No, you aren’t a fraud: understanding imposter syndrome
Do you ever feel unsure of yourself? Like a failure? Do you ever wish you had more confidence? Do you put yourself down in front of others or resent other people’s success? Do you often find yourself saying “yes” to requests when you really want to say no? Are you constantly worrying about something, but don’t do anything to deal with what you’re worrying about?
What would you do if you believed you could not fail? What would you try? Are there things in your life you’d like to change, or new adventures you’d like to pursue, but you’re too scared to take the plunge? If so, then your self-esteem and confidence may need a boost. The next few blog posts may be able to help.
Self-esteem and confidence are two of the key contributing factors in actively moving toward the things we want to experience and away from the things we don’t want to. Most of us have some kind of confidence issue. Some people may be confident about the way they look, for example, but not about their intellect, or vice versa. Perhaps you are confident about a particular skill set, but that confidence doesn’t translate to relationships or communication skills.
No one is perfect, but we live in a world that tells us we should be.
We are reminded daily what we should and shouldn’t look like, and what our lives would include if we were “successful”. Social media, the press and TV all provide unrealistic, imaginary benchmarks for us to judge ourselves against, every day!
When it comes to self-esteem and confidence there are some unusual paradoxes. On one hand, we are often told to behave “as if ”. In other words: While confidence is an internal belief about our abilities in a certain area, even if those beliefs are not rock-solid we can pretend to be confident which, in turn, actually makes us feel more confident. It’s a physiological as much as a mental thing.
“Fake it ’til you make” it doesn’t make you a fake
You may have heard the statement “projection is perception”. In other words: What we project to the world is how other people will perceive us, whether that projection is true or not. So even if we don’t feel strong and self-assured, we can demonstrate that assuredness outwardly, and (as long as we don’t go overboard into arrogance!) we can convince ourselves and others that we are confident.
However, the flip side (and, hence, the paradox) is something called the “imposter syndrome”.
If we constantly pretend to be more confident than we feel, but don’t learn strategies to increase our genuine sense of confidence and assimilate our learning to move from “faking it” to “making it”, we can end up feeling like a fraud. It is also something experienced by high-achieving individuals who are unable to internalise their accomplishments, and who live with the persistent fear of being “found out”. Women are particularly adept at the imposter syndrome.
Too frequently, women in highly demanding jobs believe they got there by luck, or some other kind of subterfuge, and feel they have to be better than their male peers. However, imposter syndrome is certainly not an exclusively female issue. Identified by clinical psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, in 1978, imposter syndrome is something I come across frequently in my work as an executive coach.
It can arise when someone is promoted into a role they don’t feel worthy of, or they land a job they never dreamed they would actually get, or they enter a relationship with someone they believe is “out of their league”. Secretly, they believe that they are not intelligent/creative/attractive/likeable enough to be in the position they find themselves. As a result, it’s only a matter of time before they get exposed, marched off the premises or dumped for being the imposter they believe they are.
Everyone feels like an imposter sometimes
Now, all of us feel this way from time to time. If we are learning new skills on the job or flying by the seat of our pants, it’s absolutely normal to feel out of our depth. But that shouldn’t stop us stepping out of our comfort zone.
If you find yourself feeling a fraud, remind yourself of the existence of the imposter syndrome and just how common it is. Also, take the time to remind yourself just how hard you have worked and how many times you have done a good job, been successful or helped others be successful, or how much you bring to your relationship.
We don’t always know what we are doing--and that’s fine! We still need to do new things, embark on new relationships, take new opportunities and experiment with life.
Want more? My latest book Your Life Your Way contains plenty of practical tips, advice, and strategies for living your life more fully and confidently.