How many times have you doubted whether you’re up to the task at hand? Whether you have what it takes to make it in a new role? Whether you’re good for anything?  In its more serious form, a pattern of thinking that leads the person to doubt their skill, talent, accomplishments or adequacy to be in a certain role is known as Impostor Syndrome.

At its core, impostor syndrome is an internalised and rationalised form of self-doubt.  It is accompanied by constant fear that one is going to be discovered and identified as a fraud.  Most people in this situation find themselves thinking: “What gives me the right to be here?” It is often a situation experienced by high-achieving individuals who find it difficult to accept their abilities and successes, and difficult to attribute such success to their capabilities. Instead, positive circumstances are attributed to luck and other external factors, while the person believes that once luck runs out, others people would become aware of their inadequacy.

Moreover, there is also a tendency to sabotage their own successes by not believing in their own abilities and by putting too much pressure upon themselves.  Impostor syndrome is often accompanied by anxiety and depression. Because of the fear of being found out, it is very rare for people to talk about their experience with impostor syndrome, and they generally find it very hard to ask for help because of the nature of the thinking pattern.  It is therefore important for people to know what impostor syndrome really is at its core and how to combat it.

For some, doubt serve as motivation, but for others may result in procrastination due to the constant fear and anxiety. Impostor syndrome is often accompanied by a sense of perfectionism and the need to measure up to self-imposed impossible standards.  Individuals struggling with these feelings tend to be overly critical of their performance and themselves in general.

The person starts to believe that they need to work much harder to keep up with the standards they have set for themselves, which may result in feeling burnt out or over-worked. Affected people might experience the constant need to prove themselves, and hence become overachievers, which takes a toll on both the quality of their work and also on their mental, emotional and physical health.

Because the goals set are often challenging and unattainable, there may be a sense of disappointment when these are not reached, hence perpetuating feelings of inadequacy and fear. These feelings flare up when the person feels challenged in completing a task and struggles to live up to expectations, be it their own or perceived external expectations. The person may also feel alone, as they believe that they have to accomplish everything on their own with no support.

Even when experiencing successes, the same thinking and behaviour seem to be reinforced due to the fact that success can’t be internalised. Imposter syndrome can really stifle growth and limit opportunities in all areas, such as academic, work-related, relationships or personal life

Although it may sound perplexing and exhausting, there are ways to deal with impostor syndrome. Acknowledging thoughts and feelings of inadequacy and fear and put them into perspective is a good place to start. Talking to mentors and supportive people for encouragement and validation could also help to challenge feelings of insecurity.  Making a conscious choice to appreciate  your own expertise, progress, ability to impart knowledge, and ability to practically employ what you know would help counter the feeling of inadequacy.

It could be helpful to list and evaluate strengths, and areas for improvement – having a visual reminder of the real perspective could help to bolster confidence and set realistic goals. A pertinent goal of this process is to realise that perfection is an unattainable ideal; Instead appreciate the value in your own work. Reframe your thoughts about behavior and successes into positive and constructive thoughts. And most importantly, do not compare yourself to others.

Each person is unique, making their very particular contribution to our community, and we’re all doing the best we can.

This article was written by Celine Baldacchino, Mental Health Recovery Officer, Richmond Foundation.

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