“Imposter syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.” A great definition from Very Well Mind.
We all have moments of imposter syndrome, it’s a natural extension of self-doubt. It manifests as a sneaking suspicion that the people around you are going to find out that you’re a fraud, that you don’t know what you’re doing or talking about. It usually occurs in a professional setting but it can happen anywhere in our lives where we feel pressure to achieve.
It can show up in our life in different forms of behaviour, all of which are self-sabotaging. Perfectionism, procrastination and full-on paralysis are three perfect examples of damaging behaviour brought on by IS.
Imposter syndrome seems like the phrase of the 2020’s but it was actually coined back in 1978 by two female psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who were trying to figure out if women are more prone to it.
Today we know anyone who can’t accept their own success can suffer with IS. Too often, we ignore the hard work, the years of education, all the experience and natural ability we have to instead focus on the negative beliefs about our abilities.
Did you know that focusing on the negative is an easy thing for the brain to do? You have to remember, your brain is like a giant computer and it’s always looking to solve problems. Telling yourself you’re successful at what you do because you’re good at it doesn’t present a problem, so your brain skips over it. Instead, it will find that nagging little doubt, that time you compared yourself to someone else, the worry that you might lose your job because everyone around you is. And then your brain goes into overdrive.
The part of your brain that deals with feelings like this is the amygdala, in your limbic system. This is the oldest part of your brain, often referred to as the caveman brain. The amygdala is the brain’s “fear and worry centre”, which just goes to show how inherent self-doubt is in humans.
No-one knows yet what causes people to experience IS. It could be down to certain character traits or childhood/family history or preconceived notions based around race.
What it doesn’t have anything to do with is talent, intelligence, capability, social status or job experience.
How to defeat it? Well, awareness that you’re struggling with it is the first step. And then:
· Talk to someone who knows you and whose opinion you respect.
· Accept that everyone has some history with IS.
· Become aware of how it shows up for you.
· Work towards accepting that no-one is perfect.
· Meditation helps deactivate and shrink the amygdala.
· Keep a brag book – record compliments and praise and refer back when you’re struggling.
Another really great way to beat imposter syndrome? Use it to your advantage. Sit with it, get comfortable with it. See it as a way you can grow. Ask yourself why you’re feeling this way right now? What’s triggered it? Is it a legitimate concern? If so, what you can learn from it? What can you improve on so that you don’t feel this way again?
Use that feeling as a way to challenge yourself. Doing that allows you to take control of the feeling, which is a powerful way to trick your brain into letting go of it. Once your brain thinks you’ve got this handled, it will shift its focus to the next problem it wants to solve.
Getting control of your imposter syndrome will also push you to grow, to learn new skills, to become even better at what you do. All of which will give you more tools to use against those sneaky mind gremlins next time they pop up to say hi!