Feeling like a fraud? How to overcome Imposter Syndrome

I’ve been back to work a few weeks now and whilst it’s going well, those horrible nagging feelings of imposter syndrome have reared their ugly head a few times (both during work hours and at home). I guess it’s to be expected for a new mum going back to work and trying to find some kind of work life balance, but nevertheless I would love to find some ways to combat it.

Luckily, it was as if someone was looking out for me, as just the other day, the wellbeing and career experts at CABA sent me some copy providing some strategies to help overcome this lack of confidence. I thought I would share them with you too..

‘Imposter Syndrome’ was first coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes to describe the psychological pattern shown when someone feels a deep-seated sense that their achievements are not real.

Many people with Imposter Syndrome focus on their mistakes, rather than their successes (sound familiar?). They tend to fixate on what they don’t know, rather than what they have good knowledge of. Those with Imposter Syndrome feel overwhelming fear at the idea of one day being exposed as a fraud.

The syndrome may stop you from achieving your full potential. Even if you do accomplish a task, you may become more convinced you’re a fraud. So, eventually you may avoid taking on any new responsibilities and projects, or revise your overall goals and become less ambitious in general.

And remember Imposter Syndrome doesn’t just hit those in the working world, as a parent you can really feel the effects too with your kids. Am I doing enough for my baby? Did I give them enough love today? Was I too hard on them? Should I have baked for the school fete rather than gone to M&S.. you get my drift!

Thankfully there are strategies that can help change the way you think and overcome Imposter Syndrome – here are some you can try right now:

  1. Admit it

If you recognise traits of Imposter Syndrome in yourself, try to accept them for what they are. Giving your feelings a name will help you start exercising control over them.

Remind yourself that many other people have similar thoughts about their abilities. Many people with Imposter Syndrome tend not to mention how they feel because, if they do, they think they’ll be exposed as a fraud. Accepting these feelings is the first step towards overcoming them.

  1. Track it

Keep a record of each time you experience feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy or other Imposter Syndrome tendencies. Write these thoughts down 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? Jotting the experience down can help you recognise when, and even why, you have such thoughts. Identifying a trigger will help you look towards certain tasks more positively. For example, if you’re worried about public speaking because you fear you’re not eloquent or knowledgeable enough, you could practice with a colleague first, or attend a course to improve your public speaking.

Reading your journal entries back on a regular basis may also help you realise that what you were thinking isn’t real. You may gain a sense of perspective by reading a panicked entry at a time when you’re feeling calm and in control.

  1. Open up

Sharing how you feel with people you trust can be beneficial, as peers may offer reassurance and help you realise that your fears of inadequacy are irrational. You never know – the person you’re talking to may feel, or have felt, exactly the same. If you’re nervous about speaking with a friend or colleague, try an impartial coach or therapist.

  1. Nobody’s perfect

According to experts, people affected by Imposter Syndrome also have perfectionist tendencies. 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, remember that nobody’s perfect. You can be the best version of yourself and 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 everything you’re good at.

There are many other things you can do to help combat perfectionist thinking – for example by practising reacting positively to criticism, or practising resilience techniques.

  1. Take a bow

If you have Imposter 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).

Finally, the fear of being found out can be an excellent motivator, as it can push you outside of your comfort zone to strive for success. But watch out for signs of burn out. This approach can impact mental and physical health.

Building self-confidence and learning to overcome negative thinking is not only good for your development in the professional sense, but also in your personal life too. It can release a new energy and improve your overall happiness.

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