Imposter syndrome is the chronic feeling of inadequacy and incompetence, despite success. In simple terms, it’s the experience of feeling like a phony, believing you are going to be found out any minute and revealed to be a fraud. You may feel like you don’t belong and believe any success you’ve achieved has been down to pure fluke.
Imposter syndrome can affect anyone regardless of their social status, background, experience, education or skill level. However, some experts believe it is more common in women than men.
I believe perfectionism and low self-esteem are the perfect recipe for imposter syndrome. People with low self-esteem tend to attribute any success to luck while perfectionists can find it difficult to accept their achievements, focusing on their perceived flaws and failures instead.
When a negative thought about your ability, competence or value pops up, challenge it. Ask yourself whether there’s any concrete evidence to support the thought. Is there any evidence that suggests it could be untrue or inaccurate? Could something else be true instead? Alternatively, try a mindful approach. Recognise the thought, acknowledge it for what it is and let it be. For example, some people find it useful to think or say, ‘hi self-criticism’ before moving on.
Once you start challenging your thoughts, push yourself to start acting in line with this. One way to do this is to experiment with acting as if you didn’t feel like an imposter. What would you do if you believed you deserved good things? How would you behave if you thought your work was inherently good? How would you act if you were confident you would succeed? Basically, fake it ‘till you make it with your own feelings!
Self-compassion is the perfect antidote to imposter syndrome and the self-criticism that often comes with it. The first step is mindful awareness – noticing what’s happening and recognising imposter syndrome when it shows up. Next, lean into common humanity. Remind yourself that you’re not the only person experiencing this. Finally, tap into self-kindness instead of self-criticism. Focus on being warm and understanding towards yourself. What do you need to hear in this moment? What would you say to a friend in the same situation? You can learn more about the power of self-compassion here.
Focusing on the positives and celebrating your wins can be really powerful. The more you do it, the more evidence you’ll have to challenge those negative thoughts and silence your inner critic.
Negative core beliefs are firmly held, strongly ingrained evaluations of our worth and value as human beings. They often take the form of ‘I am…’ statements (e.g. ‘I am a failure, ‘I am not good enough’, ‘I am worthless’). Changing your negative core beliefs and the associated rules, assumptions and behaviours is important for overcoming imposter-syndrome and developing healthy self-esteem.
CBT is great for this and it’s one of my favourite things to work on with someone in therapy. You can learn more about CBT and how it works here. If you’re looking for a therapist, please use my therapy enquiry form to get in touch.