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Written by Renaud Clarke

How to overcome imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is a psychological condition that causes a person to doubt their own achievements and become afraid that other people will consider them a fraud. It may not be an officially recognised psychological disorder, but it can have a significant impact on your life and work. If you have imposter syndrome, there are ways to ease its effects.

Research into imposter syndrome suggests that it is more common in women, although men can experience it as well. Many of us will experience imposter syndrome to some degree at some point in our lives, particularly when starting a new job in an unfamiliar environment where our self-confidence may be challenged. Imposter syndrome is often associated with stress, depression and anxiety.

Common symptoms of imposter syndrome include overworking, constantly comparing yourself to others, perfectionism, difficulty taking either praise or criticism and simply feeling like a fraud. As someone with imposter syndrome feels that they do not deserve their position, they may work too hard and set themselves impossible tasks to try and prove themselves, but instead end up paralysed with indecision and fear. Criticism feels like a personal attack whilst praise feels undeserved, with these negative feelings becoming worse when the person compares themselves to others and inevitably decides that the other person is much better than them.

It is impossible to address imposter syndrome in a few quick steps. Imposter syndrome often dates back to childhood and overcoming it requires a great deal of work to challenge possibly years of conditioning. Take small steps first rather than trying to do everything at once. This will give you a chance to build a meaningful platform for change.

To overcome the urge to overwork, you can set a definite end point on a task. When your lunchbreak or the end of the day arrives, put down what you are doing and step away. This gives you the chance to recharge and means that you will perform better when you return. This can also help combat perfectionism, as you will have to leave your work whether you think it is perfect or not. You will be unable to run yourself or your task into the ground.

Praise and criticism can be particularly hard to respond to, so practise some responses that you can use when they occur. Just saying thank you is a surprisingly difficult thing to do in response to a compliment, but it is far better for you than trying to brush off or downplay your achievements. As for criticism, a thank you can also be helpful, together with an acknowledgement that you intend to take it on board. You do not have to say you agree, just promise to consider the critique and perhaps change in future.

Positive thinking is an important element in training your mind not to dwell on negatives, including those behaviours caused by imposter syndrome. When you feel those negative thoughts recurring, encourage your brain to override them with positives, such as telling yourself that you have done enough to succeed, or that you do deserve your achievements. You could even write these positives down and ensure that you reread them regularly. Make the conscious effort to do this enough times and it will eventually become a habit.

The presence of a support network has also been shown to help alleviate the symptoms of imposter syndrome. Talking to friends and family doesn’t just provide reassurance, but can make it clear that the feeling of being an imposter is actually quite common. When people know that their experience of imposter syndrome is not unique to them, it can reduce the symptoms. Reassurance from those whose opinions you value can also prevent negative thoughts from embedding themselves too deeply. If the symptoms are too difficult to manage, it may also help to visit a professional for counselling.

If you figure out what you want and accept that your desires may vary from those of your co-workers and others around you, it may help you to stop making unnecessary comparisons to them. Concentrate on yourself and what you can do, rather than failing to adapt to people with different skills and goals.

Taking these few steps doesn’t mean that your imposter syndrome will disappear completely, but can help you manage it. This should make you more comfortable and productive in both your working environment and in your life as a whole.

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