Have you ever achieved something significant yet felt like a fraud, believing you didn’t truly deserve it?

It could be a sports endeavour, starting a new job, being invited to speak on a topic, publishing a book, or finding the partner of your dreams and yet you feel undeserving. Like you haven’t done enough or are somehow unworthy to receive what you’ve managed to achieve.

If so, you might have experienced imposter syndrome. This pervasive psychological phenomenon affects individuals across diverse backgrounds, professions, and achievements.

Imposter syndrome is one of the biggest reasons people self-sabotage, stopping themselves from achieving their potential.

To watch the extended version of this article, click here.

Understanding Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome refers to the persistent feeling of inadequacy and the fear of being exposed as a “fraud” despite evident accomplishments. First coined by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970s, it often manifests as a constant fear of being unmasked despite external validation and success.

How Imposter Syndrome Manifests

Imposter syndrome can manifest in various ways:

  • Perfectionism: Setting unrealistically high standards and feeling like a failure when you cannot meet them.

  • Attributing Success to Luck: Believing that success results from luck or chance rather than your ability or hard work.

  • Overworking: Feeling the need to constantly work harder to compensate for your perceived deficiencies.

  • Fear of failure: Being paralysed by the fear of failure often leads to procrastination or avoidance of new challenges.

Where Does Imposter Syndrome Stem From? 

Numerous factors contribute to imposter syndrome:

  • Early experiences: Childhood environments that emphasise perfection or where achievements are never enough can contribute to feelings of inadequacy.

  • Personality traits: High-achieving individuals or perfectionists may be more susceptible due to their tendencies toward self-criticism.

  • Culture and society: Societal pressures, stereotypes, and cultural expectations can amplify feelings of inadequacy.

Our Brains are Hard-wired to Detect Threats

The more simple answer to where imposter syndrome stems from is that our brain’s primary role is survival. If we are in an unfamiliar environment, our brain gets active; it unconsciously scans for risks. EVERY new environment is a potential threat.

The Amygdala (located in the Temporal Lobe) constantly monitors our environment and assesses whether we are safe against memories of what we have experienced before.

If it recognises that we may be unsafe, it produces a chemical reaction, and we may experience butterflies or feel anxious. Our heart will beat faster, and our breathing rate will increase.

Our unconscious brain tells our body to prepare to react quickly if necessary.

As I’ve mentioned in many of my previous articles, when this occurs, our Frontal Cortex (the part of the brain responsible for logical thinking, decision making and cognitive functioning) shuts down, and our more primitive survival instincts take over, triggering our flight-fight-freeze response. 

The pre-frontal cortex literally goes offline. Adrenaline and cortisol get released into the bloodstream, keeping us on high alert and making it more challenging, if not impossible, to think logically.

That’s precisely why someone else (friend, boss, family members) can tell you that you’re brilliant by saying things like, ‘You can do it; you’ve got this. You’re amazing at what you do!’ but you find it too impossible to be true.

How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

If you’re embarking on something new, like applying for a job, starting at a new gym or deciding to jump back into the dating pool, and you’re feeling apprehensive, I recommend journaling your concerns BEFOREHAND.

Forward planning and giving some thought to potential stressors or challenges will help regulate your nervous system, making you feel safer and calmer and, therefore, less likely to trigger imposter syndrome.

One other thing to be mindful of and something I tell all of my ‘career’ clients when they land their dream job is that we are so used to performing at a high level that we expect to hit the ground running in our new job.  

However, the fact that we don’t even know where to go for paperclips (I realise that term is a bit outdated now, but you get the idea) will take some time to get used to.

Furthermore, most businesses don’t expect you to know everything from day one! There’ll always be a grace period if you’ve chosen the right company with the right cultural fit.  It’s unrealistic to expect that you can deliver at the same level immediately in a new role as you did in the old one.  

However, I recommend using the ‘grace’ time well, as it won’t last long! So learn as much as possible, ask questions and use the ‘two ears, one mouth’ principle.

Further Advice on Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

In the extended YouTube version of this article, I discuss how to overcome imposter syndrome, including:

  1. Why simply knowing about imposter syndrome can make a difference.

  2. How regulating your nervous system helps you think more clearly.

  3. Using journaling and talk therapy to get ‘out of your head’.

  4. Other Top Tips.

I also discuss in detail, overcoming imposter syndrome when starting a new job because that’s extremely common.

The Wrap-up

Imposter syndrome can be debilitating, but recognising it is the first step toward overcoming its grip. Embrace your accomplishments, seek support, and remember that nobody has it all figured out.

You are not alone in these feelings, and by acknowledging and addressing them, you can begin to break free from the chains of self-doubt and embrace your true worth.

Remember, you are more capable and deserving than you give yourself credit for. Embrace your journey, celebrate your victories, and acknowledge that imperfection is a part of being human.

What Next

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Finally, as always, thank you for your continued support.

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