Imposter Syndrome… Breaking the cycle of self-doubt
Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern in which individuals, mostly professional individuals, fear that they will be exposed as a fraud despite their competence, achievements, and accomplishments.
People who struggle with Imposter Syndrome believe that they do not deserve to be successful and view their own success as a one hit wonder. Person’s struggling with this syndrome is constantly second guessing themselves and doubt that they are good enough or smart enough for the opportunities that are presented to them at work (6).
Imposter Syndrome is not viewed as a mental health condition. This condition is also known as imposter phenomenon, fraud syndrome or imposter experience. A study has found that 70% of all professional people have felt like an imposter at some point in their career (1).
The Imposter Syndrome cycle can start when a person gets assigned a new task or project. The next part of the cycle is when anxiety takes over. This can have the result that the person can either over-prepare or procrastinate, because of this stress will take over. On completion of the project the person will experience a brief sense of success but will eventually rationalise the success away as getting lucky. This cycle will continue to loop over and again and will cause the person to feel trapped (5).
How can counselling help?
- The counsellor will help the client identify the facts. They will challenge the client to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The counsellor will give the client tools and the motivation to monitor their internal dialogue.
- The counsellor will challenge the client to share their feelings. Imposter feelings can have a negative impact on how the client may function. It is helpful to work through these thoughts and feelings in counselling sessions.
- In the counselling session, the counsellor will challenge the client to acknowledge and celebrate their successes.
- A contributing factor to the problem that the client who struggles with Imposter Syndrome is the struggle with perfectionism. The counsellor will assist the client to identify the problem of perfectionism and address it to enable them to let the influence of perfectionism go.
- The counsellor will challenge the client to cultivate self-compassion, the counsellor and the client will further work on the client’s self-worth and being kinder to themselves.
- The client who struggles with Imposter Syndrome will be challenged by the counsellor to share their failures with the counsellor so that these failures can be turned into learning experiences.
- When the client learns to accept the imposter feelings, these feelings will interfere less with their wellbeing (3).
- The counsellor will enable the client to talk it out, talk about their feelings, emotions, fears, and anxiety.
- The counsellor will help the client to reframe their thinking. They will assist them to change the way they think about themselves, failure, and success.
- The counsellor will motivate the client to show self-compassion (2).
What Cause Imposter Syndrome?
There are a variety of identified factors that can cause Imposter Syndrome. These may include personality traits such as perfectionism or low self-esteem.
Family of origin is a big role-player, especially if the family valued achievement above else or if the family was a low support high conflict family (2).
Social pressures are a big factor for many people struggling with Imposter Syndrome, especially when the person is part of a social circle or group where approval or worth seems to be explicitly connected to achievement.
Everyone has a need to belong, part of Imposter Syndrome is the fear of being found out and cast out (4).
Characteristics of imposter syndrome.
- Undervaluing own contributions
- Unrealistic expectations
- Attributing success to external factors
- Continues fear of not living up to expectations
- Burnout (4).
In conclusion, Imposter Syndrome is a damaging psychological phenomenon that can have far reaching effects in someone’s life. Although it can be a difficult problem to overcome, it is not impossible, with self-awareness and counselling being among the effective approaches to help combat it. Although Imposter Syndrome can be an understandably daunting mountain to climb, taking the initial steps to accept and overcome these feelings of inadequacy is a necessary journey to lead a more fulfilling and purposeful life.
Corey Human has nearly 20 years’ experience working with teenage boys and young men at risk or struggling with self esteem, video game addiction and other problems. He provides counselling to adolescents, adults, couples, parents and families in both English and Afrikaans.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129
- Benisek, A. 2022. What is Imposter Syndrome? https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-is-imposter-syndrome
- Owens, A. 2021, What is Imposter Syndrome? https://www.psycom.net/imposter-syndrome
- Palmer, C. 2021. How to overcome the imposter phenomenon? https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/cover-impostor-phenomenon
- Saymeh, A. 2023. What is imposter Syndrome? Learn what it is and 10 ways to cope. https://www.betterup.com/blog/what-is-imposter-syndrome-and-how-to-avoid-it
- The Data Incubator, https://www.thedataincubator.com
- Wilding, M. 2020. Imposter Syndrome: How to break the cycle of self-doubt. https://www.forbes.com