UNDERSTAND IMPOSTOR SYNDROME & 6 RESOURCES FOR HOW TO MOVE PAST IT
Firstly, what is impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud". - This is how Wikipedia describes it.
So basically, it’s feeling like we’re not good enough and feeling like you’re faking it or the feeling of inadequacy or incompetence, even when you’ve probably proven to yourself and others around you, that you’re great at what you do. Which is interesting to consider when you hear sayings like; ‘fake it ‘til you make it.’ Are we not perpetuating this exact feeling by saying things like this? You don’t need to fake it, you’re amazing at what you do!
There was a study in the UK that found that 85% of working adults had felt inadequacy or not competent at work but only 25% of them new that impostor phenomenon existed.
Impostor syndrome can appear in many places for people but often appears at school, university, the workplace, in relationships, any new kind of environment, social settings and more.
My own personal experience of feeling like an impostor
For me personally, I have felt like an impostor many times and it pops up in the quaintest of places.
I remember once, I was sitting at a dinner with the 2 directors of the company I was working for, a couple of the founders and an incredible linguistics professional from the USA. We were all in the UK for a work event. As I looked around that table, my self-talk said, “my god, why am I, this baby, sitting at a table of real functioning adults who are smashing life? How did I even get here? They’re totally going to realise that I’m a child, it’s only a matter of time.”
In all reality, I was there because I managed to bring together these people for this event, I organised this amazing speaker and linguistic professional to come from the USA to the UK to share her insights and to help us push forward on some major human rights issues the world is facing. I was helping our business listen and learn so we could use it as a tool to create social change. Just a small feat in bringing people together. So why on earth was I questioning my right to be there or even considering that my age meant that I was ‘enough’ to be there? It was that classic little lizard brain popping in making me feel like an impostor.
I, like so many people and especially women, have impostor syndrome and it is fucking relentless, it’s a consistent stream of negative self-talk. While, I’ve come a long way with changing my thoughts, working on myself, having had a coach, I still have impostor syndrome. It’s just that now I have the tools to first recognise it, understand it, acknowledge it, allow the uncomfortable feeling and then keep taking action towards my goals despite the feelings of inadequacy.
I considered the question; WHY do we experience impostor syndrome? What I can come up with is that some of the fundamental human needs that Tony Robbins describes like certainty, significance, love and connection seem to me to be connected or almost an opposite of feeling like an imposter.
When you are uncertain about whether you can do something, that creates fear which can drive this feeling of not enoughness, or thinking, ‘I’m not competent’. Because you are uncertain about yourself you then don’t think that your contribution or you are significant enough. While all humans need love and connection, if we think we will fail at this work thing, then our amygdala (AKA Lizard brain) thinks we will lose the ability to be loved or feel connected to the people around us… therefore creating the feelings of deep uncertainty about ourselves and our abilities and making us think that maybe we aren’t good enough and will be ‘found out.’ So next time you have these feelings, consider the idea that your 2 million year old brain (the amygdala part) that goes into flight or fight mode, is just having a struggle and you can actively work to change these thoughts.
Here’s some ideas and resources on Impostor Syndrome that could help you through your own experience.
- So firstly, here's the amazing and intelligent Kara Loewentheil of Unfuck Your Brain, to talk you through impostor syndrome on her podcast. She also has this amazing 3 step process which you can download from her website and take yourself through the steps.
Kara is a lawyer by trade and has been running a coaching business and podcast called UnFuck Your Brain for about 2 years. I have listened to every single podcast she has, she is utterly brilliant. She’s really helped me break down some tough thoughts, feelings and ideas into easily digestible and actionable ways of improving my own life. Imposter Syndrome is just one of many of those ideas.
This particular podcast covers: a deep dive into the fundamental conviction that you’re not good enough in some kind of unspecified way, and examine the roots of this damaging thought pattern.
2. FastCompany covers more from Valerie Young - (as read in a previous article we shared), as shared in our previous article about Impostor Syndrome, and breaks down the 5 different types of people who often feel like impostors or are having an impostor experience. Read more in depth here.
Basically, they give the lowdown on:
- The Perfectionist
- The Superwoman/man
- The Natural Genius
- The Soloist
- The Expert
3. Here's a really awesome article written by StartupBro's on 21 ways to overcome impostor syndrome.
They share some really great quotes from well-known or famous people who also feel impostor syndrome which definitely helps get an understanding of just how widespread and common this feeling really is. We have this idea that other people ‘must’ know so much more than us. But the reality is, we’re all on this crazy journey together and there is a lot of unknowns and we all have the same feelings.
One that really resonated for me was Maya Angelou's:
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think, ‘uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out."
4. Check out this video called; What is Imposter Syndrome and How Can you Combat it.
This video talks about some of the world's greatest minds like Michelle Obama and Einstein also having impostor syndrome. It’s almost a relief that such incredible humans also experience this.
A key thing that really stood out for me, in this video, is the fact that in the study by Dr Pauline Clance, is that underrepresented, disadvantaged or minority groups are often more likely to experience the feeling of impostor syndrome more than other groups of people. Although, all people from all walks of life also have the same experience but it’s less common.
Dr Pauline Clance also shares interesting information in her study about the impostor cycle where we get given a task, having feelings of not being competent enough and then have a response of either over-producing work or procrastinating completely. (This was a massive lightbulb moment for me - I over prepare for just about everything, just incase people think I’m not an expert in my field). Ring any bells for you?
5. This Forbes article gives some really incredible actions you can take to transform your relationship and understand of impostor syndrome.
Some of the top ideas that are shared around becoming conscious of the things you can learn about yourself. Discussing in depth about acknowledging that you ‘don’t know what you don’t know.’ Therefore, there is much to learn! When you think about the idea of learning new things with a bit of a structure, it’s definitely less daunting.
Another major point is to ask for support. When it comes to any kind of mental health or emotional support, asking for help is so important. Like anything, we need to continue to discuss, share and open up about the struggles we have in our minds, when we do it seems they are much more common than we think. Opening up to others can also help dissipate some of the feelings of anxiety that might be connected with the impostor syndrome we are feeling.
Another Forbes article suggests that there are 3 attributes that are really common to people who experience or suffer from impostor phenomenon:
- Holding yourself to impossible standards. - (check, lol)
- Trying to control your environment. - (yes, check.)
- Comparing yourself to others. - (oh good, yes, I got all three, how about you?)
6. My own personal way of moving past impostor syndrome
Since I’ve had leadership coaching (with Kylee Stone, if you were wondering) this year I really feel I’ve been given the tools to work through some of the tough thoughts my brain spits out. I’ve now got a bit of a process of how I deal with these feelings and thoughts.
It's fair to say this problem is way bigger than we even imagined and finding ways to overcome this is really important for personal growth and social growth in the women's empowerment movement.
We need to support each other in understanding, talking about and overcoming these feelings of inadequacy, this not enoughness and of incompetence. We now know and can accept that many of us suffer from feelings of impostor syndrome and so it’s our responsibility to actively change those thoughts and feelings. We can’t succumb to tall poppy syndrome or thinking how we achieved things was luck, we have to acknowledge our power, our fears, our minds, our abilities and we have to charge forward, taking daily actions towards our goals.
If we can actively take steps towards understanding our own capabilities, skills and power and really owning these things AND supporting each other in sharing what's awesome about ourselves, then we are on the right track!