Fed Up of Feeling a Fraud? What To Do About Imposter Syndrome
Updated: Sep 7
Ever felt like the odd one out at work? Like everyone else knows what they’re doing in their job except you and you’re going to be found out any minute now? If so, you‘re far from alone. Imposter Syndrome affects around 66% of women and 56% of men in the UK. This article will explore what Imposter Syndrome is, the effects it can have on your life and career and what you can do to address it.
What is it?
The term Imposter Syndrome was originally coined to describe the phenomenon of high-achieving and successful women suffering from chronic self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy, despite their evident success. While it is now understood to affect men too, women do seem to be disproportionately affected. Former First Lady Michelle Obama, athlete Katerina Johnson-Thompson, and actress Natalie Portman have all spoken about how it has affected them in their careers.
While not a diagnosable mental health condition in itself, anxiety and self-doubt are key features of the syndrome which, if left unaddressed, can lead to depression. Chronic self-doubt can mean we avoid new career opportunities – promotions, public speaking or taking on new projects - all which have far-reaching implications, loss of earnings being just one. There is also the draining of joy in our work. The daily grind of feeling like you don’t belong in your role because you’re “not skilled enough”, “not the type of person for a senior role”, or “just here due to luck” – all in the face of evidence to the contrary - is stressful and affects wellbeing.
There’s also the impact on the wider world of you “playing small”. Do you have a business idea you’re too scared to develop? Maybe you know you could make things at your company run more efficiently but you just can’t put your ideas forward.
What Can You Do?
The good news is that we can do something about persistently feeling like a fraud. The first step is to check our thinking. We’re all primed to notice the negative in life over the positive. This is an evolutionary hangover, which was once helpful in protecting us from predators or from being exiled from our tribes. However, in the modern-day, it results in us having a lot of Negative Automatic Thoughts (NATs) that we take as fact.
While all these thoughts can feel overwhelming, NATs general fall into only a few categories, for example:
· Discounting – where you dismiss your accomplishments as luck or a fluke. “Honestly, anyone could have done this!”.
· Mind reading – where you are certain you know what your boss or colleagues are thinking about you. “They all think I’m an idiot, it’s obvious I don’t know what I’m doing…”
· Catastrophizing – immediately jumping to the worst-case scenario of a situation. “My boss really didn’t look happy when I said ‘Hi’, just now. She’s really annoyed at me, I know it”.
Identifying, challenging, then replacing your NATs for Positive Empowering Thoughts (PETs) will help you build new ways of thinking. This process involves looking for evidence to support or challenge your automatic thought, then exchanging that automatic thought for one that’s more balanced and realistic.
Start by just noticing your thoughts in certain situations.
Are you minimizing your abilities, or discounting your accomplishments? Are you professing to know for sure what colleagues think of your abilities without them having said anything?
When you’ve got used to identifying distorted thoughts, ask yourself how can you think differently.
What might you say to a friend who was thinking this way? Take the above catastrophizing thought as an example, if a friend told you this situation had happened and she was worried about it, you might ask her, “How do you know for sure she was annoyed at you?”. If she can’t think of anything specific that she’s said or done that may have caused annoyance, you might say, “In that case, it sounds like there’s no reason to think it was you. She could have been annoyed at anything! Her computer not working, a bad journey into work…”. You’ve replaced the distorted, negative assumption with something more accurate and positive.
Keep a record of all your achievements.
This is an easy and effective way to challenge negative thinking styles. When you see that your boss has asked you to liaise with important clients on 3 separate occasions, it becomes a lot harder to maintain the belief that it was “just because they couldn’t get anyone else”. For the self-employed, keeping a record of client testimonials can work in the same way. (It’s worth noting that entrepreneurs and business owners may experience Imposter Syndrome more often than those in a job, as the very nature of being an entrepreneur regularly forces you out of your comfort zone.)
As much as they may seem to be fact, once explored and weighed up, most NATs have very limited evidence behind them, if any. Developing new thinking patterns will take some time. Your way of thinking didn’t happen overnight so it won't change overnight. Working with a skilled coach or therapist is can be really helpful for changing our thought patterns - it can be hard for us to identify our own faulty thinking as we’re so used to it. Coaches and therapists are trained to listen to your language to help you pick out where you may be skewing your thinking and work with you to change it.
What’s the take-home?
Imposter syndrome can have serious and far-reaching effects, both in your own life and in the wider world. Using the techniques talked about here will help to quieten the voice of your inner critic letting you have a fulfilling professional and personal life.
The next time you’re sitting on a Zoom meeting feeling like you don’t belong, remember you’re in good company. With over 50% of people in the workplace experiencing Imposter Syndrome, half your colleagues in the meeting will be feeling the same way.
Sarah specialises in helping women to take action in spite of self-doubt, letting them share their brilliance with the world. As well as holding a Diploma in Transformational Coaching, she has a Master's in Psychology, a BSc (hons) in Software Engineering and extensive work experience in Tech, Healthcare and Education. To find out more about her, visit her website or follow her on Instagram.