The reality of Imposter Syndrome


A month or so ago, I was feeling pretty good. I’d been recently promoted and it felt like it was going well, dare I say, successful even. The only problem was that underlying this positive development, casting a dark shadow and preventing me from really enjoying it, was fear.

Despite all the signs pointing the same way, that everything was going well, I still felt unsettled. I was waiting, I realised, for someone to pull me into a meeting and tell me they’d changed their minds. They’d realised that I was actually rather shit and that I was to collect my things and leave the building immediately. Of course, this never happened and day by day, the weight on my shoulders slowly began to disappear. But it left me questioning exactly what it was going on in my head and why. Research quickly led me to the following:

Impostor syndrome: a psychological pattern in which people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud.”

Recognised by psychologists in 1978, ironically, Imposter Syndrome seems to strike those who would actually be deemed extremely successful to others. Who, contrary to overwhelming evidence, still feel like they are waiting to be unmasked. 70% of people apparently experience feelings of Imposter Syndrome. Celebrities who count themselves in this group include the likes of Emma Watson, Meryl Street, Tina Fey and Ryan Reynolds. Now, this doesn’t mean you have to be someone in the public eye or of notable ‘importance’ to encounter Imposter Syndrome but it usually occurs after an accomplishment of some kind.

A habit many people with IS fall into is downplaying achievements and attributing them to ‘getting lucky.’ Now there is, of course, a difference between being modest and truly believing that winning an award for hard work and dedication was just a bit of luck. In the same sense, you may struggle to accept a compliment, quite simply because you don’t believe it, again, despite the solid evidence. You will find any reason to explain away your accomplishments.

There’s no single answer as to why we experience Imposter Syndrome. Some people believe it is our personality traits to begin with, which make us more vulnerable to it. Or perhaps, others suggest, it was the way you were brought up, that you may never have felt good enough and so now, in your in adult life, you cannot comprehend that positive outcomes are anything other than something to ‘catch you out ‘. It came as no surprise to me that women are more inclined to find themselves more susceptible to Imposter Syndrome. Studies have found that we are much more likely to internalise failures compared to men who are able to externalise feelings a lot easier. Essentially, we will blame ourselves.

Safe to say, it’s not a nice feeling. Everything in your body is pushing you to believe that you are a fraud, that you do not deserve an ounce of recognition and that it is only so long before you are caught out, sending you into panic mode and worst of all, believing it.

If you’re feeling that you identify with Imposter Syndrome and are wondering how to combat it, the answer, quite simply I’m afraid, is that it’s down to you. Find reassurance in that Imposter Syndrome is all down to your mind and your way of thinking and it can be changed.

Simply by giving what you are feeling it’s proper name is a great start. From this, you gain a sense of control over it and can start to learn to overcome it. Write a log of all the amazing things you achieve and are proud of, past and present. Try to add to this daily when you can, reading through your past entries. Refer back to this when the fear is present. By reminding yourself frequently, you will start to build up confidence.

And the best thing you can teach yourself? The next time someone compliments your achievements, instead of instantly dismissing it or attributing it to others or outside factors – just say thank you.

If you liked this post, why not read: Are you having a quarter-life crisis?

Emily x