Imposter Syndrome – Do You Have It? – APAC, Voice Magazine, Singapore

The term Imposter Syndrome was first introduced in 1978; psychologists believe that an estimated 70% of us will encounter at least one episode in our lifetime. Perhaps, and not surprisingly, it is thought to be more common with high-achievers. It can feel overwhelming at times; it is often accompanied by the fear that one day you will be found to be a fraud. Imposter Syndrome can arrive at moments of success, for example taking on a new role or a promotion, perhaps mentoring for the first time, speaking in meetings when the senior team is present, or speaking in public or addressing a large crowd. From time to time, most of us will suffer from a lack of self-confidence; however, with Imposter Syndrome, the feeling can be constant, and at times severe.

Those who experience Imposter Syndrome often also experience perfectionism, as they have a tendency to set the bar unrealistically high for themselves, and others. There are no shades of grey.

You may ask yourself:

If you have ten tasks to complete, and only nine are satisfactory, do you spend your time agonising over the one task you are not completely happy with?

Do you see constructive feedback and criticism as one and the same?

Do you allow your inner-voice to bully you, like having your own personal critic?

Do you struggle with delegation, fearing your team may let you down?

Do you have a tendency to micromanage?

Do you experience feelings of frustration related to an inability to meet self-imposed standards of achievement?

Do you sometimes feel like a fraud, or believe you are pretending to know what you’re doing?

Do you have doubts about your abilities and past achievements?

Do you avoid appearing too confident?

Do you find it difficult to accept praise or compliments?

When you are in meetings, are you afraid you will be asked questions you don’t have answers for?

Automatic negative thinking

The psychologist Albert Ellis coined a term ‘Awfulizing’, to describe irrational thinking patterns, where an individual will overestimate potential negative outcomes and consequences to current or future events. In short, constantly thinking through and re-running possible worst-case scenarios.

Dr Daniel G. Amen, psychiatrist, offered a similar view to Ellis, suggesting another self-defeating thinking pattern as having, ‘Automatic Negative Thoughts’. We all get both automatic positive thoughts and automatic negative thoughts. However, when we are under pressure, or we are unsure of what an outcome will be, we may default to automatic negative thinking. Often when thinking negatively, we can find ourselves believing that feelings are facts.

Techniques for dealing with imposter syndrome

A good place to start is to ask, would what I am thinking stand up in a court of law? In court, the judge would ask to see the evidence; if there is none, then it would be thrown out. Ask yourself, would my thinking stand up in court? If there’s evidence, then you have something to explore, and you can work on finding a solution. If there’s no evidence, then let it go.

Treat yourself in the same way you would a friend. If you are being too self-critical, take time to ask yourself, would I speak to a friend like this.

Make progress overcoming Imposter Syndrome by owning what you’re feeling, and ask yourself why you are feeling it. It may be easier if you write down exactly what is happening. Perhaps try two columns, in the left column, write only the facts, and the right column only the feelings. If you can separate facts from feelings, you are off to a good start. This will help you to break the problem down into smaller parts.
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), challenges are broken down into five main areas. These are situations, thoughts, emotions, physical feelings and actions.

Ongoing exposure to the presenting challenge is how we build confidence and resilience, along with creating successful experiences around finding new ways to deal with the challenge. There is a book by Susan Jeffers, ‘Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway’, I think the title says it all.

Don’t suffer in silence, talk to a trusted friend about how you are feeling; try not to allow shame to stop you from talking through your fears or concerns.

Visualise what success will look like. This is how athletes train, and it is a far healthier way to view the future. Professional athletes work on developing a positive mental attitude as they visualise winning. Can you imagine the outcome if they spent their training hours focusing on losing!

Taking a strengths-based approach is helpful; this requires identifying your key strengths and building on them.

Break the cycle of perfectionism by celebrating success. Rather than running straight into the next task, take time to acknowledge when things have gone well. Perfectionism is not altogether a bad thing; however, it is helpful to allow yourself space to make occasional mistakes; we can often learn more from our failures than from successes.

Positive affirmations can be helpful too. It may feel strange at first saying good things to yourself, about yourself. However, with constant repetition, your subconscious mind will start to accept the new information, in the same way, you may have programmed it to believe the bad! have an extensive range positive affirmation books, audio CDs and MP3 downloads.