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Imposter Syndrome

Over the last year while meeting with individuals I noticed a theme. This theme seemed to have roots in core beliefs and automatic negative thoughts (two clinical terms used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). This theme of thought matches Imposter Syndrome. Imposter syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context. A lot of the time imposter syndrome shows up in a professional setting. This isn’t to say that it can’t show up in other settings. You may find yourself doubting your abilities even when others are providing you positive feedback or compliments.

Imposter syndrome isn’t a disorder and can not be diagnosed. This doesn’t mean that it can’t cause someone distress or doubt. Imposter syndrome can attach to experiences that match those of anxiety, and depression. Imposture syndrome, anxiety and depression can come together in a cycle that perpetuates themselves. Imposter

syndrome can link to frequent thoughts that can fall under the category of cognitive distortions. These distorted ways of thinking or unhelpful thinking styles are generated by our core beliefs. Within Imposter syndrome some thoughts can be “I don’t belong here” “I’m not smart enough” or “I’m not good enough.” These types of thoughts can be something we believe at our core that have shown up throughout our lives, but are coming up in settings such as our job, relationships etc.

Where does imposter syndrome come from? There are some common origins of this experience:

· Parenting and childhood experiences such as pressure to do well in school, parenting styles, criticism, and comparison to siblings.

· Personality traits such as perfectionism, low self-efficacy (I mentioned this in the blog for Locus of Control), and five personality traits with the acronym of CANOE (conscientiousness, agreeability, neuroticism, openness, and extraversion/extroversion).

· New responsibilities such as getting a new job or a promotion at a current job, getting married or having children.

· Role Bias such as gender bias and institutionalized racism.

· Pre-existing mental health barriers or symptoms as I mentioned above regarding anxiety and depression.

What can we do about imposter syndrome if we think we are experiencing it? Here are nine different suggestions that can help challenge your perception verses reality.

1. Normalize it. That means that this experience is more common than you think. Talking about it can be a good way to realize that you are not alone.

2. Reframe your thoughts. Remind yourself of your achievements and challenge the negative thoughts with evidence that doesn’t support them.

3. Reach out for support. Talk to a friend or loved one. Therapy is also a constructive place to discuss your thoughts and feelings.

4. Look for guidance such as a mentor. Find someone who has experience in the area you are feeling insecure in.

5. Become a mentor. Teaching about your area of work or expertise can help reinforce your abilities and knowledge. I find this to be a natural experience for me in my work.

6. Be okay with limitations. You will not be perfect or a master at everything all the time. You can always refresh with research or reviewing previously learned materials. We are always learning or relearning.

7. Regarding children, praise their efforts and normalize trial and error.

8. Expect failure initially. When we are doing something new it is normal to not succeed 100% because it is a learning process. Just because you may fail at first doesn’t mean you can’t succeed.

9. Be authentic and accountable. Having a big ego or thinking you are a complete failure will not serve you as much as holding on to confidence and a little bit of failure to be authentic and accountable.

Feeling like an imposter or even a failure can be a difficult and distressing experience. We can sometimes fall into a pattern of doubt, self-loathing, fear, and isolation when we feel this way. Take note of how you experience this phenomenon. Are you feeling down or depressed over potentially smaller or less impactful occurrences? Are you feeling on edge, hyper focused and worrying more than you normally would? Are other people close to you noticing a change in your behavior or demeanor? Are you finding yourself questioning your abilities, self-worth, and accomplishments? If so, these could be signs of imposter syndrome mixed with anxiety and depression.

Try these 9 ways to combat imposter syndrome. Also, don’t feel afraid or ashamed to seek out professional help such as therapy, traditional talk therapy or complementary therapies.

Resources used for this blog:


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