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How to Fight Imposter Syndrome

How to Fight Imposter Syndrome
How to Fight Imposter Syndrome

Hey friends, today I want to talk to you about how to fight imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is something that I’ve struggled with all my life. I know many of you fight imposter syndrome too. Something like 70% of millennials fight with imposter syndrome, according to the International Journal of Behavioral Science. It holds us back at work and in our personal lives.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

“If I can do it, anyone can.”

Have you ever heard yourself say that to someone? Then you likely were experiencing ‘Imposter Syndrome.’

Imposter Syndrome is the tendency to discount or diminish our skills or accomplishments. It’s the inability, to see in ourselves, the incredible amount of  skills that we possess. People who suffer from Imposter Syndrome often feel like they are a fraud; one step away from being found out as someone who has experienced success not because of talent, but because of luck. I’ve experienced it many times.

What causes Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is born of anxiety, perfectionism, self-doubt, and fear of failure. For most people, it starts in childhood or young adult hood. At some point in their young lives, those that live with Imposter Syndrome were told that their accomplishments were “less than.”

“Yes, you got an A, but that was an easy class.”

“It’s great that you got first chair in band. Mrs. Jones said her son earned first chair without even practicing!”

“That skirt is beautiful. You can hardly tell that it’s hand-made.”

These statements are all carefully designed digs. They recognize success, but what the brain hears is “…but it’s so easy, anyone could have done it.” Even when it’s not. Anyone who has ever attempted to repair a beloved blouse that has ripped can tell you that hand sewing something, and making it look incredible, takes a level of skill that few of us possess. But comments like the ones above can make you feel like your skill is minimal, or unimportant. This fuels people to become highly motivated; the motivation is fueled by the desire to be better. However, those same people are rarely able to accept the credit that’s given; their anxiety or perfectionism sounds off, clear as a bell, telling them that their work is not good enough.

In fact, those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome feel so much like a fraud that they often live in constant fear of being found out. Every award, every accolade brings them one step closer to the inevitable: someone is going to see that they are a fraud, and call them out. When someone does compliment their effort, the response is generally self-deprecating and minimizes the skill that went into the final outcome.

Growing up, my mother made these kinds of backhanded compliments and digs, all of which impacted my self esteem. (read I don’t talk to my toxic mother and here’s why)

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix to overcome imposter syndrome. You’re not going to come away from reading this blog post feeling like less of an imposter. Just like quitting smoking or stopping a bad habit, overcoming Imposter Syndrome will take time and effort on your part.

First, to stop feeling like an imposter, you have to stop thinking like one. When someone compliments your skill, your immediate response is to discount what you’ve done. That needs to stop today. You will need to remind yourself that you’re competent and capable. I know it’s hard! I struggle with wanting to downplay any of my achievements and what I’ve been working on is to say thank you instead.

Have you received awards for a job well done? Have a pile of certificates from classes you’ve taken? Put those out where you can see them, so that they will serve as a tangible reminder of your qualifications and proficiency. If you don’t, stick some Post-It’s around your office with reminders of just how awesome you are. I’m serious, it helps!

Imposters often feel shame over their failings or mistakes. They justify this by telling themselves that they “know the limits of their own knowledge.” They often turn down high profile assignments or promotions because of the fear of making a mistake. For those who feel like imposters, a mistake is often something that is obsessed over rather than accepted, fixed, and moved on. Behavioral therapy may be needed to help you overcome this mindset. I know I needed it.

Changing how you frame the discussion can also help you alleviate some of your feelings of cheating your employer, your children, your spouse. When you manage to pull off something incredible at the last minute, don’t dismiss it. Instead realize that you have the unique skills to do just that. While that last minute accomplishment may not be quite as full of bells and whistles as it would have had you had more time, you still managed to pull of an accomplishment at the last minute, and that’s worthy of praise.

At heart, Imposter Syndrome is a confidence issue. At some point in your life, someone made you feel like your accomplishment wasn’t worth squat. For me, that was my mother. That damaged your confidence and has impacted you throughout life. You continue to measure yourself against someone else’s idea of success, and that undercuts you at every opportunity.

I’ve spent a lot of time with my therapist working on imposter syndrome because of how it ties into my anxiety and other issues. Even still, I constantly fight against the voices of self-doubt in my head. When that inner voice puts me down, I now retaliate by saying the opposite out loud.

Even if you don’t feel confident, you can still present yourself as confident. I call this acting like a cat. Cats will act confident and bluff, even if they’re not feeling well, to help themselves feel better. If you’ve got a big presentation coming up, remind yourself over and over that you’re well-prepared, that you’ve put in the work, and that you are fully trained to do the job you do. When you’re done, it’s okay to find ways to improve, but you don’t need to dwell on the failings. Instead, make a list of ways you succeeded, and focus on those.

At some point in their lives, almost everyone has felt like a fraud. We can all relate to the feelings that you are having. But with each incredible accomplishment that you achieve, reframe the discussion to show yourself that you can be successful. It will take time, but you can change the way you think, and the way you view your own accomplishments. And it’s important to do this for your mental health!

Have you experienced imposter syndrome?

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4 Comments

  • Our mothers could be twins!

    Decades of emotional abuse from a textbook case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder has taken its toll. I struggle daily with my self esteem, and with the nagging little voice in the back of my mind telling me I’m not good enough and I don’t deserve to be happy or successful. I cut off contact with my mother years ago, but the damage has been done. I’ve been searching out forums and blogs dedicated to NPD and while they can’t erase a shitty upbringing, it’s a bit of comfort to know I’m not alone.

    Thank you for this post. If it helps even one person then you’ve done them a great service.

  • Thank you for putting a name to something that I struggle with on an almost daily basis. I’m going to use your suggestions in my daily life.

  • Thank you for writing about this … again, I think? I divorced my mother [and older sister] several years ago for emotional abuse and spent a substantial amount of time afterwards in mourning what my life might have been had my parents raised me with love and support. I used my imposter status to become a high achiever, found a wonderful man and married him 35 years ago, but the fear of being “found out” as a mean and selfish person unworthy of love and friendship plagues me to this day. I appreciate your shining light on something that is not only a millennial issue. Those of us on the cusp between X-ers and Boomers suffer as well and I’ve bookmarked this page to return to the next time I argue with someone about whether or not I’m an awful bitch or an actual nice person. I usually direct the conversation to my husband, “the nice one in the family. “

    I love that you include content that isn’t always beauty-related. It’s among the many reasons why I love your site.

  • This is an amazing post, I deal with anxiety and impostor syndrome everyday, I think little things get to me sometimes that people say but I think I just have always had confidence issues and anxiety since I was a child. I’ve been have quite bad imposter syndrome feelings lately and i don’t know why.

    Thank you for writing this post its great to know other people deal with the same thing.

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