How to overcome Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is the constant inability to believe that our achievements and successes are deserved or are due to our efforts and abilities. The term has become a popular one in recent years, and there is one reason for this: many people identify with it. And while concepts like Imposter Syndrome can sometimes be unhelpful, they are not always so. When they are helpful, they raise awareness of important aspects of who we are and what we do, and with awareness comes opportunities for change. In my blog, How to overcome Imposter Syndrome, I consider its origins and crucially ways to overcome it.

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome. Photo of confident female business leader leading her team

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome: conversations

If we want to find the clues and signs of Imposter Syndrome, we need to look no further than the conversations with ourselves, otherwise known as our self-talk. Imposters’ conversations with themselves can amount to a daily barrage of self-doubt and self-criticism:

  • “I’m a fraud.”
  • “Who do you think you are?”
  • “You’re such a fake!”

Therefore, overcoming Imposter Syndrome means looking objectively at the words and phrases you use and developing a kinder language that more accurately reflects who you are and what you do. One strategy is to get hold of a thesaurus and find someone you know and trust. Thesaurus, I hear you ask? Yes. A good thesaurus will include the antonyms (opposite-meaning) of the unkind words and phrases you use against yourself, providing a ready-made, personalised vocabulary for you. The next step will be to practice, practice and practice with your trusted confidant. It can be challenging for Imposters to change their self-talk, but easier if they have the words and support.

Meaning

Human beings are a ‘sense-making’ species, i.e. it is in our nature to find meaning, so when a concept like Imposter Syndrome comes along and produces a ‘light bulb’ moment for someone, it can feel great. However, Imposters are often unaware that they are Imposters and unfortunately, being a mystery to themselves only makes a difficult situation worse.

Luckily, we all have an in-built system that can guide us into the light: our emotions. Emotions are really messages sent from what I call our ’emotional self’ containing vital information about how we are handling life. Positive emotions are how our emotional self likes what it sees, difficult emotions how it expresses its concern. Because Imposter Syndrome is harmful to how we see ourselves and how we behave, it is consistently accompanied by emotions like anxiety, depression and anger. So, if you experience any of these emotions, consider this. Might they be messages asking you to consider whether you are an Imposter?

  • Is your self-talk self-deprecating, i.e. do you put yourself down?
  • Are you a people-pleaser, i.e., do you put others before you?
  • And do you routinely question whether you deserve to be successful, i.e. are your achievements down to luck?

If you answered ‘Yes’ to these questions, it could be that Imposter Syndrome explains how you feel. However, as I suggested in my introduction, such insight can be constructive because you now know what you are up against and what needs to change. And based on the emotions as messages principle, keep changing until you feel happier in and with yourself.

Patterns

At the heart of our mental health and wellbeing are the following types of patterns:

  • Thought
  • Behaviour
  • Feeling
  • Relating

When these patterns are positive and working in harmony, our MH&W will be in good shape. However, the opposite tends to be true with Imposter Syndrome, which doesn’t just come with negative language and emotions but also negative patterns, such as:

  • Self-critical thought
  • Self-sabotaging, perfectionistic behaviours
  • Anxious and depressive feelings
  • People-pleasing and socially avoidant

Therefore, overcoming Imposter Syndrome means finding positive replacements for negative patterns, which is much easier to achieve with a detailed picture of those negative patterns. In the box below is my Pattern Builder activity, which you can complete to build your detailed picture.

Patterns activity

  1. When, where and with whom were you when your Imposter Syndrom started?
  2. What stressors or changes were occurring in your life around the start of your Imposter Syndrome?
  3. How often does your Imposter Syndrome occur and how long does it last?
  4. What significant persons are present or absent when your Imposter Syndrome occurs?
  5. Where does your Imposter Syndrome occur?
  6. What are the steps involved in the generation of your Imposter Syndrome? Put another way, can you identify the stages where you go from not doing it to doing it?
  7. When does your Imposter Syndrome NOT occur?
  8. What do you think other people know about your Imposter Syndrome e.g. friends, family or colleagues?
  9. What are your beliefs about your Imposter Syndrome? For example, I can never change it? It’s my fault that I have it?

What did you discover? Can you see a connection between your patterns and your wellbeing? What do you need to do with your patterns? Keep them as they are or make changes?

Acceptance

To accept who we are, what we do, and the life we lead is the foundation of good mental health and wellbeing. To the Imposter, these statements will represent a significant challenge. To the Imposter, the idea that they have esteem and worth can be variously ‘ludicrous’ as one of my clients put it or even painful. The undeniable truth, though, is that Imposters have the same amount of value as anyone else; the trick is for them to ‘accept’ this. A few years ago, I came up with a concept that I call my Fantasy-Reality Gap or FRG to help Imposters. An FRG is the difference between:

  • Who someone thinks they are and who they actually are
  • What someone thinks they are doing and what they are actually doing
  • The life someone thinks they are leading and the life they are actually leading

Imposter Syndrome and large FRGs go hand-in-hand. For example:

  • “I have no self-worth” is a fantasy
  • “What I do doesn’t matter” is a fantasy
  • “My life is irrelevant” is a fantasy
  • …you get the picture.

The bigger the FRG, the more emotions such as anxiety and depression pour into them and the only way to close it is through – acceptance. But how does the Imposter ‘sell’ the idea of acceptance to themselves when they might have spent a lifetime avoiding it? There is a common misconception of acceptance to the Imposter, who see it as a form of resignation. While understandable, this is the equivalent of adding two and two and making five. Whereas to the former Imposter, acceptance is NOT resignation but the first stage of transformation. When they look back at when their transformation began, all ex-Imposters will point to the moment when they completely accepted themselves as a valuable human being.

Challenge

Imposter Syndrome makes life challenging because it undermines Personal, Academic and Professional Transformation. For the Imposter, transformative goals and ambitions are like balloons with holes in them. No matter how much air is pumped in, the balloons never reach their potential and deflate with ease. But because Imposters can’t or won’t believe in their ability to fix their balloons, they are left with no choice but to keep pumping in the air, which is why Imposters are constantly exhausted and their challenges mountainous.

The only way out of this vicious cycle is for the Imposter to look inwards, not outwards, to inflate themselves in a good way. But I hear the Imposters cry! Doesn’t that mean my goals and ambitions will suffer? No, and in fact, the opposite is true. By ‘fixing’ themselves, the Imposter gets back the energy lost through constant exhaling, giving them enough energy for themselves and their challenges. If you are an Imposter, how will you achieve this challenge? Can I suggest the following?

  • Change your self-talk
  • Get your emotional self onside
  • Lay down a blueprint of helpful patterns
  • Accept yourself
  • Challenge yourself – in a good way
  • Commit to a journey and destination of transformation (see below)

Transformation

Part of overcoming Imposter Syndrome means reconnecting journeys and destinations. We are all on a journey of transformation heading for a destination of transformation, whether we like it or not, otherwise known as the ageing process. Ideally, we are in control of this process, i.e., we are on the right journey for our desired destination. As you will have guessed by now, Imposters are on a different journey. Yes, they have the same desired destinations as everyone else, but by undermining themselves, they are on the wrong journies for them. Look at the categories of transformation below, which are the main ones we are all focused on. Imposter Syndrome typically affects most if not all of them.

  • Identity, their self-esteem and self-worth
  • Home and family life
  • Relationships
  • Career/professional development
  • Health (mental and physical)
  • Financial
  • Lifestyle
  • Social and cultural
  • Environment

If you are an Imposter, try the activity below.

Transformation activity

Using a 0-10 scale (0=very negative, 10=very positive):

  • Destination: choose a number that represents how important it is for you to be personally or professionally fulfilled in each area above
  • Journey: select a number that represents how confident you are that your current journey towards fulfilment in each area is on track

What did you discover? Did you confirm what you already knew, or did the activity (and this blog) raise your awareness of how your Imposter Syndrome impacts your life and what you can do about it? Either way, be kind to yourself and commit to changing your numbers, putting your Imposter Syndrome behind you.

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome: getting support

I hope you have enjoyed my blog, How to overcome Imposter Syndrome. If you would like support, I’d love to hear from you. My IMPACT Model and IMPACT Programmes have helped many people (read my testimonials).

To book an initial consultation, visit my Make a Booking page. You will have the opportunity to tell me about what you are going through and find out how I can support you. Even if you choose not to work with me, I promise your consultation will give you more ideas, knowledge and insight than you had before.

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