How to Identify (and Deal) with Imposter Syndrome

Impostor syndrome is a prevalent behavioral health condition impairing professional performance and contributing to burnout. But it can be mitigated.


Many of us may read the phrase “imposter syndrome” and be surprised to learn that there’s a phrase for something you feel without realizing it’s a common thing.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began, our working attitudes have changed significantly. Some entrepreneurs, business owners, and workers may have developed intensified feelings of self-doubt combined with feeling deflated and isolated.

Remote working, lockdowns, social isolations, and economic perils for significant periods of time can not only impact our mental state, but also affect our company culture, social integration, and being in the general thrall of it all.

Do you ever sit down at your desk in the morning and think to yourself, ‘What am I doing here? I don’t belong in this job. Am I a fraud?’? Have you ever felt like you’re not good enough for the career you have?

Well, if you do, you may be glad to know that you’re not alone. In fact, more than half (62%) of UK adults experience what is more commonly known as ‘imposter syndrome.’

But what is it?


Understanding Imposter Syndrome


Imposter syndrome is a feeling that your accomplishments have occurred due to luck or good fortune, as opposed to your natural talent and ability.

While not recognized as a psychiatric disorder, the behavioral health condition is increasingly prevalent, impairing professional performance and contributing to burnout.

Imposter syndrome was first identified back in 1978. Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Innes detailed in a psychology paper that imposter syndrome was something uniquely experienced within women.

However, since then, further researched has noted that this is something felt in men too — as the previous value suggests.

That said, individuals experience imposter syndrome in different ways, mainly dependent on the person, their traits, and the circumstance which they find themselves in.


Personalities Prone Imposter Syndrome


Let’s look at the different types of personalities that develop the aforementioned syndrome, then we’ll delve deeper into some effective ways to combat the syndrome, helping you don your black suit trousers with pride and confidence in the morning.


I. The ‘super’ person


These are people who continually push themselves to breaking point in an attempt to prove that they aren’t imposters.

Success is the only measurement they know, and they begin to get stressed when they aren’t experiencing it.


II. The ‘go-it-alone’ person


These people feel as if they have to do everything on their own as asking for helping is a sign of weakness, acceptance of defeat, and ultimately, admittance that they are a fraud.


III. The ‘genius’


These people are accustomed to taking things in their stride. When they find something too difficult or struggle to complete a task, they automatically assume that they aren’t good enough.


IV. The ‘expert’


They want to know everything and without it they are afraid to suggest their opinion or take otherwise calculated risks.

They will refrain from putting themselves forward with task that sits beyond their level of guaranteed expertise in fear of looking stupid.


V. The ‘perfectionist’


With this group, it’s 100% or nothing at all. There could be one suggested amendment to a 200-page document, and they would take this as a failed project, feeling unaccomplished.


How to Combat these Feelings of Discontent


If you are wondering what causes impostor syndrome and the feelings of inadequacy, many factors may cause it, including:

  • 38% assign impostor syndrome to self-doubt
  • 23% assign it to criticism
  • 20% assign it to asking for help
  • 16% assign it to comparing themselves to colleagues
  • 15% assign it to a lack of understanding in regard to what is expected

Fortunately, there are effective ways to combat imposter syndrome:


1. Talk it through


The first thing you need to do is talk about how you feel. As we’ve previously noted, more than 60% of the UK population experience the same feelings.

A problem shared is a problem halved after all.


2. Acceptance


There is no denying that every once in a while, we get out of our depth — we’re only human at the end of the day.

Realistically, you wouldn’t be able to learn if you didn’t have to, once in a while, step beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone.

Accept that sometimes you will have to hold your hands up and say, ‘I’m stuck’, and things will get a whole lot easier.


3. Learn to appreciate success


Sometimes, for someone with imposter syndrome, the difficulty is not being able to appreciate success and recognize when they have performed well. This is particularly true for those who fall into the ‘perfectionist’ category.

In order to overcome this dissatisfaction, you need to take a step back every now and again, realize your achievement, and pat yourself on the back.


4. Create an image in your head of success 


Think of a changing room before a cup final. Beyond the 90 minutes, if we choose to focus our attention on soccer, for example, the image in the mind of the players is one of glory.

Visualize lifting the hypothetical trophy and don’t fixate on being branded as a ‘fraud’ along the way.


5. Ask for help


Do you think that the great leaders and winners of yesteryear, whether it be in business or politics, succeeded alone? No, is the answer.

Winston Churchill was backed by the support of a nation, while Bill Gates was aided by the creativity and innovation of a strong organization.

Asking for help is by no means an acceptance of defeat. On the contrary, asking for help is an identification within that means you understand you have more scope to learn.

Professor Sir Cary Cooper is a psychologist on organizational and workplace psychology, and he points to the fact that imposter syndrome can have a particularly adverse effect on performance.

Cooper proposes:

“Imposter syndrome can inhibit productivity and seriously impact an individual’s career progression. By regularly reminding yourself of your achievements and recent wins, you can put your feelings of self-doubt into context.”

You will almost never find a situation where potluck is the sole reason behind your current position.

Believe in yourself.

Fay McFarlane is Senior Outreach PR Executive at Mediaworks Online Marketing. With 3 years experience in the retail industry, Fay is also an effective salesperson who can deliver exceptional customer service.