What Is Imposter Syndrome & Is It Possible To Overcome It?
Published on 11th August, 2023
Have you ever achieved a significant accomplishment, yet felt a gnawing fear that you somehow lucked into it, and soon enough, everyone will realise you're a fraud? If so, you might be experiencing what psychologists call "Impostor Syndrome" (Clance & Imes, 1978). This psychological phenomenon, characterised by persistent self-doubt and a fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evidence of competence, affects countless individuals across various fields and walks of life. While the term "Impostor Syndrome" was first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, the impact it has on people's lives and careers remains relevant today.
Understanding Impostor Syndrome
Impostor Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals doubt their accomplishments and have an internalised fear of being exposed as incompetent or inadequate, even when evidence suggests otherwise (Bravata et al., 2019). It often strikes high-achieving individuals who attribute their successes to external factors such as luck, timing, or the effort of others, rather than acknowledging their own abilities and hard work.
There are several common signs of Impostor Syndrome:
This involves setting excessively high standards for oneself, to the point of perfection, and harbouring a deep fear that even the slightest mistake could potentially expose one's perceived incompetence.
Individuals grappling with impostor syndrome often find themselves trapped in a relentless cycle of pushing their boundaries to extreme levels, all in a desperate bid to demonstrate their competence. This relentless drive, however, can ultimately lead to burnout as well as physical and emotional exhaustion.
- Discounting success
It is common for people dealing with impostor syndrome to downplay their achievements. They tend to attribute their successes solely to luck or external circumstances rather than acknowledging their own skills, hard work, and dedication.
- Fear of failure
Individuals afflicted by impostor syndrome are haunted by the constant worry that any setback or failure will serve as irrefutable proof of their inadequacy, thus validating their inner feelings of being an impostor.
- Comparison to others
Individuals experiencing impostor syndrome habitually measure their worth against the achievements of others, often underestimating their own accomplishments. This persistent habit of self-comparison can shatter self-esteem and create a constant sense of inferiority, even in the face of objective successes.
- Difficulty accepting praise
When dealing with impostor syndrome, one might deflect compliments and positive feedback, feeling a sense of discomfort or even scepticism when acknowledged for their accomplishments. This unease can stem from a deep-seated belief that they do not truly deserve the accolades they receive.
The roots of Impostor Syndrome
Impostor Syndrome can stem from a variety of sources, including upbringing, societal expectations, and personal experiences (Cuncic, 2023). Individuals who grew up receiving conditional love or excessive criticism may internalise feelings of inadequacy. Additionally, certain professions or industries that emphasise competition among co-workers and high standards can contribute to Impostor Syndrome. Furthermore, minority groups and underrepresented individuals may be more prone to experiencing Impostor Syndrome due to societal stereotypes and biases (Cokley et al., 2013).
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
The good news is that Impostor Syndrome is not a permanent state of mind, and there are strategies to overcome it. The journey to overcoming Impostor Syndrome involves introspection, shifting mindsets, and seeking support:
- Recognise and acknowledge
The first step is to acknowledge that you are experiencing Impostor Syndrome. Becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings allows you to confront them head-on.
- Reframe your mindset
Remember the importance of having a healthy relationship with yourself. Challenge negative self-talk and replace it with positive affirmations such as, "I am capable of overcoming challenges and achieving my goals” or “I deserve my success and accomplishments”. Instead of dwelling on perceived inadequacies, focus on your achievements, skills, and the value you bring.
- Set realistic goals
Aim for goals that are challenging but achievable. Breaking down large tasks into smaller steps can help build a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence.
- Embrace failure
Understand that failure is a natural part of growth and learning. Instead of viewing failure as a confirmation of incompetence, see it as an opportunity to learn and improve.
- Seek support
Reach out to mentors, peers, or mental health professionals such as services that offer adult counselling in Singapore. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others can provide validation, guidance, and a fresh perspective.
- Celebrate successes
Acknowledge your achievements and give yourself credit for your hard work. Keep a record of your accomplishments to remind yourself of your capabilities.
The role of psychology and therapy
Psychotherapy in Singapore would be helpful for individuals who want to seek guidance and support in overcoming Impostor Syndrome. The therapy sessions can provide valuable insights and strategies to cultivate a healthier mindset and regain confidence in their achievements.
Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is one approach that helps individuals identify and challenge negative thought patterns. Through CBT, individuals learn to reframe their thinking and develop healthier self-perceptions. Additionally, group therapy and support groups provide a safe space for sharing experiences and learning from others who have overcome similar challenges.
Impostor Syndrome is a common yet often hidden psychological barrier that can hinder personal and professional growth. By understanding its origins and implementing strategies to combat it, individuals can break free from the cycle of self-doubt and recognise their true worth. Remember, you are not alone in this struggle, and seeking support from mentors, peers, and professionals can provide the guidance needed to overcome Impostor Syndrome and thrive in your endeavours.
Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0086006
Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2019, December 17). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. PubMed Central (PMC). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1
Cuncic, A. (2023). Imposter Syndrome: Why You May Feel Like a Fraud https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-anxiety-disorder-4156469
Cokley, K. O., McClain, S., Enciso, A., & Martinez, M. (2013). An Examination of the Impact of Minority Status Stress and Impostor Feelings on the Mental Health of Diverse Ethnic Minority College Students. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 41(2), 82-95.