Why do we suffer from imposter syndrome?

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Imposter syndrome is the inability to believe that one's success is deserved or legitimately achieved as a result of one's own effort. And, it's more common than you might think.

As a marketer who has worked across different environments in agencies, for in-house teams and most recently working for myself, I have seen in others and also felt the "imposter syndrome".

The common workplace can be a very competitive environment - One that even the most talented people can suffer from. I've seen others who are incredibly skilled put themselves down when they needn't do so. Particularly in corporate environments where it's dog-eat-dog, it can be easy to slip into the "imposter syndrome". The other, more confident employees (or confident at least on the outside) can come across like they are ready to pounce on your supposed weakness, which only makes things twice as hard.

Knowing that this feeling is something more mutual than you might think is the first step to feeling better about yourself

To understand this further, I spoke to Matthew Alderton, a Transpersonal Psychotherapist and EMDR Therapist at The Trauma Practice:

What is imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is the inability to believe that one's success is deserved or legitimately achieved as a result of one's own effort. There is a nagging feeling coming from within, that a person is a fraud and might be found out.

It can lead to emotional difficulties and thinking difficulties. A great deal of time might be invested in replaying past events and reflecting on whether or not we behaved appropriately in interpersonal relationships at work, family or social setting. Imposter syndrome can also be associated with associated conditions which might include anxiety, stress, depression and feelings of inadequacy. It's possible for anybody to become affected by imposter syndrome.

What can we do to start overcoming this feeling?

There are a number of ways to overcome imposter syndrome. Working through this difficulty is psychotherapeutic type work however there are some practical steps that you can take yourself.

The first is to start to acknowledge your achievements. This might mean writing down what you have done well in the past and congratulating yourself on these achievements.

Taking a proactive approach to take on new responsibility can also be beneficial. Responsibility helps to give yourself value and provide meaning in life. This might mean you have to use the internal quality of courage in order to achieve it. Courage is not the absence of fear but the master of it.

When you carry out a task or do something that does not meet with someone's approval it is important to see the bigger picture. This might mean seeing the feedback as interesting and informative and just an opinion rather than as a criticism. One piece of negative feedback does not define you or negate all of your other achievements.

Talking to other people is also helpful in learning about ourselves. We can take a more balanced view of things when we hear ourselves talk about them as well as providing us with a little distance from them. Getting someone else's opinion can be more balanced as they are more likely to be able to be objective especially if they are not directly involved.

Understanding thoughts is also key to helping people with imposter syndrome. Thoughts are internal events and are not reality. They also difficult to control. One method to assist with difficult thoughts is to think of them as cars going past on a road as you stand by the side on the grass verge.

Another approach which typifies Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is to challenge your unhelpful thoughts. Imposter syndrome type thoughts might be along the lines of I can't achieve this because I am incompetent, or I should know this already or I cannot submit this piece of work because it is not perfect. Being compassionate towards yourself allows more room for mistakes and helps to stop you thinking that you should be doing better all of the time.

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