What Is Imposter Syndrome and How Do I Overcome It?
Photo Credit: Lichtmeister Photography Productions / iStockPhoto.com

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

You did it! You reached a major milestone. You accomplished a monumental task. Whether it was a promotion at work, a significant step in your relationship, or any other success in your life, you should take a second to appreciate all you have done and congratulate your triumphs.

For some people, giving themselves a pat on the back is comfortably typical behavior. When they reach their goal, they have no problem praising themselves. They can graciously acknowledge what they have achieved and accept a sense of pride that comes along with it.

For you, the successes follow a different path. Even though you want it, you feel uncomfortable when it comes.

When the compliments and commendations begin streaming in, you will feel like a fake, a phony, and a fraud. You won’t feel like your praise is well deserved.

You feel like it is only a matter of time before people in your personal or professional life uncover just how terrible you really are.

Rather than accept credit, you are quick to shrug off the success and:

  • Assign responsibility to another person or group of people.
  • State that it was luck, not hard work, that created the accomplishment.
  • Minimize the event stating that it was “no big deal.”
  • Focus on how the positive situation could have been even better.
  • Believe that you are not worthy of your accomplishments.

What Is Imposter Syndrome?

If the above scenario sounds like you, you might have imposter syndrome — also known as imposter phenomenon or fraud syndrome. It is marked by a strong feeling of incompetence; if people see you in a positive light, it is only because you have them fooled.

The good news is that the condition is not a life-threatening medical disease. It isn’t even a diagnosable mental health condition that will require a list of medications to treat.

Instead, imposter syndrome is an observable set of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that have been noticed, documented, and studied. It will not kill you, but it could make your life seem less satisfying.

Who Gets Imposter Syndrome?

Someone with imposter syndrome will never feel good enough. Experts believe that this stems from an inability of the person to internalize their accomplishments.

This means that if something good happens, it was a matter of circumstance rather than achievement. They have a sense that they are not responsible for these positive events.

Imposter syndrome is more likely to infect people with a level of high achievement — it does not strike someone working a mundane job. Instead, the condition generally affects people of higher status who have achieved some level of success and power in their life. These people get into good colleges and have good jobs.

You may think imposter syndrome is synonymous with low self-esteem, but it appears that the two issues exist on separate continuums. Someone with high self-esteem could still have imposter syndrome, and just because someone has low self-esteem does not mean they have imposter syndrome.

You May Also Like

How Does Imposter Syndrome Build?

It seems that imposter syndrome could have more to do with your upbringing, your parents’ attitudes towards you, and your views of yourself.

For example, if you were labeled as the “loner” child in your family, but you recently became engaged, this event will trigger discomfort in you. You may feel the need to explain away your success.

In another example, you were labeled as the “genius” in the family. Everything is fine until you experience adversity, and you begin to question and doubt your abilities completely.

What Can Be Done?

Like many other conditions, imposter syndrome can be minimized or eliminated with enough hard work, optimism, and consistency.

Diagnosis Yourself

Do you think you have imposter syndrome based on the information above? Do you give yourself enough credit? Do you appreciate your successes?

Or do you think it is only a matter of time until your world comes crashing down due to your own incompetence? If so, you might have imposter syndrome.

Listen to Yourself

Now that you have identified yourself as someone with imposter syndrome, begin to investigate the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that feed into the issue. Some of these may seem automatic or instinctual, so you will have to slow down your thoughts and improve your self-monitoring to note the problematic areas.

If you find yourself making statements like “I’m no good” or “This is going to end badly,” take note.

Let Others Know

Whatever your goal, you will improve your odds of success by including others. Let the trusted and reliable supports in your life know what you are facing. Let them know what struggles you might confront on the way and how they can help.

Change the Dialogue

The negative thinking patterns only keep you further entrenched in the imposter syndrome. With your ability to note the harmful thoughts, you can move towards new ways of thinking based in reality, not feelings.

If your tendencies are to credit others for their work, start praising your work. Remind yourself that you are a good person who works hard for your achievements.

These thoughts will feel very uncomfortable at first because they go against your previous views, but they are going to be more accurate.

A Bit of Bragging

People with imposter syndrome will never praise their own accomplishments out loud. They will only praise others as they negate their role.

To combat this, you must brag. People view bragging in an overly negative way, but in truth, it has its place. Bragging is your way to bring your new thinking patterns out to the real world.

If someone gives you a compliment, accept it and expand upon it. If someone wonders how the project got done so quickly, let them know you were working efficiently. Bragging does not lead to self-centeredness or cockiness. It only leads to giving credit where credit is due.

Imposter syndrome affects a selective group of people, but for those impacted, it can be incredibly limiting. It may take time to understand that imposter syndrome has influenced so much of your life, but it is never too late to change it.

By focusing on what can be done, you can empower yourself towards a life of uninhibited success, achievement, and most importantly, happiness.