How to recognise and manage the signs of imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is an intrusive internal belief of self-doubt. Those with imposter syndrome often believe they are not as competent as others may perceive and that their success is due to luck. This can reach the point where even doing well at something, or achieving a milestone goal does nothing to alter their beliefs. The more accomplished people with imposter syndrome become, the more they continue to feel like they are not worthy and do not deserve it.

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. 82 per cent of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. While some might only experience it for a limited time, for others, it can have a life-long impact on their career. If left unchecked, imposter syndrome can lead to anxiety and depression, while also impacting productivity and performance. Negative thinking, self-doubt and self-sabotage can affect a range of areas in a person’s life.

But it doesn’t need to be career limiting. We’ve put together some tips to help you understand and manage imposter syndrome.

Identify the signs

To take action, you need to recognise the signs of imposter syndrome. These can include:

  • Self-doubt and distorted negative self-perceptions
  • Berating your performance; worrying about every small mistake
  • Sabotaging your own success; downplaying expertise
  • Limiting thoughts; feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Fear of feedback and criticism
  • Overachieving and setting very challenging goals

Self-doubt is the primary and most detrimental symptom of imposter syndrome. It manifests itself as a silent internal voice that tells individuals they are not good enough. These feelings of self-doubt often come in waves of feeling capable and then not capable.

As this voice becomes more persistent, you will soon start to doubt your own abilities – no matter how qualified you are. Imposter syndrome has nothing to do with an individual’s actual capabilities. For example, an accountant may have been through all the right training and be highly successful, but they can still experience self-doubt which can be career-limiting when applying for new roles or promotions.

Recognise different forms

Not all people experience imposter syndrome in the same way. Different types of imposter syndrome are:

  • The perfectionist: fixates on flaws and places great pressure on themselves
  • The superhero: pushes themselves to work as hard as possible due to feelings of inadequacy
  • The expert: often underrates their own expertise and are never satisfied with their level of knowledge
  • The natural genius: sets themselves very challenging goals and feel worthless if they don’t succeed on the first try
  • The soloist: often sees asking for help as a sign of incompetence

If you note elements of these behaviours, take the time to source support. Your mental health and wellbeing are always a priority.

Take action

Becoming self-aware is the biggest step to combating imposter syndrome. Instead of listening to your self-doubt, start challenging your silent voice and find out what triggers negative feelings.

Imposter syndrome is often triggered by starting a new role and is exacerbated in competitive workplaces. However, some forms of imposter syndrome may be a long-term state of mind due to upbringing, culture, school or university or even social media.

Ensure that you recognise these limiting beliefs and acknowledge where they come from. Start questioning your thoughts and challenge their credibility. What is the overriding value you seek? Is it respect, family, security, safety or freedom? Don’t fight these feelings but learn to acknowledge them and recognise where they come from.

Useful questions to ask yourself include:

  • What is your inner critic saying?
  • What are the actual words?
  • How does it make you feel?
  • What does your inner critic look like? Does it embody someone?
  • What would life be like if it were not true?

Once you have started challenging your self-doubt, continue to act by tracking your accomplishments and measuring your successes. By keeping track of your achievements, you can show yourself that you are doing well with tangible evidence to back it up.

Talking to someone about imposter syndrome can be very useful to voice challenges and discover triggers. Whether this is with a friend, colleague or even counsellor, sharing your internal beliefs will make you better equipped to deal with your imposter syndrome and can help give you a more objective viewpoint.

Build on your relationship with your employer

If you feel you are experiencing imposter syndrome, engaging with your employer is essential. It may feel daunting, but every organisation should have a mental health first aider or HR team who are equipped to help.

Creating an open and honest dialogue is crucial to seeking out support to push back against self-doubt. All leaders must create an environment where honest conversations around staff welfare are accepted, and if they are not, then it’s time to ask questions about whether this working structure is efficient.

Ultimately, imposter syndrome doesn’t need to be career limiting. By challenging your inner doubts and engaging in conservation, you are taking the first steps to minimise this belief system and accomplishing the role of your dreams.

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