You’ve got an awesome job, you’re always a shoo-in for promotions and your career is going great. But you’ve an unshakeable feeling you’re a fraud. Crippled with self-doubt, you often find yourself wondering how on earth you got where you did. Why is this?
It could be a classic case of imposter syndrome. A very real psychological experience that fuels feelings of inadequacy. While it’s not acknowledged as a mental disorder on the official DSM-5 classification, according to a 2020 study, imposter syndrome can affect up to as many as 82 per cent of people.
That’s an awful lot of self-doubt in the workplace.
From what causes imposter syndrome to how to spot its tell-tale signs, let’s explore everything there is to know about imposter syndrome, and how you can help yourself or your employees overcome it.
What is imposter syndrome?
Quite simply, imposter syndrome is a deep-rooted feeling that you are not really as talented or capable as your co-workers and employers believe you to be, and that you will eventually be found out as a fraud.
The term ‘imposter syndrome’ was first coined in 1978 by Pauline Clance, PhD, a clinician at Oberlin College. In an article titled, The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention, Clance acknowledged and defined imposter syndrome as an “individual experience of self-perceived intellectual phoniness.”
Rather ironically, it is largely high achievers that suffer from imposter syndrome. One study of incoming medical students at Thomas Jefferson University showed that 87 per cent felt like ‘imposters’ during their first year.
How can I tell if I have imposter syndrome?
Do you worry that you’re undeserving of the accolades or promotions you get at work? If you’re concerned you may suffer from imposter syndrome, here are some signs:
You feel like you got where you are in your career because of luck, fluke or serendipitous opportunities.
You’re a perfectionist who never thinks your performance is good enough.
You feel like you’re always on the verge of being ‘found out’.
No matter how many accomplishments you make, you cannot acknowledge your own expertise and success, instead downplaying your talents.
You actively try to avoid promotions in fear that you won’t be able to do any better.
What causes imposter syndrome?
No single cause is attributed to imposter syndrome. It does not discriminate across gender, race or class. It’s believed multiple factors like personality traits and family upbringings can play a role, and imposter syndrome can often coexist with other mental disorders like depression or anxiety.
One study showed that children that grew up with overbearing or controlling parents were more likely to suffer from imposter syndrome, as were children that came from families with conflict present and that gave the child little support.
Feelings of low self-esteem, lack of confidence in handling responsibilities, and perfectionist tendencies can all contribute to imposter syndrome.
In short, it can be triggered by a perfect storm of life experiences and personal traits.
How can I help myself overcome imposter syndrome?
Once you’ve recognised you identify with imposter syndrome, you can start helping yourself overcome it. The good news is because it’s a personality construct, it’s responsive to intervention by way of personal action or outsider support.
Remember; you’re not an imposter, you’re a bright talented professional that deserves success.
Here are some ways you can help yourself overcome imposter syndrome.
Whether to a friend, family member, colleague, or therapist, vocalise your feelings of being a fraud. Not only are you getting this internal burden off your chest, but you will be offered reassurance from a third-party perspective.
Limit your social media use
When you’re plagued with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, one of the worst places to spend time is social media. A survey by scientist Clarissa Silva revealed social media negatively impacted 60 per cent of its adult participants’ self-esteem.
Regulate and limit the time you spend on your social channels to minimise the risk. If you can, ban yourself from checking it at work and stick to one hour a day.
Learn to separate facts from feelings
Remember that just because you feel incapable or not good enough, it doesn’t mean you are. Look at on-paper proof of what you’ve achieved and separate facts from feelings.
By being led from your head, rather than your emotions, you’ll become a better decision maker as well. Stay cool, rational, knowledgeable, and objective as possible at all times.
Accept nerves are normal – and use them to your advantage!
Everyone gets anxious about their work performance, it’s not unique to imposter syndrome sufferers. Recognise that nerves mean you care. That’s great! Use it as a motivator. Turn it into excitement instead. Channel your nerves into optimising your focus and energy into your performance.
Release what you cannot control
Perhaps your perfectionist tendencies or proclivity to micro-manage leaves you ultra-frustrated, feeling like a failure? Sometimes it’s helpful to accept there are things you just won’t be able to control.
That’s OK – and it’s not your fault so don’t use it to beat yourself up.
Identify what you can control and influence and put all your energy into that. Don’t fixate on people, tasks or unachievable goals that have no bearing on your personal outcomes.
Cultivate an attitude of gratitude
Feeling undeserving is a key imposter syndrome symptom. Flip that feeling around and start expressing gratitude for the success you’ve achieved. In doing so, your entire perspective will change leaving you in a wholly positive mindset.
Keep a journal of your day and achievements. Find positives in the smallest of things. Share your positivity with others. You could even try creating your own short gratitude mantras to repeat to yourself each morning.
How can I tell if any of my team have imposter syndrome?
In 2020 62 per cent of global employees reported feelings of imposter syndrome, making it a phenomenon too big to ignore.
Because it’s an internal, personal experience, it’s often hard to spot employees with imposter syndrome, because outwardly, to you, they’re doing great. Signs are complex and manifest in different ways but some clues that your team members may have imposter syndrome could be:
Anxiety. Are they often on-edge or down about their performance or deadlines?
Outsider-ism. Do they struggle to bond with other team members? Perhaps they feel different to their colleagues and often compare themselves to them?
Verbal confirmation. Do they sometimes verbalise or self-deprecatingly joke that they’re not good enough? That they are in fear of promotion, or it was just a ‘fluke’ when they nailed their targets?
Downplay praise. Being humble is one thing, but actively dismissing or shunning praise or compliments could be a tell-tale sign a team member is suffering with imposter syndrome.
How can I help team members overcome imposter syndrome?
As a good team leader or boss, nurturing your teams’ wellbeing is the right thing to do on a personal and collective level. By demonstrating compassionate leadership, you are not only helping individuals that suffer from imposter syndrome but helping elevate your teams’ overall performance as well.
To combat imposter syndrome in the work place you can establish initiatives that support every member of your team, as well as targeted ones for employees you suspect have it.
Provide proof with praise
A key aspect of imposter syndrome is chronic self-doubt which triggers shunning praise. So, when offering positive feedback, back it up with provable statistics, facts, or evidence. That way it will be harder to for your team members to reject.
Foster a culture of mutual respect and support
When every team member knows and accepts that having doubts is 100 per cent normal, and that everyone is there to support and uplift one-another, then that goes a long way to boosting everyone’s morale.
Keep all team members engaged. Lead by example by listening attentively and actively. Offer opportunities for them to excel individually and help lift their colleagues up too.
Define workplace expectations
From KPIs to short and long-term goals, it’s vital your team are super-briefed on what it is you expect from them. Not having measurable, time-set work expectations could leave employees floundering in uncertainty and insecurity, both triggers for imposter syndrome.
You could emphasis objectives in monthly meetings. Set your expectations with individual team members as soon as they join your organisation, while providing authentic, meaningful feedback.
Make yourself available
If team members don’t feel there is an easy, open dialogue with their team leader or boss it instantly shuts down lines of communication. They must feel you’re interested and approachable so any concerns they have can be expressed, then supported by you. Why not establish regular meetings or check-ins with them individually?
Imposter syndrome is a deep-rooted feeling that you are not really as talented or capable as your co-workers and employers believe you to be.
To help yourself overcome it, speak up to those around you, learn to separate facts from feelings, use anxiety to your advantage, release what you cannot control and cultivate an attitude of gratitude.
To help your team members overcome imposter syndrome, provide proof with praise, foster a culture of mutual support, define workplace expectations and make yourself available as their team leader.
If you are open to new opportunities, contact a recruitment agency like Trojan Recruitment Group and receive advice from the experts in labour-hire, permanent and contract staff.