Imposter syndrome: the scourge of the 21st century (or just part of the human condition?)
Whenever I hear the phrase Imposter Syndrome, it makes me shudder as it sounds like some hideous, incurable medical condition which will eventually swallow you up.
The word “imposter” alone sounds rather sinister and when you add in “syndrome” which is defined “as a combination of medical problems that shows the existence of a particular disease or mental condition”, it does sound extremely grave.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve heard the phrase Imposter Syndrome more times than I care to mention and hardly a week goes by without someone posting about it on LinkedIn.
In fact, on the very day I wrote this article, a delegate in a workshop I was delivering for a law firm mentioned that he has Imposter Syndrome. And just a couple of weeks prior to that, I received the following message:
“I run a law firm notwithstanding real confidence issues. I have a daily battle with imposter syndrome!”
My aim in this short article is to share some simple techniques and practices to enable sufferers to claim back their power. To achieve this, let’s look at:
- What it is
- Who suffers from it and
- How to immobilise it
What is it?
Here is part of Wikipedia’s definition:
“Imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.”
That’s it! Not quite as menacing as it sounds, although the fact that it has such an ominous label may make it sound worse than it actually is. Nevertheless, the syndrome can create a permanent, miserable, can’t-cope mindset which strips professional life of enjoyment and contaminates private life and relationships away from work. Perhaps you recognise yourself?
Who Suffers from it?
High-achieving, men and women, who lack confidence, even though the evidence of their achievements is palpable. In my work with lawyers (and others), who struggle to charge what they’re worth, what I’ve noticed is that they often have Imposter Syndrome.
Paradoxically, though, what has become abundantly clear to me is that, in reality, they are highly competent; in fact, frequently more so than many of their peers who do not have Imposter Syndrome!
They also tend to have all or most of the following characteristics:
- Extreme conscientiousness
- Super self-criticism
Again, perhaps you recognise yourself? Such characteristics go a long way to explaining their Imposter Syndrome, since their perception is definitely skewed, to say the least.
However, there are also other reasons; normally utterly false beliefs they’ve collected along the way, even as far back as childhood, which they are still attached to today.
How to Immobilise it
Time to loosen its grip on you.
First of all, you must have the desire to change it and be willing to do what’s necessary. This is very important, since, naturally, nothing can be achieved without your say-so or input.
Secondly, please understand that, in reality, Imposter Syndrome is nothing more than a set of beliefs and you have the power to change those.
Part of my job is to help my clients to detach from these false beliefs, by looking at things from a different perspective. This then enables them to feel differently and, as a result, take new, empowering actions. What you focus on is what expands.
Here are three simple steps which you can put into practice immediately to assist you to overcome Imposter Syndrome or for that matter, change any unwanted behaviour.
- Imagine Imposter Syndrome as a separate being from yourself. This is a Neuro-Linguistic Programming technique called disassociation and although simple, is very powerful.In essence, Imposter Syndrome is a label you have accepted and the more you identify with it, the more you strengthen it. Therefore, by disassociating from it, you already begin the process of loosening its grip on you. Make sense?
- You can take this one step further by giving him or her a name, for example, Isabelle Sparrow or Ian Sparrow – you see what I’ve done there?
Now how could you possibly be scared of a sparrow? (Unless of course you have some kind of phobia about birds, in which case, choose a different name).
Joking aside, do not underestimate the power of combining steps 1 and 2. Your subconscious mind will quite happily oblige.
- Become very mindful of what you say to yourself or what you think about yourself. Choose positive thoughts and words and reinforce these as often as possible.Your subconscious mind hears everything you say and think. It does NOT have the ability to judge whether what you’re saying is right or wrong. It just accepts it. So if you repeatedly tell yourself that you have Imposter Syndrome, that dominant thought becomes your reality.However, when you change the record, and instead say, for example:I am a confident, successful and highly experienced lawyer (or whatever your job title is) who achieves fantastic results for my clients.and repeat this often, with feeling, over a period of time, the subconscious mind will eventually accept it.
So, in summary, every time you overcome your mind, you strengthen yourself and claim back your power. Imposter Syndrome does not have to have the last word; you can take charge. You are only a few short steps away from creating a more effective and happier version of yourself, professionally and personally.
Vanessa Ugatti, The True Worth Expert, will be running a session at the upcoming Alternative Accountancy conference on the 23rd March: ‘What’s your true worth? Valuing yourself and your advisory services and getting your partners to do it too.’