They’re gonna find me out! The curious case of the Impostor phenomenon
Did you know about 70% of people will experience the impostor phenomenon (fear of failure, fear of success, a sometimes obsessive perfectionist drive, and an inability to accept praise and achievement, combined with a genuine belief that you, the ‘impostor’, will be found out for being a fake). To put it simply, it is the experience of feeling like a phony or a fraud. It is particularly prevalent among high achieving women.
Common thoughts and feelings include:
- I must not fail
- I feel like a fake
- My success was pure luck
- I don’t deserve to be in this job
Common behaviours include:
- Working too hard – superhero workaholics
- Avoid asking for raise or promotion
- Go overboard on tasks and goal-setting
- Having to be an expert – continuously hunting for new information
- Going solo – preferring to work alone rather than reveal their feared incompetence
The impostor’s internal drive for perfection and their constant expectation of external criticism pushes them to underestimate their abilities, while striving to exhaustion for advancement to avoid perceived failure and exposure to criticism. Toxic work environments where there is increasing demand to do more with fewer resources, competitive collegial environment, with a focus on profit over humanity, bullying and ineffectual leadership creates a stage unhealthy work culture. Combine toxic work environments with people who feel like impostors and it leads to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, depression and self-degradation.
So what can you do to mitigate the negative effects of impostorism?
- Recognise the impostor feelings when they emerge
- Acknowledge your thoughts and put them in perspective
- Seek support and talk about your feelings
- Stop comparing
- Take baby steps – focus on doing things reasonably well not perfectly
- Reframe failure as a learning opportunity
- Be kind to yourself
- Refuse to let it hold you back. Pursue your goals. Keep going and refuse to be stopped.
- Document accomplishments and celebrate successes
- Beware of toxic work cultures
If you want to delve more deeply into these feelings, seeking out the professional help of a psychologist can be helpful. This is especially true when symptoms persist or severely impact a person’s mental health and quality of life.