures and mistakes are part of life. Consider them as a learning experience. They’re our greatest teachers.
The list of benefits is endless when you practice gratitude! It improves health (whether physical or mental), emotions, relationships, and general outlook. Turn your fears into feelings of gratitude. Be thankful for the experience that challenged you, as it made you a better person.
Be grateful for your wins as well as your losses. They’re part of the learning experience that prepares you for the next challenge. Appreciate all the help that you can get and thank them for being there for you.
If the phenomenon freezes you for too long, and your anxiety is growing, or depression burrows deeper within you, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
If you feel your restlessness and unhelpful thoughts, emotions and habits are deeply rooted within you, please enjoy a consultation from Mind Motivation Coaching on Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT).
RTT Therapy incorporates Neurolinguistic Programming, Psychotherapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and Hypnotherapy to deliver fast results. Through hypnosis, RTT can access the mind's subconscious to discover and change or reprogram certain beliefs acquired through the years that stop one's growth and peace of mind.
RTT can be applied in different aspects of one's life like self-confidence, healing from past trauma, quitting addictions, stopping unhealthy behaviours, and counteracting stress, low self-esteem, and lack of confidence.
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President of The Canfield Training Group