How Imposter Syndrome Torpedoes Our Success

A dog wearing glasses with a fake nose

You go forth into the world to follow your dreams and shine your beautiful light — only to feel like a fraud on the inside. You begin working on something, and self-doubt and anxiety creep into your brain. So, you choose over preparation and exert overreaching effort. You may even accomplish your goal through luck. But truly, you just want relief, and it comes only temporarily, until you push back any form of positive feedback — resulting in a loop back to anxiety and feeling like a fraud.

This is the cycle of imposter syndrome.

The invasion of imposter syndrome can affect the progression of your career and personal life. Some people are more vulnerable than others, such as those with anxiety or depression; severe cases of imposter syndrome and its depressive effects may even lead to suicidal behaviors or self-harm. You may also harm yourself emotionally or spiritually through self-sabotage. You may feel paranoid, emotionally distressed, isolated, and invisible.

Imposter Syndrome Places Limits on Your Life

Experiencing imposter syndrome means, on a daily basis, you face the distortion of thought that you may be lazy, unintelligent, or incompetent. You fear you’ve taken “fake it until you make it” too literally and wonder when you’ll actually succeed. Self-doubt and negative self-talk affect your day-to-day life as you undercut your value.

In severe cases, when the effects of imposter syndrome snowball, your performance at work may fall so low that your worst fears come true — your hesitance, avoidance or constant apology result in self-sabotage.

It may be that you’re afraid of judgment from an authority figure. Physical reactions to stress include shaking, startled reactions, dry mouth, and insomnia — look for these signs as you note triggers.

You may also overcompensate in self-harming ways by setting poor boundaries, taking on more work than you should, staying late. This creates tension in your work-life balance, adding to your stress.

Imposter syndrome places limits on your potential and ability to live your life enjoyably, with satisfaction and to the fullest.

What Research Says About Imposter Syndrome

In the 1970s, Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance discovered the phenomenon when their research found many high-achieving women felt like frauds. The syndrome, however, affects both women and men.

Follow-up studies report no differences in imposter feelings among women and men. Imposter syndrome affects multiple demographics and backgrounds — workers in various industries say they feel like frauds. Unfortunately, people still talk about it as a women’s issue because women are more likely to speak up about their experiences of feeling like imposters.

People like to say millennials are narcissists, but 70 percent of them feel like imposters. Also, people who feel the need to continually challenge themselves may be more at risk for imposter syndrome.

Effectively Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

You can find relief for imposter syndrome through mentoring, self-help, or counseling like that provided by cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

Opening up to those you trust in your social and professional circles may also help. Has a friend previously expressed feeling like a fraud to you? Do you have a mentor you can turn to with your feelings of doubt? Your life and job have unique demands, and you need someone you can relate to who will help ground you.

Start by challenging your negative self-talk and worst-case scenarios. Accept them and develop a plan of action to strategize proactive steps to head off this negativity. Track your successes and compliments. Return to these when you feel less than confident about your abilities.

Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon keeps you from internalizing your accomplishments. When others provide proof of your success or competence, or give you praise, you dismiss it as timing or luck. You may not feel deserving of praise, but the truth is that everyone feels like a fraud at some point.

Once you recognize these feelings, you can take steps to make things better and feel like the success you truly are.

 
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