• Coach Kate

Solving Imposter Syndrome - Can It Be Done?

With the multitude of redundancies being made I am seeing a huge upturn in clients coming to me questioning their own abilities and facing a new wave of self-doubt, crushed self-esteem and rock-bottom confidence.

This is nothing new and for a huge majority of working adults this is something they face every day – it is our old enemy – Imposter Syndrome.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Excellent question and I would say that most people have heard of Imposter Syndrome, however, not many people recognise it within themselves.

Some even deny that it is thing at all, but, you can’t argue against science and facts so let’s start with them and then have a delve into this devil of a very real thing.

  • 70% of people will experience Imposter Syndrome at some point in their career - that is a LOT of our workforce.

  • Add to this that 85% of adults feel incompetent at work - not just unsure - incompetent!

  • It can affect anyone; however, it is currently seen to be most prevalent in women from ethnic minorities who are in an elevated career or academic position.

  • When you type the words Imposter Syndrome into Google over 4 million results come up – which is quite a lot of info to sift through!

So, what the hell is it? I’m going to leave you hanging just a wee while longer as we’ll take a look at what is not. Imposter Syndrome is not a medical condition and it is not a mental health diagnosis; however, it can lead to poor mental health such as anxiety, stress and depression. I went through this bitter cycle in my last career and it was incredibly debilitating.

And now, finally: Imposter Syndrome is classified as a psychological pattern or collection of feelings of inadequacy that continue to persist in a person’s mind despite evidence of their success.

Eh what now?

Ever think that your boss will “find me out”? Or perhaps you put all of your success down to luck? Or maybe you believe that you are not deserving of the position you are in and that you are merely just ‘playing the game’?

If so - then you might be dealing with a bit of Imposter Syndrome.

It regularly affects those who are high achievers and who seem to be at the top of their game and can be identified through chronic self-doubt or having a sense of fraudulence.

In fact, as we have seen, it is inaccurate to say ‘syndrome’ at all as it really is the norm for nearly all of us to feel and experience this at some point in our lives.

Imposter Syndrome was first introduced in 1978 by Dr Pauline Clance & Dr Suzanne Imes in their paper "The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention"

They originally called it imposter phenomenon - a term Dr Clance regretted later as it was to become so normal so not a phenomenon at all.

Initially, Dr Clance and Dr Imes only studied high achieving women as both felt like imposters and when their 150 female participants confirmed their suspicions it was thought to only affect women.

Clance and Imes also determined that the women who experienced impostor phenomenon showcased symptoms related to depression, generalized anxiety, and low self-confidence.

It was not until 1985 that Dr Clance created the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIP) - a set of questions that would determine whether or not someone has Imposter Syndrome.

The CIP was developed to help people determine whether they have IP characteristics and, if so, to what extent they are suffering.

The higher the score, the more frequently and seriously the Impostor Phenomenon interferes in a person’s life.

Another way to determine if someone has Imposter Syndrome is to see if they have any of the 6 key areas of it:

  1. The impostor cycle

  2. The need to be special or the best

  3. Characteristics of superman/superwoman

  4. Fear of failure

  5. Denial of ability and discounting praise

  6. Feeling fear and guilt about success

If someone has just 2 out of these 6 then they are regarded as suffering from Imposter Syndrome.

To really understand the manifestation of Imposter Syndrome we can use the Imposter Cycle.

Let’s take an example - you are asked to give a talk on a piece of work and that was successful. Some of us will spend every waking hour researching, planning and preparing for this and when the talk goes well, we’ll receive praise from our colleagues, our manager - maybe even those higher up. However, instead of taking their praise and appreciation on board we will put it down to the work that was done, rather than our own skills as a public speaker, or knowledge in the subject. We may convince ourselves that if we had not sat up to 3am every morning for the last few months the talk would have been a disaster.

Or perhaps we will procrastinate over our preparation leaving it all to the last minute and working through the night. Yet again, we give a superb talk and receive praise however, rather than acknowledging expertise in that area we will put it all down to luck.

This cycle may well repeat itself again and again – we can break it by acknowledging our successes, our skills, our expertise and experience. Crucially we also need to start believing in them and in ourselves.

We can go even deeper into Imposter Syndrome and identify which ‘type’ we most likely resemble. This is key to helping us take on Imposter Syndrome as we can really tackle the causes of it as well as how it manifests itself.

A good confidence coach will then work with you on each trait to come up with manageable solutions to help you manage your Imposter Syndrome and even use it to your advantage.

A question I often get asked is “Why do some of us have Imposter Syndrome and some of us don’t?”

As we have seen 85% of us will feel very unsure of our own ability at work at some point in our careers, I have a sneaking suspicion that figure is a little low and perhaps every single person at some point in their lives feels like an imposter.

Now seen to be most prevalent in minority groups who may feel that they may have much more to prove to be accepted so the risk and fear and fear of failure is higher.

We can see this is some very famous faces such as Michelle Obama, Serena Williams and Maya Angelou but also in the classic ‘confident’ types (white, men) - people such as Tom Hanks, Neil Armstrong and Einstein - yes Einstein!!!

So really the question should be - why does it affect some of us so much more than others?

To understand that, let’s take a look at some of the common causes of Imposter Syndrome:

  • The ‘labels’ we were given as children: “The Smart one” “The Talented one” “The Responsible one” “The Good one” “The favourite” which we feel we have to still live up to.

  • Or perhaps our school grades were never good enough and we constantly had to work hard to meet those high expectations leading us to now constantly proving to ourselves our self-worth.

  • If we received constant criticism then it is likely imposter syndrome has set in, potentially along with anxiety and low self-esteem.

  • Imposter Syndrome can also be a response to a childhood trauma and if this has affected you please do seek the appropriate counselling.

The other question I am always asked is “How can I get rid of Imposter Syndrome?” Sorry to say folks - there is no quick or fail safe ‘fix’ or way to banish it. We can, however, work on minimising it and even using it to help us.

  • Firstly - recognise those thoughts and feelings when they arise and ask yourself what is actually a fact and what is merely a belief - extract your self-doubt.

  • Question your thoughts & beliefs about yourself: Does that thought help or hinder me?

  • Talk to others either through confidence coaching, group therapy or psychotherapy.

  • Write down your achievements and what you are successful at - and ask yourself what led to that success - this stops us putting it all down to luck and reveals how much is in our control

  • Help others who may be suffering too - you can share your trials and wins together as well as support each other in tough times

  • Stop comparing yourself with others - especially on social media. As much as I love looking at pictures of cute dogs I often delete Instagram when I find myself in a comparison spiral.

  • Remembering that not everyone is 100% confident 100% of the time - if we were, we would be robots.

And finally - embrace and use your Imposter Syndrome to drive you by reminding yourself that those with it are constantly striving to do better, be better, seek more opportunities - this can only be a good thing so embrace this imposter drive and use it to fire you rather than paralyze you.

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