Especially younger professionals often feel that they are not good enough at their jobs. This goes along with the nagging fear of being discovered as the incompetent worker they feel they are. This phenomenon was discovered and named by Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. Nowadays the Impostor Phenomenon is mostly referred to as Impostor Syndrome, which is not an official diagnosis. The feelings and thoughts of inadequacy for a position can elicit a reality that keeps many professionals second-guessing themselves.
What causes these thoughts?
As so often, it cannot be clearly defined where these thoughts come from. However, experience and research has linked lower self-esteem with the phenomenon. This can be caused by a combination of external and internal factors for a person. External factors such as exclusion, discrimination and historically held beliefs can be influential. Internalized factors such as beliefs about ourselves when we grow up or a lack of clarity, as well as experience can also be at the root of Impostor Syndrome.
What can you do about it?
If you are suffering from Impostor Syndrome, there are several things that you can try to do by yourself or with the help of an (Auntie) professional.
Remind yourself regularly of your accomplishments
People who suffer from low self-esteem often seem to be more aware of their mistakes and failures than their successes (Emler, 2002). Over time this leads to even lower self-esteem and even more self-deprecating thoughts. We can actively work to become more aware of our accomplishments by making it easier to remember them.
Have a place, for example a folder on your computer, where you save reminders of your accomplishments. Examples could be positive feedback, a quick note on a personal achievement and the hard work you put into your work. Over time you will accumulate a list of items that can help you overcome negative thoughts by reminding you of your many accomplishments.
Confide in trusted people
One of the most psychologically harmful feelings is shame (Bateman & Engel, 2018). Shame makes us afraid to share our experiences, because we fear social repercussions. It will keep us alone with whatever we are struggling with and won’t let us move on. In the case of Impostor Syndrome, the fear of having others confirm our worries to us, might stop us from sharing our feelings with others.
A lot of people feel this way. Many of them individuals you would have never guessed struggle with self-doubt. To break this cycle of shame and fear you need to share your experience with trusted people. That can be individuals in your personal life, but it is especially helpful if you are able to talk to someone in a similar position. Often what you will find out is that the other person is suffering or has suffered from the exact same feelings. Knowing that others have been in or are still in the same position can be a confirmation that these feelings are unnecessary and it can be the first step to moving on.
Find role models
Another way to work through Impostor Syndrome is to find individuals you identify with that have been in a position as yourself and use them as a role model. Someone who represents your situation and background can be a great motivator to move past your fears of inadequacy. That can be a manager or supervisor in your workplace whom you are looking up to, but it can also be a person of renown that you are not personally acquainted with. Find someone who you can connect to and ask yourself “What would this person do in my position?”.
Challenge negative beliefs
This can be done in four steps:
1. You become aware of the thought. For example: “I am only in my position because I was lucky”.
2. You write the unhelpful thought down to make it easier to challenge.
3. You challenge this thought with data. For example: “I have received mostly positive feedback about my work” or “I worked hard to achieve my degree that is required for this position”.
4th and finally, you find a more appropriate version of that thought. For example, “I was lucky to get this position, but I am working hard and have been doing well.”.
This tool can be a bit tricky to apply by yourself at first. This is why I suggest that you bring it up with a professional and ask them to go through the steps with you with some examples, before you use it by yourself.
Remember confidence does not equal competence
Impostor Syndrome is very much connected to self-confidence. Which is why it is important to remember that confidence does not equal competence. You can do scary things, even if you don’t feel completely confident about them. What you will often find is that confidence comes from doing things that scare you. That means that sometimes facing that fear, for example a presentation or a new project, rather than avoiding it can help you in developing greater self-confidence. When we challenge ourselves, we grow. Most likely you will notice that the fear you experienced was exaggerated or even unnecessary once you made it through.
Working on self-confidence and challenging Impostor Syndrome is not easy. You do not have to do it by yourself. An Auntie Professional can guide you through the process and help you in a goal-directed manner. Many people in Leadership experience Impostor Syndrome (another clue that it is not the skill-set that causes the worries). The package “Born to Lead” as well as the packages “Feeling Down” and “Stressed Out” can help to improve your self-confidence.
Bateman, M., & Engel, S. (2018). To shame or not to shame—that is the sanitation question.
Development Policy Review, 36(2), 155–173. https://doi.org/10.1111/dpr.12317
Clance, P. R., Dingman, D., Reviere, S. L., & Stober, D. R. (1995). Impostor Phenomenon in an
Interpersonal/Social Context: Origins and Treatment. Women & Therapy, 16(4), 79–96.
Dingman, Debbara. (1988). The impostor phenomenon and social mobility: You can't go home again.. Dissertation Abstracts International. 49. 2375.
Emler, N. (2002). The costs and causes of low self-esteem. Youth Studies Australia, 21(3), 45–48.
BSc. and MSc. Psychologist and relaxation therapist. I believe in a flexible, client-focused approach to my work and actively help people to find immediately practical solutions for their issues with tools that work for them. I have a special passion for helping my clients in achieving a balanced approach to work and down time, which ensures constant and sustainable productivity. Together we try out different techniques that we adjust and "troubleshoot" over the course of the sessions. Independent of where my clients start, they will leave the sessions with a variety of psychological tools to help them cope better at work and in their private life.