By Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist
WHAT IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME
Imposter syndrome is the belief that you are not as competent as others think you are, or that you don’t deserve the success you have. The term’ Imposter syndrome’ was coined by psychologists Dr Suzanne Imes and Dr Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s and was originally thought to apply mostly to high-achieving women who strove for the impossible goal of perfectionism. Today it is recognised that you are more likely to suffer from Imposter syndrome if you have low confidence, perfectionism tendencies, do not feel fully included or have mental health symptoms such as anxiety. Imposter syndrome can affect anyone regardless of gender, job, age or social status.
HOW DOES IT AFFECT US AT WORK?
Imposter syndrome affects an individual’s self-esteem and is dominated by feelings of self-doubt. People with Imposter syndrome may think they only have got their job at work because of sheer luck and not because of their credentials, degree or expertise. They reject praise and downplay achievements which can impede career growth. Imposter syndrome may cause that person to struggle with making tough and unpopular decisions due to fear, which then fuels a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.
Imposter syndrome also affects the organisation by negatively impacting the mental health and wellbeing of employees which can result in workplace absenteeism and project setbacks. Imposter syndrome causes individuals to retract and isolate themselves which is detrimental to workplace relationships and effective communication. The constant fear of failure related to Imposter syndrome leads to decreased creativity and innovation.
If there is a bias or lack of diversity and inclusion at work, and you are in a minority, this can influence someone suffering with Imposter syndrome to work excessively because they feel they need to prove themselves more than others.
HOW TO OVERCOME IMPOSTER SYNDROME
- Change your narrative by noticing and reflecting over any self-deprecating habits and language that you use about yourself and see if you can replace them with something positive. Listen to others who say they enjoy working with you or thank you for your contribution and take a moment to notice and compare those comments with your own self-assessment.
- Surround yourself with people who make you feel good about yourself and avoid toxic individuals. Equally return the favour and show kindness to others which as a by-product increases your production of oxytocin, a hormone responsible for feelings of happiness.
- Work out the real ways are to measure your success. Develop your own workplace values and what is important to you. Look back on how far you have come and all that you have learnt.
- Question irrational thoughts. Always be cognisant of irrational beliefs and thoughts, such as that work colleagues are pitying you when they congratulate you for work well done.
- Avoid making comparisons. Making comparisons and focusing on other peoples’ lives rather than your own is a waste of energy and can incite resentment or jealousy which are two very draining emotions. Notice those feelings and try to turn them into being pleased for someone else’s achievements and that they too deserve success, just like you do. Perfection is an illusion, and your best is good enough.
- Be kind to yourself. It may take practise but recognise your achievements and allow others to praise you for them. Forgive yourself if you make a mistake and treat mistakes as an opportunity to learn. There is no need to push yourself to the limit and beyond. Reserve some time in your week to recuperate and treat yourself. Self-compassion strengthens internal psychological safety and promotes feelings of courage and adventure.
- Identify what is helping or hindering your success. Ask yourself questions like: What do I need less of in my life? What do I want more of? How can I live my best life? What am I grateful for today? Engaging in these kinds of questions helps you to identity the things that are affecting your self-esteem and confidence.
- Share your feelings. Having a chat with someone who knows you well can often give you a more reasoned way of looking at things and help you see what is rational and what is not. Irrational beliefs are likely to fester when they aren’t addressed or talked about. Be aware if you are suffering from anxiety or depression, seek help either from friends and family, your boss or a colleague, or talk to your GP.
- Acknowledge instances when you feel you don’t belong and know that you do. There will be times at work when you feel out of place, perhaps because of your age or gender or because you genuinely lack experience in an area being discussed, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be there. Inclusion and diversity benefit the workplace in countless ways from more creative thinking to promoting respect, and diverse and inclusive companies are far more likely to outperform their less diverse competitors.
- Celebrate your success as an individual and as a team. Success is rarely down to timing or simply good luck. Remember hard work, experience and being skilled has led you to where you are at work. Write down your successes to remind yourself that you are good enough. Accept and enjoy the compliments and offer some of your own to others. Build connections and a network of mutual support.