Are you an impostor?

Perhaps you’ve recently been promoted, assigned an important project or become a manager – but your default setting is to feel like you don’t deserve it. Impostor syndrome is a common phenomenon, but you can give your confidence a boost.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor phenomenon, or impostor syndrome, describes feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy – that you do not deserve your achievements and faked your way to success, even though you may have worked hard to get where you are.

The condition isn’t listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), a publication put together by experts that classifies and defines mental disorders with a view to improving diagnosis and treatment. However, there is evidence that it can lead to clinical anxiety, depression and stress, according to Psychology Today. It’s usually characterised by:

  • Difficulty accepting compliments and recognition
  • Avoiding situations in which you’re not completely confident that you know what you’re doing
  • Thinking your success is a one-time occurance and that it is unlikely to happen again
  • Feeling you need to work twice as hard to prove yourself
  • Regularly worrying about your performance and how people perceive you
  • Fearing you’ll be uncovered as a fraud

Who is likely to suffer from it?

Impostor syndrome frequently occurs among successful, high-achieving people who have advanced rapidly through their careers. ‘Impostors believe they are intellectual frauds who have attained career success because they were at the right place at the right time, knew someone in power or simply were hard workers – never because they are talented or intelligent or deserved their positions,’ said Dr Pauline Clance in her book The Impostor Syndrome: Overcoming the Fear that Haunts Your Success. According to the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP), in many instances it seems to be especially prevalent among people who work in a field where their gender or race makes them an obvious minority.

What can you do to counter it?

There are steps you can take to shake off the confidence-killing monster when it rears its head. The Muse recommends:

1. Figure out what’s killing your confidence.
What is making you doubt yourself – an important meeting, a new project or position?

2. Tell someone about what’s bothering you.
Talk to someone outside of work, who can identify your irrational feelings of fear and give you a boost when you need it by reminding you of your strengths.

3. Remind yourself of your achievements.
Take a deep look into the past and consider the hard work you have put in and everything you have achieved up until now. Remember, you got yourself where you are and earned your spot – your accomplishments are proof of that.

4. Note that the people who put you where you are did not make a mistake.
Don’t doubt your manager’s intelligence and competence. They made well-thought-out, calculated, deliberate decisions based on your experience and potential. You deserve to be where you are.

5. Update your language.
Phrases such as ‘It might just be me, but…’ and ‘Maybe it’s a longshot, but…’ show your doubt. Replace them with assertive and confident language and you’ll eventually start to believe in yourself. Start thinking that your questions are valid and that you aren’t the only person wondering about them.

These tips can help give you the boost you need, but there is use in asking the question: what is it about our workplaces, culture and interpersonal behaviours that makes it so easy for so many people to feel insecure about their proven abilities? It’s possible that addressing and resolving the problem lies in everyone’s responsibility to acknowledge that success requires a combination of hard work, talent and a sprinkle of good luck.

The information is shared on condition that readers will make their own determination, including seeking advice from a healthcare professional. E&OE.


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