What is Impostor Syndrome ?
Tarun was 24 years old when he began his career as a stand-up comic. While being funny came easily to him, he attributed his rising popularity to luck and suffered from and intense feeling of foreboding that his peers, his growing audience and social media followers would find out that he was actually not that great a comedian and that he was an imposter.
“I genuinely felt that I was a misfit and a fraud and people would find out soon enough that I wasn’t actually funny!” Tarun regretfully recalls.
Within a year, he had self-sabotaged by quitting from what had promised to be an exceptionally bright career!
Tarun is not the first person to suffer from what is commonly known as impostor syndrome. It is estimated that nearly 70% of extremely capable and successful people worldwide suffer from this oft undiscussed condition of extreme self-doubt. This isn’t about someone else highlighting your potential weaknesses, but your own (mostly inaccurate) perception of yourself and your competence. It’s also to do with setting impossibly high standards for yourself!
While impostor syndrome is not necessarily a psychological issue, this intense, internalised and sometimes irrational self-doubt may require some work in correctly identifying and acknowledging one’s skills and level of efficiency.
Specialists working in the area of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) admit that impostor syndrome may often be accompanied by varying levels of anxiety along with an internalised feeling of doubt about their skills and accomplishments despite enough evidence to support quite the opposite.
If you or someone you know suffers from impostor syndrome, these could be a few directions worth exploring:
1. Stop being a perfectionist and set yourself realistic standards and goals, professionally and personally. Be just as kind to yourself as you are with others. Tough, I know!
2. Recollect to resolve past feelings of inadequacy. These could be family situations during childhood or adolescence, school or college environment, peer group or situational to work or one’s personal life. Journaling helps in identifying and acknowledging events in order to reach a resolution. Sometimes you can do so by objectively re-interpreting experiences that may have been a child’s perception of what actually transpired and not entirely accurate.
3. Learn to treat road-blocks, challenges and incidents in isolation unless there’s a pattern. This applies to work, home and relationships across hierarchical levels.
4. If your efficiency at work is affected due to feelings of intense inadequacy, it’s time to open up to a trusted senior or boss in order to assess whether what you feel is real or merely your faulty perception.
5. As a team leader if you notice someone on your team grappling with impostor syndrome, focus on letting them know their unique skills and what they could focus on to keep growing. Spending time to address inaccurate self-perceptions by team members can go a long way in not just increasing team efficiency but can boost individual self-confidence and nurture a healthier work environment.
6. Minorities (based on race, caste, class, gender etc.,) are more likely to suffer from impostor syndrome. Cultivating a sense of belonging and acceptance amongst under-confident team members can go a long way.
7. Seek professional help if you experience intense internal discomfort while revisiting past incidents and experiences.
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
Overcoming Impostor Syndrome isn’t easy and doesn’t happen overnight. It involves a gym-like discipline to change the way you’ve grown up thinking. It’s about unlearning a childhood habit, learning a new one and relearning it till it comes naturally.
The first step is to be kind to yourself if you make a mistake or fail at something instead of being excessively self-critical.
For some, positive affirmations like “I am good at what I do…I reach my targets” seems to work but I advise a more holistic approach, one that involves the brain and body as well. Our brain’s neuroplasticity ensures that new neural pathways in the brain can be formed at any age and at any stage.
Moreover, some believe that a certain level of self-doubt is actually quite healthy and helps keep one grounded!
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