What is imposter syndrome and how to overcome it

imposter syndrome
Photo by Anthony Da Cruz on Unsplash

Imposter syndrome is the feeling you’re not as competent as other people believe you to be. It makes us believe we’ve achieved great things through luck instead of skill. And that others will discover we’re not as capable as they think we are.

First used in the 1970s, the phrase referred to high-achieving women. Now, we know anyone can suffer from imposter syndrome. The mental health cost of this feeling is high, and some of the symptoms include:

  • thinking you’re less capable than you are
  • refusing to take credit for your success
  • perfectionism and self-criticism
  • fear of not measuring up
  • over achieving to make up for perceived lack
  • self-sabotage
  • setting unrealistic goals

You over prepare for everything which leads to exhaustion from too many all night-ers. In spite of all your hard work, you still can’t take credit for a job well done.

Rather than celebrating your wins, you obsess over any small mistakes you might have made. You take criticism badly and see it as an attack on yourself and proof you’re unworthy.

You likely view asking for help as a sign of weakness and do everything on your own. Even when it would be more efficient to enlist assistance from others.

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As is common with perfectionists, you set unattainable goals and then beat yourself up when you don’t reach them. You expect to get things right the first time and do not allow yourself the luxury of a learning curve.

Loneliness of imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome keeps one alone and lonely and has all the hallmarks of a childhood marked by trauma. If you never received praise or encouragement for a job well done you will struggle to give that to yourself.

If you never received praise or encouragement for a job well done you will struggle to give that to yourself. Click To Tweet

If your needs went unmet in childhood, you will be loathe to ask for help. You learned that reaching out and expressing needs brought rejection and scorn, so you keep those to yourself.

You can’t tolerate criticism because you internalized so much of it as a child. Your parents never taught you that mistakes carry valuable lessons and help you grow. They berated you for making them, so you equate criticism with loss of love.

As a result, rejection feels unbearable, especially when you’ve worked so hard to avoid it. Constructive criticism stings like an attack on you, rather than a comment intended to help you improve your work.

How to overcome imposter syndrome

To heal these unwarranted feelings, it’s important to get to the root of the problem which is usually in the past. Here are 4 ways to challenge imposter syndrome:

1. Understand perfectionism

Realize perfectionism is not a strength but a serious problem. You expect yourself to master things immediately, but that’s not realistic.

Everyone who’s accomplished success has done so after many failures. Stop comparing yourself to others who have years more experience.

Perfectionism is not a strength but a serious problem. You expect yourself to master things immediately, but everyone who's accomplished success has done so after many failures. Click To Tweet

2. Enjoy the process

Allow yourself to enjoy the learning process rather than getting things over with. Your brain may have been rewired by past trauma to equate exploration with danger. As a result, you need clear cut answers which makes it difficult to tolerate loose ends.

But curiosity and a degree of uncertainty make life worth living. Sometimes we have to embark on projects even when we’re not assured of the outcome. Teach yourself to embrace the curiosity and exploration you never learned as a child.

3. Seek support

Ask for help when you don’t know the answer. Resist the urge to go it alone and collaborate with others who can make your work easier. This will help you create connections and feel less alone.

Remember you are not alone. Up to 70% of us have had these feelings at one time or another, and many will welcome you sharing your fears.

4. Self care

Learn to check in with yourself and how you feel. What do you need right now? If you’ve been conditioned to ignore your body’s signals, pay attention to them. You are worth taking care of.

Your value is not based on your productivity. You may have grown up in a home where you were made to feel that way, but it’s not true. Simply because you exist makes you worthy of love and kindness.

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