“I don’t belong here, I’m making a fool of myself, I don’t deserve this, I’m a fraud.”

Imposter syndrome is challenging in any part of your life. However, it can make you feel especially vulnerable if you’re experiencing it at work. This is something that goes much further than just feeling a bit of self-doubt now and again. It’s a real sense of not having ground beneath your feet when it comes to your professional life, an unbearable pressure not to fail and a total inability to recognise yourself as successful. It’s incredibly undermining and often acts as the voice in your head that will pipe up when there is a risk to be taken or some part of you feels like you want, or deserve, more. “You’re not good enough for a pay rise, a promotion, to manage that project or air your views,” says imposter syndrome. And back in your box you go.

Imposter Syndrome is…

..feeling like a fraud. That’s probably the most basic definition. Here’s another one: “feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, and fraudulence despite objective success. It’s hard to internalise success and genuinely hold the belief that you’re competent and capable.” The reality of living with this in your head 24/7 is much harder than we’re often willing to admit. In fact, it can mean that you simply can’t access the wellspring of your creativity, your potential to lead, ways to share your unique ideas or just to be yourself in a working environment – you don’t take yourself seriously so you assume no one else will either. It can lead you to all kinds of behaviours that ultimately make you feel sad and small including:

  • Constant people pleasing and being nice. (I.e. prioritising what you think will make others like you rather than giving yourself what you actually want and need).
  • Dismissing your achievements as “luck” or “winging it.”
  • Feeling arrogant or wrong if you recognise your own success. Relying on other more senior or powerful people to do this for you.
  • Not allowing yourself to be happy when you’re successful – you might just feel relief that it didn’t go wrong or you might even feel distressed by success.
  • Trying to protect yourself from being found out as a ‘fraud.’
  • Assuming (and accepting) that a constant state of generalised anxiety is normal when it comes to work.

But the thing about imposter syndrome is that we get used to it. Like the frog in boiling water analogy (doesn’t notice a small gradual increase in water temperature so doesn’t notice it’s being boiled to death) we can come to accept our reality, even if it’s hurting us. When this happens we never realise how much easier life could be if we took a moment to stop and tackle this damaging perspective.

Lady Gaga gets it..

Imposter syndrome is pretty non-discriminatory in that it can affect pretty much anyone. Lady Gaga has admitted to it, as has Tom Hanks and Sheryl Sandberg. Everyone needs help with it because it can keep an iron grip on your mindset. It can also have a stress-type impact on your nervous system (fight, flight, freeze, fawn). But you don’t have to live with it – there is a whole other experience of life on the other side of tackling this feeling that you’re a fraud. I have helped a lot of people find a way out of imposter syndrome. Here’s where I would suggest you start:

End the shame cycle

There is a lot of shame fuelling imposter syndrome – you feel like a fraud, you feel ashamed that you feel like a fraud, you don’t tell anyone because then they might also think you’re a fraud, the feeling of shame gnaws deeper and so the thoughts continue to spiral. So, tell someone – a person you trust – or just admit it to yourself, out loud, in a journal, on a piece of paper you burn. Trying to ignore or suppress how you feel will only make it stronger.

Question your imposter syndrome

This may well reveal what shaky ground it’s really on. Get used to tuning into the messages of imposter syndrome as well as the physical signs that you’re feeling it (that could be a tightness in your chest, shallow breathing, a heaviness or low feeling). Identify what the message is and then ask yourself whether that’s a truth or an assumption. If it’s an assumption then you’re basically torturing yourself with a negative fiction. Remember, too, that the lies imposter syndrome tells you bear no resemblance to what you’re actually capable of, how you’re really viewed in the workplace and how successful you actually are – or could be.

It’s not just about you

With any type of self-healing work like this it can be easy to forget that you’re not the only influence on you. Imposter syndrome isn’t just generated by our own internal view of ourselves. It’s often being reflected to us by the world around. Do you see others like you doing what you want to do – or higher up than you? If not then the message to you is that people like you don’t lead companies/become politicians/excel at sport/create/build wealth/write books/teach/whatever it is you’re looking to achieve. And if that message is coming at you constantly from your environment – at work, in the media, from the mouths of the people around you – then of course you will feel like a fraud. This is one of the reasons why women – and especially women of colour – tend to feel imposter syndrome more often and more acutely. A lot of imposter syndrome comes from the messaging and social conditioning we get from the world around. Don’t dismiss the insidious, but powerful, effect that this may be having on you.

Celebrate the small wins when they happen

When you have imposter syndrome you’re often not in the habit of validating your own success. Instead you wait for that validation from others – sometimes it simply never comes. By celebrating all your wins, including the small ones, you get used to recognising your success for yourself. You’re empowered to generate your own internal validation. Very few of us seem to grow up with the tools of internal validation in place, it’s something that we work on in coaching all the time.

At the end of the day, imposter syndrome is one type of habitual thinking that we have learned to listen to more than another. It’s not the truth – it’s behaviour we can change. Rather than hearing the “I’m a fraud” record playing over and over in your head, you could choose (because there comes a point where it is a choice) “I’m a hard worker, I’m capable at my job and I am capable of making my dreams and desires a tangible reality.” Hearing that messaging will instantly make you feel stronger, more capable, and able to be bold.

The resilience coaching process is a dynamic tool for making this kind of shift. I can help you to challenge your imposter syndrome so that you can see who you are at work without it – and start living up to all that potential you know you have. Book an intro call to find out more.

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