6 Steps To Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

In our competitive world, many of us struggle with the persistent internal belief that we are not as good, smart, capable, or competent as others perceive us to be. This phenomenon is known as imposter syndrome and impacts many of us across various professions and stages of life. Despite its widespread prevalence, many of us remain unaware of its impact on our mental health and overall well-being.

Imposter syndrome, while not classified as a mental disorder, is a psychological pattern where we doubt our accomplishments and fear being exposed as a fraud. In short, we simply cannot accept our own successes as truly being our own. This syndrome manifests in many ways, such as perfectionism, hyper-independence, and perspicacity.

Perfectionism is a striving for flawlessness and perfection that usually results in only seeing flaws. (For more on perfectionism, click here.) Hyper-independence is an extreme form of independence characterized by a refusal to ask for help even when it is detrimental to our own well-being, leading us to over commit ourselves while also disrupting our relationships. And finally, perspicacity is having an innate and effortless insight or understanding of things, or in the case of imposter syndrome, expecting to understand things right away, and only feeling like a failure or fraud when effort is involved. Each of these thought patterns only reinforce our feelings of inadequacy.

The signs of imposter syndrome are often internal, manifesting as a cycle of self-doubt, fear of failure, and the attribution of success to external factors rather than our own personal effort or ability. These internal struggles frequently lead to behaviors such as procrastination or outright avoidance of new opportunities, or over-preparation and over-commitment. (For more on procrastination click here.) Either extreme is due to the fear of failure or being exposed as a fraud.

The impact of imposter syndrome extends beyond personal insecurities, affecting our mental health, professional life, education, and personal relationships. We may experience increased stress, anxiety, depression, and even burnout. Professionally, imposter syndrome can limit our career advancement as we might avoid taking on new challenges or seeking promotions. In educational settings, it can lead to underperformance due to a fear of failure or reluctance to participate. Moreover, the strain imposter syndrome places on personal relationships can lead to isolation as it hinders our ability to share our successes and vulnerabilities with others.

But, by challenging the underlying thought patterns and acknowledging our competence and success, we can begin to internalize our worth and diminish the power of these feelings. Here are six steps to overcoming imposter syndrome.

Acknowledge and Share Feelings

Despite the challenges posed by imposter syndrome, there are effective strategies for overcoming it and recognizing the presence of feeling like an imposter or fraud is the first step. Recognizing these feelings allows us to understand that we are not alone. Sharing these doubts with trusted friends, family, or colleagues can further demystify these feelings, as we discover that imposter syndrome is a common struggle. This step fosters a sense of community and support, crucial for overcoming the feelings of isolation and fraudulence.

Assess Abilities & Redefine Success

Assessing our abilities is a vital step which can be undertaken by simply making a thorough list of our accomplishments and skills. Another option is to keep a success journal, which can serve as a reminder of our achievements, while also providing a boost in moments of doubt. This practice helps reframe the internal narrative from one of inadequacy to one of competence and achievement. This tangible evidence of success helps counter our internal narrative of incompetence. Alongside this, redefining both our successes and failures as parts of a learning process can encourage a healthier perspective on our personal growth and achievements.

Combat the Comparison Trap

Imposter syndrome often thrives on comparison. Focusing on our own accomplishments, work, and relationships makes it easier to actively celebrate our achievements as our own. We can do this by limiting our social media consumption, or by practicing gratitude. (For more on how to practice gratitude click here.)

By setting attainable personal goals we can define success on our terms, fostering a healthier self-view and diminishing the urge to compare ourselves to others. This approach demands a conscious effort to recognize and value our distinct achievements and progress. By doing so, we can lessen the negative impact of comparison, embracing our individual paths with confidence and self-compassion. (For more on self-compassion click here.)

Accept Positive Feedback

For those of us who struggle with feeling like frauds, acknowledging and internalizing compliments can be challenging. However, learning to embrace positive feedback is essential for building self-confidence and a more accurate self-assessment. We start by simply saying “thank you” without deflecting or attributing our success to external factors. By reflecting on the feedback privately and considering it as evidence of our capabilities and achievements over time we can practice linking our successes to our efforts and skills, rather than luck or timing. This shift in perspective helps to gradually dismantle the imposter feelings, allowing us to see ourselves as others do: competent, capable, and deserving of recognition. Embracing positive feedback not only strengthens our self-belief but also encourages a healthier, more balanced view of our professional and personal accomplishments.

Get Professional Help

Therapy plays a pivotal role in alleviating imposter syndrome by offering a safe and supportive environment for us to explore and understand the root causes of our feelings of fraudulence. Through therapeutic sessions, we can uncover the deep-seated beliefs and experiences that contribute to our imposter syndrome, working to reframe negative thought patterns and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Therapists can also help us learn to attribute our successes to our own efforts and abilities, rather than to external factors or sheer luck. Additionally, therapy can provide strategies for managing anxiety and stress, further reducing the impact of imposter syndrome. By addressing imposter syndrome in therapy, we can build self-esteem, foster a more realistic self-assessment, and cultivate a stronger sense of personal competency and achievement.

Setting Boundaries

Finally, setting boundaries by saying no to excessive responsibilities can prevent overcommitment, a common behavior among those of us that feel the need to prove our worth. Focusing on quality over quantity in professional and personal endeavors can further alleviate the pressure that fuels imposter syndrome. (For more on setting boundaries click here.)

Imposter syndrome is a pervasive issue that can hinder our personal and professional growth. However, through awareness, open dialogue, and proactive strategies, we can overcome the paralyzing effects of imposter syndrome. It is crucial for us to recognize our worth, celebrate our accomplishments, and seek support when needed. By doing so, we move toward a more balanced and confident self-view, unlocking our full potential in all aspects of life.

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