A young woman in her mid-thirties came to my clinic for a consultation. She is a mother, a wife, and a successful manager at a private company.
She described a feeling that prevents her from enjoying life as she doubts her achievements and feels it’s all ‘false and one day those around her will discover that she is fake.’
In 1978, psychologist Pauline Rose Clans described a distorted way of thinking that usually affects intelligent and successful people, who doubt their achievements and their intelligence and think they are lazy even when reality proves otherwise.
They interpret success as a stroke of luck rather than the result of their hard work. This is known as the imposter syndrome as the person feels ‘fake’ and will be discovered soon, which leads to compensatory behaviours such as a frequent need to check on work, staying up late at work unnecessarily, a persistent feeling of self-doubt, anxiety about others finding out that they are unworthy of the position they have been given, self-flagellation and excessive self-blame when a failure occurs even if the reasons are external.
Many people experience symptoms for a limited time, such as in the first few weeks of a new job, but other people have them for a long period. Studies indicate that the symptoms of this syndrome are more prevalent among high achieving women and those experiencing new challenges at work, such as a promotion when the person may feel undeserving of the new position or that they will be unable to perform adequately.
Other factors include having a ‘gifted’ sibling which leads to internalised feelings of inadequacy as the person keeps comparing him or herself to the gifted sibling.
People from ethnic minorities may anticipate or experience discrimination at work. At the same time, those with anxiety or depression suffer a loss of self-esteem.
So, how can an individual get rid of impostor syndrome? Psychologists suggest a few tips, such as encouraging the individual to express his feelings when exposed to work pressures without pointing out their personal weakness and lack of experience because these things make the person doubt his abilities.
Individuals need to accept their strengths and weaknesses and that everyone sometimes makes mistakes.
Learn to receive praise from others without feeling embarrassed, reward themselves for achievements, no matter how simple, and avoid taking additional responsibilities.
Developing managerial skills such as negotiation, time management and effective communication increase the individual’s self-confidence and help him eliminate this feeling.
Sometimes, a person with imposter syndrome would need to consult a psychiatrist or psychologist who may recommend cognitive-behavioural therapy, which allows the individual to identify and correct false beliefs and negative thought patterns.
This eventually helps enhance self-confidence, self-esteem and healthily deal with work pressures.
It remains to say that impostor syndrome may appear in many of us during a period of our working life, so we should not ignore it or give in to negative thoughts that disturb our mood and deprive us of enjoying our achievements.
Learn to appreciate yourself before asking for appreciation from others.