What Is Imposter Syndrome and What Can You Do About It?
Updated: Mar 6
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.
Around 66% of women in Britain experience Imposter Syndrome. Unable to believe that our achievements are the result of our own skill and effort, we put them down to luck instead. It is prevalent among high-achieving women. Former First Lady Michelle Obama, athlete Katerina Johnson-Thompson, and actress Natalie Portman, have all spoken about how it has affected them.
While not a diagnosable mental health condition in itself, anxiety and self-doubt are key features of the syndrome which can lead to depression. It can mean we avoid new career opportunities – promotions, public speaking or taking on new projects. All which have far-reaching implications. Loss of earnings is just one. Less money means smaller savings, fewer holidays and a tighter budget. There is also the draining of any joy in our work, in turn affecting our wellbeing.
Believe it or not, the fall-out from Imposter Syndrome actually affects the economy too. Procrastination is one of the ways we deal with Imposter Syndrome-related anxiety, which reduces productivity. This is especially true for entrepreneurs. Playing small, not taking risks, putting off proposals, reducing your fees - all will affect your company’s earnings.
The good news is that we can do something about all this. The first step is to check your 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:
· Discounting – where you dismiss your accomplishments as luck or a fluke - is a common one
· Mind reading – where you are certain you know what your boss or colleagues are thinking about you is another
Identifying, challenging, then replacing your NATs for Positive Empowering Thoughts (PETs) will help you build new ways of thinking. This process involves looking for the evidence to support and then to counter your thought.
Keeping a log of all your achievements is one 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”. If you’re self-employed, keeping a record of client testimonials works 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 nature of being an entrepreneur forces you out of your comfort zone.
As much as we take them 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 a great way to do this. 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 what may be skewing your thinking and work with you to change it.
What’s the take home from all this? Imposter syndrome can have serious and far reaching effects. Most obviously on your career; how its effects ripple out into other areas of your life may be less obvious, although no less impactful. Still, if you find yourself nodding to the scenarios, there are things you can do. The next time you’re sitting in a meeting feeling like you don’t belong, remember you’re in good company. With 66% of women feeling like an imposter in their work, 2/3 of your women colleagues will be feeling exactly the same.
Sarah coaches professional women through self-doubt and overwhelm so they can unlock their potential and own their successes. She holds a Diploma in Transformational Coaching and a Master's in Psychology. She has a career background in Technology and Education and nearly 2 decades of experience in supporting others to succeed. To find out more about how she works, check out her website or follow her on instagram