Have you ever felt that despite your successes, you simply aren’t good enough? Whether you’ve received a high ATAR, made it into your dream university, or have been offered a promotion, perhaps you feel they’ve made a mistake in awarding it to you. In this mindset of doubt, you may feel as though you haven’t truly earned your place in areas of your life that link to personal success. In a new job, you may think: ‘Why did they choose me? I’ll stuff up soon, and they’ll realise they should’ve hired someone else instead’. To put it plain and simple – You feel like a fraud. This is what Imposter Syndrome (IS) feels like.
Does it sound like anything you’ve ever experienced? Trust me, if it is, you’re definitely not alone. Whether it is professionally or in our personal lives, almost 70 per cent of us have or will encounter Imposterism (or ‘Impostorism’) at some stage in our lives. Of those almost 3 in 4 people, some will experience thoughts, tendencies and perhaps more than one type of imposterism (there are five) at least once in their lifetime. For others, well, they may feel the ‘suffering’ will never leave them.
But is ‘suffering’ the right word? This might make IS sound worse than it really is.
Labelling it as a ‘syndrome’ may make those who experience it feel as though it’s a weird or abnormal phenomenon we experience within. Well, it’s not.
Often referred to now as ‘Imposter phenomenon’ and ‘Imposter experience’, there isn’t a whole lot of discussion around the topic, and it’s not currently recognised by the DSM-5 – which, FYI, is what I refer to as a bible for diagnosing mental disorders. So, it can go under the radar a little as it is not a diagnosable condition (yet, at least). Whether it’s official or not (and whether we call it a syndrome, phenomenon or experience), it is nevertheless a real issue experienced by many.
Trisha Barker, a 46 year old qualified coach and NLP Practitioner with a background in corporate HR founded ‘The Imposter Syndrome Solution’ and is specialised in helping individuals overcome it:
“As someone who had experienced Imposter Syndrome throughout my time at school then in the workplace, it was a subject that I had lots of personal experience with and therefore I could resonate with my clients,” says Trisha.
She explains the Imposter Sydndrome thought process:
“You think to yourself – Who am I to be doing this? I’m out of my depth, I don’t belong here. You go for jobs that you think you are capable of instead of stretching yourself for a job that you need to grow into”.
The qualified coach says Imposter Syndrome can stop us from excelling for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to) fear of: failure, moving somewhere new, and people realising you are not as good as they think you are.
According to Trisha, as a result you:
- Don’t put yourself forward for opportunities;
- Don’t raise your hand and give your views;
- Berate yourself for doing and saying the wrong thing;
- Can have huge expectations of yourself;
- Feel insecure;
- Can over–prepare for situations and have a need to be perfect;
- Don’t focus on skills but focus on inadequacies; and
- Over commit and can’t say no.
(…Just to name a few).
Maya Angelou, renowned author and winner of numerous esteemed awards, felt she was also undeserving:
“Each time I write a book, every time I face that yellow pad, the challenge is so great,” confessed the talented author. “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.”
Even Albert Einstein didn’t think his work deserved that much public acknowledgement:
“The exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler,❞ said the accomplished physicist.
Canadian actor, comedian, screenwriter, director and producer Mike Myers admits there’s been times he’s felt like a fraud himself:
“At any time I still expect that the No-Talent police will come and arrest me”.
Do you see a trend here? All of these people have truly experienced success. Whether it comes from a desire to be flawless when we are given a new challenge (yes, I’m talking to you, perfectionists), or from childhood environmental factors such as sibling rivalry or being labelled as “the clever one”, coach Trisha says you need to work on changing your perception of self:
“Unless you change what you believe, you will continue to have negative thoughts about yourself, your abilities and your achievements, and this will affect the way you feel and behave on a daily basis”.
If any of this sounds like you, hopefully now you feel more comfortable being open about Imposter Syndrome. It can take a nasty hold of any of us, and can stop us from reaching our highest potential and achieving things well within our reach. By collecting positive feedback and working on our mindset, we can get closer to managing imposterism. While we may never be able to completely get rid of these thoughts, we can increase awareness through sharing common experience and build our inner confidence.
If you think you have Imposter Syndrome tendencies (experience ‘Imposter Phenomenon’), or are curious where you lie on the IS spectrum, take this test! If you or anyone you know is suffering from any of the content within this article, contact Headspace, The Samaritans, or Beyond Blue.