How to prevent feelings of imposter syndrome

Credit: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images
Experiencing imposter syndrome is isolating – but it will happen to most of us throughout our lives. We look into how we can combate these unwanted feeling

Imposter syndrome is more common than you may think. Although symptoms may make you believe that you’re the only one in the room that feels out of place, research has shown that in fact 82% of people face imposter phenomenon.

What is imposter syndrome?

Defined perfectly by confidence expert Yasmina Hedhli, imposter syndrome is: “When you feel like a fraud or have a fear that you’re going to be exposed as one. It can cause feelings of self doubt and inadequacy. People often give their success away to external factors, such as being in the right place at the right time or just being lucky. It can cause adaptive behaviours, such as perfectionism, working to the point of burnout, or procrastination. These behaviours are ultimately to avoid being exposed. 

Look at the facts

Whatever is causing your feelings of imposter syndrome, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Jessica Vanderlan, PhD, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, leads small groups for students to discuss feelings of imposter syndrome. Through these sessions, she often encourages students to look back at what they’ve accomplished, and to compare where they are in their current situation as to where they were five years ago. This enables them to gain a greater sense of perspective, which in turn can boost confidence. 

Let go of perfectionism

Yasmina explains that although feelings of imposter syndrome are normal, and that the roots often start in childhood through chasing perfectionism. She says: “For some people, it comes from only being praised when they are perfect, and for others, being praised constantly, which creates uncertainty about what equals success – these are just two examples. 

“As we get older, we’re constantly reminded of the ways in which we’re inadequate through advertising. There’s always something more that we could be, do or have. In addition to this, negative workplace experiences, such as toxic management, microaggressions, lack of inclusion, can create and contribute to imposter feelings.”

Focus on the good

When we’re experiencing feelings of imposter syndrome, it can be all too easy to brush off the milestones we’ve reached and the successes we’ve achieved. Lisa Orbé-Austin, PhD, a New York–based psychologist, executive coach, reiterates the importance of paying close attention to achievements, while taking time to applaud and reward yourself. Taking time to reflect on your actions will enable you to understand how you reached the position you’re now in, rather than believing it was luck or chance, for example. 

Open up to a trusted group

Finding a trusted group of people to open up to – whether that be friends, family, or an internal support network – can create a safe space for you, and others, to open up about your feelings.

By sharing your perceived failures will encourage others to do the same, so much so that these negative experiences will become normalised, and feelings will become less isolating. 

Accept it

As you continue to learn methods to help you tackle feelings of imposter syndrome, it’s important to remember that just because feelings or burn out have subsided, doesn’t mean they will never occur again. Understanding the various ways in which you can apply these methods of coping will help you tackle similar experiences in producing and positive ways.

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