In 1992 Jodie Foster won the Oscar. Her reflection on one of the most significant events of her life was mind-blowing:
‘When I won the Oscar, I thought it was a fluke. I thought everybody would find out, and they’d take it back. They’d come to my house, knocking on the door, “Excuse me, we meant to give that to someone else. That was going to Meryl Streep.”‘
Jodie Foster is among many celebrities, politicians, sportspeople who admitted to having Imposter Syndrome. The truth is, anyone can get it, anyone can have it.
Have you had a promotion and thought that you are not good enough for the job and you will be found out and sacked? Have you had a reward and believed you got it by chance and do not deserve it? Have you ever thought ‘Who am I to do this?’ These are the common way of thinking among those who suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
It is estimated that around 70% of population suffer from impostorism. For many, it is a daily struggle. And what makes it worse is that, overwhelmed with shame, Impostors often suffer in silence. This has a seriously negative impact on their work and personal life, their health and their relationships. Imposter syndrome reduces levels of wellbeing, increases chances of mental health problems, makes people feel isolated, and holds them back.
Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome
The following are the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome:
1. Belief that they have fooled others.
Because those with Imposter Syndrome attribute their success to external factors and to luck, they have difficulty accepting that they deserve that success. They think that for a long time they managed to hide how weak they are, how little they know, or how little they do.
2. Fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Those with Impostor Syndrome hold back even when they know answers. In their mind, they have been fooling others for a long time. It cannot last forever, so, if they speak up, they'll be exposed as a fake.
3. Failure to attribute own achievements to internal qualities such as ability, intelligence and skills.
Because they think all their success happened due to luck or external factors, they often forget how hard they worked for their accomplishments.
For a long time researchers suggested that people who suffer from Imposter syndrome have all of the above symptoms. However, the latest studies suggest that any symptom from the list or a combination of them may indicate that we suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
Why do we get Imposter Syndrome?
It is difficult to pinpoint one event in someone’s life that makes them develop Imposter Syndrome. It is possible that someone with Imposterism, in their childhood, was conditioned to always perform and pushed to do better while their current achievements were not recognised. It is possible that they were bullied as teens or young adults. It is possible that they had toxic environment in their previous workplace. All these events may develop a feeling of not being good enough. That belief is being fed by constant self-criticism (sometimes unconscious) and stays dormant until it is triggered. Triggers may include a promotion, a big life change or even constructive criticism from a friend.
Imposter Syndrome and mental health
There are several coping behaviours imposters employ in order not to be found out. Out of fear to expose themselves as a fraud, they often hold back, they don’t show their real identity. To prove they are as good as others they work extended hours and give up hobbies in order to work/study more. They hide behind others. And, at worst, they lash out, become defensive and verbally attack others.
As a result, stress, anxiety, depression, burnout, law self-esteem are the conditions imposters experience. And it takes a long time to get back to their normal.
How to cope with Imposter Syndrome
Imposters often suffer from shame and hide their self-destructive emotions. Talking to someone supportive is a great idea. Share the shame. Shame has a tendency of shrinking when it is shared. Not only it will help to release some tension, there is high chance that those around you experienced similar feelings at some point in life. This means that they may have helpful tips to help you. Besides, by talking about it, we normalise our emotions as we realise we are not alone feeling this way.
2. Avoid comparisons
We are all different. The truth is that it’s our uniqueness, our differences that make us so special. By comparing ourselves to others, trying to be like others we lose our uniqueness that brought us where we are at the moment.
3. Make a list of achievements
Whether it is a school quiz prize, a medal from a big sporting event, a certificate of completion, a praise by someone in an email, text, etc, collect everything in one place, take photos of your achievements and hide them in a folder. In times when self-doubt is triggered and you begin to think you are not good enough, make it your go-to folder. Seeing your achievements will remind you that you deserve to be where you are.
Celebrate every win, even the smallest one. This will train the brain to begin to focus on positives and, hopefully, silence the negatives.
5. Change your mindset
Whenever you feel like an Imposter, remember that Imposter Syndrome often indicates that you are in a situation when you have to push yourself outside your comfort zone. It means you are growing professionally and personally. It is tie to change your mindset. You can’t accept that promotion because you make mistakes at work? It makes you feel like a failure? Well, are you sure you failed? We can look at failure as something that does not have a point of return. So, you sulk and fear that you’ll be exposed as a fraud. But… Is it a failure or is it a lesson learned? What can you do differently, so that next time you are more successful? Changing the way we think about problems, turning our failures into a learning point trains our brain to become more accepting of who we are and helps us move forward when things are not easy.