Do you have strong feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt? Do you feel uncomfortable when people praise you and have a habit of playing down your strengths? If the answer to both questions is yes, you may be suffering from impostor syndrome.
Originally called impostor phenomenon, impostor syndrome was first coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes and describes the psychological pattern exhibited when someone has a deep-seated sense that their achievements are not real.
Many people with impostor syndrome will tend to focus on their mistakes rather than their successes, or on what they don't know rather than what they do know. One of the most common impostor syndrome thoughts is an overwhelming fear that one day you'll be exposed as a fraud.
Impostor syndrome thinking could mean you'll never really achieve your full potential. When you do achieve something, you become more convinced that you're a fraud. So eventually you may avoid taking on any new responsibilities or projects, plus you may revise your overall goals and become less ambitious in general.
Thankfully there are strategies that can help change the way you think and overcome impostor syndrome - here are some you can try right now:
If you have typical impostor syndrome tendencies, try to accept them for what they are. Giving your feelings a name may be just what you need to start exercising some control over them.
Remind yourself that many other people have similar thoughts about their abilities. Many people with impostor syndrome tend not to mention how they feel because if they do, they think they'll be exposed as a fraud. Keep that in mind and try to remember you're not alone - even if sometimes it seems you are.
It may be helpful to keep a record of each time you experience feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy or other impostor syndrome tendencies. Write down these thoughts whenever they happen, as well as details of the circumstances (where you were, who else was there, what was said and so on). Note how you felt physically - was your heart pounding, were you perspiring, did you have butterflies in your stomach? Writing all of these things down can help you recognise when and perhaps even why you have such thoughts about yourself.
Reading your journal entries back on a regular basis may help you realise that what you were thinking isn't real.
Talking about how you feel to people you trust can be beneficial, as others may reassure you and help you realise your fears of inadequacy are irrational. You may also be surprised to find out the person you're talking to has felt exactly the same as you. If you don't know someone you feel you could open up to, try talking to a coach or a therapist.
Avoid trying to be perfect
Many people affected by impostor syndrome also have perfectionist tendencies as, according to experts, the two things tend to go hand in hand. If you're a perfectionist, you may experience feelings of self-doubt when something doesn't work out exactly as you planned. Even when your efforts are a success, you may still feel you could have done better.
Instead of giving yourself a hard time, try reminding yourself it's fine not to be perfect - nobody is, after all. It's also true that even if you're not perfect you can still excel in many areas. Try making a list of your strengths and achievements, and read it back every now and then when you need reminding of all the things you're good at.
There are many other things you can do to help combat perfectionist thinking - to find out more, read our article Are you a perfectionist?
Take a bow
If you have impostor syndrome there's a good chance you'll happily blame yourself when things go wrong. But when something you do goes well, you may find it difficult to take the credit. Instead you might attribute your success to others or say that it was all down to good luck.
You can overcome this by trying to change the way you think about your achievements and by taking responsibility for the good as well as the bad. Give yourself credit where credit is due, and when somebody pays you a compliment or praises you, try to learn to accept and enjoy it (it may be difficult at first, but the more you try, the easier accepting praise will become).