Impostor Syndrome: the Killer of Confidence

In 2010, I was sitting across from a client, just starting a new job and collecting my hours toward my LPC licensure. As the session continued, I struggled to concentrate on what my client had to say. Thoughts raced through my head, “What if they realize, I have no idea what I’m doing,” “What if they realize, I’m a fraud?”
Impostor Syndrome the Killer of Confidence

Fast forward to four years later, starting a new job, those type of thoughts come back. Only now I’m fully licensed, with several years of experience. “What if this new company, finds out I’m just winging it.” “What if they learn I’m a fraud?”

The rational part of my brain knows I know what I’m doing… but those irrational thoughts are stronger and they consume me.

What is going on?

Originally called impostor phenomenon, impostor syndrome, as it’s now usually called, is commonly understood as a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill. – Merriam Webster Dictionary

The term was coined by American psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, who published an article called “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” in the 1978 journal Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice.

Earlier thought to only occur in high-achieving women, this experience is found to occur in everyone regardless of gender, race, socio-economic stasis etc… 70% of people will experience at least one episode of Impostor Phenomenon in their lives. Famous people like Tom Hanks, Emma Watson, Neil Gaiman, Maya Angelou, and Chuck Lorre have admitted to feeling like they would be found out for being a fraud.

So what does this mean for me and you… it means we are normal. We are not alone in these thoughts. When we are in new situations, it’s normal to feel insecure and unsure until you can get your bearings, it doesn’t mean you are unqualified or a fraud. It means you are Human and you are learning, growing and changing.

What can I do?

If the impostor thoughts are not addressed they can lead to anxiety, stress, depression, low self-esteem, guilt, and shame. Once they are addressed, you will not longer feel alone in your experience and are able to decrease your negative feelings.
Be Vocal: Tell a trusted friend, coworker, or professional about your feelings of inadequacy. Vocalizing your thoughts can sometimes help you realize how irrational or silly they sound.

Write Down Your Accomplishments: Make a list, check it twice, and keep checking it. Whenever you are feeling inadequate, add something. Sometimes on a really bad day, an accomplishment can be “I survived.” Don’t discount any accomplishment, no matter how small you may feel it is at the time.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others: Recognize that you are you. You are unique. When we compare our lives to that of others we fall into traps of “my life sucks compared to ______.” No one’s life is the best, no one’s life is perfect. What are they not showing you? If you compare your life to others you miss out on your own life and your experiences.

Being Wrong Doesn’t make you a Fraud: We all make mistakes, we are human. Mistakes are necessary to learning life’s lessons. The knowledge retained from fixing a failure is remembered longer than doing “it” right the first time. Just think back to your childhood.

Take Action: It is impossible to be a fraud, if you are taking action. By taking Action and working through your thoughts, you are proving to yourself that you are not an impostor, you’re a doer.

Fake it till you make it!: Faking confidence does not make us a fraud. For example, faking a smile releases real endorphins in our brains increasing our mood until we are smiling for real. Faking confidence leads to real confidence.


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