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How to overcome Imposter Syndrome

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome

I am standing in front of a group of 100 women. I’m supposed to give a motivational speech. Different thoughts run through my head.

“What the hell am I doing here? Who am I to give a speech to these women? No, I can do it, of course, I can, I did it before. I have a very important message to share. But what if they discover that I am not as good as they think I am? What if they discover that I am a “fraud”?”

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Do you also struggle sometimes with similar thoughts? Do you know what happened to me and might be happening to you too? It’s called Imposter Syndrome.

The concept - that your success is not related to your own talents and skills but rather to external circumstances, which makes us doubt ourselves and often makes us feel like a fraud - was first described in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes.

Although it was first thought to affect women only, it was later concluded that it impacts both genders. You know you suffer from it if you often think that your accomplishments have little to do with your talents, but have more to do with external factors like luck, your network, or even internal ones like hard work.

These thoughts make us doubt ourselves. Make us stay small. Make us not take on new projects or challenges.

When I found out that talented women such as Maya Angelou or Michelle Obama have openly admitted to having experienced Imposter Syndrome, I felt relieved. For me, it meant that I did not have to feel ashamed anymore about my own similar thoughts.

The truth is that almost all of us experience it to a certain degree, depending on the situation and how we respond to it. For example, you might not feel like a “fraud” when giving a presentation to your colleagues, but you may feel like one when presenting to the Board of your company.

The origins of the Imposter Phenomenon

Psychologists agree that the origins of Imposter Syndrome can’t be pinpointed to one particular cause. However, in general, there are two main roots.

The internal ones -  nature - as we are born with certain personality traits like, for example, being overly sensitive. And external ones – nurture. This has to do with having over-protective, critical or demanding parents during childhood.

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome?

So, how can you overcome Imposter Syndrome? How can you stop feeling like a fraud?

1. Talk about it

I have to admit, I had doubts about whether I should have this article published. There was this annoying voice in my head saying, “Now they will see you are not as great as you want them to think you are.” But I realised that this is exactly part of the problem. Admitting it is half the work.

People suffering from Imposter Syndrome often believe it very firmly. So, if you know that you have it, you can also admit that it is rather a specific thing to overcome, rather than a given fact. Once you share it with people close to you, you will definitely realise you are not the only one.

2. Change your narrative

What helped me a lot, and still does, is a sentence I heard during a motivational event. “It is not about you, it is about them – your client, your employee etc.”

We are often too preoccupied with our own ego, but if, for example, we are helping someone, we need to realise that only listening to our inner critic is not helping us and certainly not our clients. Once we focus on the others, we can let go of the Imposter in ourselves, which feels liberating.

3. Become aware of your negative chatterbox and replace it with a positive one

People who feel like an imposter, have the thoughts of an imposter. These thoughts were often fed to us with a spoon, were internalised by us, but in the end, they are not our own. Nevertheless, those repetitive thoughts became part of our beliefs, and beliefs become part of who we are. What we believe we can and cannot do.

Very early in our childhood, we start forming believes about who we are. They are often based on the verbal or non-verbal feedback we get from our parents. As kids, we want our parents to be happy with us, so subconsciously we change our behaviour to please them.

Before we know it, we develop an internal conduct of behaviour for ourselves. And so the feeling of simply being okay = being good (enough) is linked to a condition - a certain character trait or behaviour. And here lies the problem, we can only feel good about ourselves once we fulfil this condition, otherwise we feel that we are cheating.

For myself, I realised that I feel good (enough), once I feel I have worked hard. So, if I make a presentation and I feel it was too easy, I don’t feel as fulfilled as if I had been working on it for days, irrespective of the result. Crazy, no?

Pause for a moment and finish the following sentences for yourself.

  • I am okay = good (enough), if I am...
  • I am okay = good (enough), if am not...
  • I am okay = good enough, if I (do)...
  • I am okay = good enough, if I (don’t)...

Some common examples could be:

  • I am okay = good (enough), if I am responsible
  • I am okay = good (enough), if I am not selfish
  • I am okay = good (enough), if I am earning a lot
  • I am okay = good (enough), if I don’t make any mistakes

The antidote for Imposter Syndrome is replacing these beliefs with positive thoughts, which over time, if repeated frequently, will form a new belief system. So, think about how you want to rewrite your negative beliefs.

Some examples are:

  • I am okay as I am, with all my talents and weaknesses
  • It is okay to make mistakes and learn from them
  • I am grateful for who I am

Take ownership of your success!

Learning to get unhooked from Imposter Syndrome can definitely be challenging, but also very liberating. More and more, I am experiencing the benefits of transforming my life story and embedded negative beliefs, so that they don’t drag me down. Take ownership of your success!

Do you have other strategies to combat your Imposter Syndrome? Please share them in the comments below!

Dorota Klop-Sowinska

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Dorota Klop-Sowinska

I specialize in international career and expat coaching. I am a certified coach / counselor at Dutch Academy for Psychotherapy. I have been living in the Netherlands for more than...

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