He was absolutely the best at what he did. Too bad he didn’t believe it. Whenever his manager, coworkers or customers told him, “you’re amazing, we’re lucky we have you,” a counterpoint voice in his head whispered back “once they find you out, they’ll feel you’ve ripped them off.”
He battles imposter syndrome, the persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud. Imposter syndrome afflicts a surprisingly large number of high achievers, particularly those who’ve interacted with a mentor or parent who alternates biting criticism with weak praise.
Despite reality and external evidence of their competence, these high performers feel inadequate, insecure and that they’re fooling those who compliment them. Instead of embracing happiness when their talent and hard work achieve successes, they live in fear they’ll be found out and disappoint those who’ve admired them.
All it takes is a sharply-worded criticism to slice their flabby self-confidence to ribbons. The nagging voice in their head insists that any success they attain results from blind luck, timing, coincidence, or another’s help. As a consequence, these high achievers feel driven to work than anyone else and often turn into perfectionists or develop stress-related illnesses. Clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Ime coined the term imposter syndrome in 1978 when investigating these and other physical symptoms that stemmed from mental self-doubt as a psychosomatic pattern.
Those battling impostor syndrome can defeat it and over the years I’ve helped a number of individuals mentally grab hold of and permanently silence their internal critic. Here’s how:
Recognize and learn your triggers
Recognizing you’ve got a mouthy internal critic starts the healing process.
Imposter syndrome comes from your past. Defeat it by learning which situations and individuals trigger your inner critic and shake your confidence. Once you’ve identified the underlying pattern, you can start to pull it apart. You can win this game of whack-a-mole.
Train yourself to counterpoint the inner voice that discounts every success with evidence, by keeping and “owning” your accomplishments. When others compliment you, respond with “thanks, I worked hard on that,” instead of “oh, it was nothing” or “I just got lucky.” Flip your script by reminding yourself what you bring to the table and by keeping a list of what you’ve achieved.
Imposter syndrome thrives in isolation and from assuming you’re the only one who feels you’re an imposter. Reach out to a coach or others who might have, because of a bad run-in with a workplace bully or a loss of confidence due to a layoff or business failure, find themselves similarly plagued by self-doubts.
Support from coworkers and friends can hold the impostor syndrome at bay. Develop friendships at work and home that can authentically cheer you on — and listen to them.
Prove it to yourself
What would you do if you weren’t afraid you couldn’t succeed? People suffering from imposter syndrome benefit from pushing themselves to accept challenging projects. Don’t allow the voice inside your head that triggers your feelings of inadequacy to hold you back. Continue to take risks, and even if you don’t succeed initially, remind yourself that it takes courage to pursue opportunities despite doubts. In other words, celebrate what you’re made of and prove to yourself how much you can do when you let yourself.
© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of “Beating the Workplace Bully” and “Solutions” as well as Regional Director of Training and Business Consulting for The Growth Company, an Avitus Group Company. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com.