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Overcoming Imposter Syndrome for Greater Achievement

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Tuesday, April 02, 2024

“I’m in over my head!”

“I’m out of my element!”

“I’m a fraud. Sooner or later, everyone will think so.”

“I didn’t do a good job–I just got lucky.”

If thoughts like the above ever snuck into your head, you aren’t alone. A majority of workers have admitted to the same types of feelings. It seems the more a person earns or the higher they move up within their organization, the more these “undeserving” feelings creep in.

Everyone doubts themselves and feels inadequate sometimes. However, some feel it for longer. It takes over their lives.

​This cognitive malfunction called Imposter Syndrome equally affects men and women. However, it shows up more predominantly in minority groups and those with particular personalities that trend towards anxiety and depression.


Debilitating Effects

Those suffering from Imposter Syndrome often suffer in silence in an attempt to further hide their inadequacies. Its effects run the gamut from perfectionist tendencies to avoiding responsibility.

​People with the condition share similar indicators, like:

  • Doubting their abilities
  • Deflecting praise
  • ​Shouldering blame
  • ​Feeling fearful or anxious
  • ​Downplaying their achievements and chalking them up to luck or others’ work
  • ​Obsessing over perfection
  • ​Fishing for compliments and accolades
  • ​Having extreme perceptions–things are either the best or the worst
  • ​People pleasing
  • ​Comparing themselves to others
  • ​Lacking confidence

These characteristics negatively affect their jobs and personal lives. They can eliminate or work through it, though.


Susceptible Personality Types

Researchers say some personalities are more prone to developing the condition.

In one of her books, Elsie Lincoln Benedict introduced the world to five different personality types in the 1920s. Other personality types emerged based on these original five, like the five imposter types.

​Imposter syndrome researcher Dr. Valerie Young describes five types of imposter personalities in her book “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It.” Do any describe you or someone you know?


The Perfectionist

This type of person demands precision from themselves. They may expect the same from others or give others the grace they deny themselves.

They set unrealistic goals. Their self-worth suffers when they can’t meet their expectations. They don’t consider a job well done unless the work and the final product are perfect.

​A perfectionist imposter might constantly seek accolades to make themselves feel better, or they’ll shy away from additional duties for fear of failure. Their fear, anxiety, and expectations often lead to burnout.


The Natural Genius

These types often experienced praise for natural abilities early in life. As a result, anything that is difficult means they are a failure.

​They have fixed mindsets. They don’t recognize that struggles produce growth and new skills. They are really hard on themselves for making mistakes. They will shy away from unfamiliar tasks to avoid appearing the fool.


The Rugged Individualist

These people believe asking for help is admitting defeat or incompetence. Their worth comes from doing things without help.


The Expert

Expert imposters want to be the smartest person in the room. They spend an excessive amount of time researching their subject matter. It never seems enough, though–there’s always someone better than them. They attempt to collect extra certifications, degrees, trophies, and other accolades to boost their confidence.

​They procrastinate on projects because they want to know absolutely everything about everything before they start. They compare themselves to others who know or achieve more, leaving them feeling like failures.


The Superhero

Saying “no” is a failure to these types. In their minds, they should be able to handle anything anyone requests of them. They feel compelled to work overtime.


Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Everyone doubts their abilities now and then. Those with Imposter Syndrome chronically doubt themselves.

​Fortunately, cognitive behavioral therapy can help “imposters” deal with their mental condition. Below are some suggestions from therapists:


Identify It to Overcome It

Self-awareness is critical. You can’t manage what you don’t confront.

​Observe your thoughts. Admit the feelings. Journal when and why you feel them.


Determine the Facts

“Don’t believe everything you think.” While no one quite remembers who said it first, that’s a quote we should all live by.

We have limited vantage points, and we base our truths off those, limited as they may be. Yet, they influence our thoughts and feelings. They affect what we say and do. Quite often, they aren’t even factual.

When you start to feel intense feelings, stop and look for evidence-based facts. If words like “always” or “never” pop into your head or speech, it’s a telltale sign that you aren’t dealing with facts.

Be a detective for a moment. Uncover concrete data.

​Are you feeling undeserving of your job promotion? Look at all the data pointing towards your deserving the new role.


Reframe the Picture

Reframe what “failure” means. Those with a fixed mindset will see imperfection as failure. In contrast, those with a growth mindset see it as opportunities and lessons learned.

​You haven’t failed at anything unless you completely give up. You move closer to your goal with every attempt at it.


Repeat Self-Affirmations

Your thoughts affect your feelings and actions. The opposite is true, too.

​Your actions can affect your feelings and thoughts. Write or speak positively to yourself. Affirmations like “I am smart, capable, and deserving” will eventually have you believing it.


Additional Stabilizers

In addition to the above, consider the following recommendations to stabilize your thoughts:

  • ​Stop comparing yourself to others
  • Remember your past accomplishments. Consider creating a memory box to store evidence of your accolades and achievements.
  • Find a support group. It could be a one-on-one therapy session or a group of others like you. It could also be friends, family members, or co-workers.
  • ​Graciously accept praise with a “thank you.”
  • ​Develop an internal locus of control where you acknowledge your effort, not luck or other external factors, influence your accomplishments.
  • ​Celebrate a job well done.
  • ​Try saying “yes” if you avoid extra responsibility. Say “no” if you take on too much.
  • ​Read growth mindset books to hone your mentality.

Goals and Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

If you think you have Imposter Syndrome, you aren’t alone. Some of the world’s most famous and wealthy have admitted to feeling unworthy of their fame and fortune.

Imposter Syndrome creates a vicious cycle. The person either takes on too much or avoids too much. They’ll feel disappointed because of it, and their self-worth will suffer.

​You can confront those feelings head-on to manage them better, if not eliminate them. Don’t let this cognitive malfunction steal your goals and joy.


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