Imposter Syndrome can appear at any time but can be especially prevalent when we lose confidence in our ability or begin to self-doubt ourselves.  The pandemic has made it difficult to do some of the normal things we do – if we take flying as a good example, many pilots have been grounded for the whole time since the pandemic began.  

When we are not doing something that we do regularly, we can begin to feel concerned that we are forgetting certain skills, or that thought processes we would have done almost without thinking, seem less automatic.  If we allow such thoughts to take hold, the traits of imposter syndrome can easily start to kick in.  

Impostor syndrome refers to an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context.

To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phony—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don't belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck. It can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise.

Characteristics

Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome include:-

  • Self-doubt
  • An inability to realistically assess your competence and skills
  • Attributing your success to external factors
  • Berating your performance
  • Fear that you won't live up to expectations
  • Overachieving 
  • Sabotaging your own success

While for some people, impostor syndrome can fuel feelings of motivation to achieve, this usually comes at a cost in the form of constant anxiety. You might over-prepare or work much harder than necessary to "make sure" that nobody finds out you are a fraud. 

The problem with impostor syndrome is that the experience of doing well at something does nothing to change your beliefs. Even though you might sail through a work presentation, the thought still nags in your head, "What gives me the right to be here?" The more you accomplish, the more you just feel like a fraud. It's as though you can't internalise your experiences of success.

If you think you might have imposter syndrome, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you agonise over even the smallest mistakes or flaws made?
  2. Do you attribute your success to luck or outside factors?
  3. Are you very sensitive to even constructive criticism?
  4. Do you feel like you will inevitably be found out as a phony?
  5. Do you downplay your own expertise, even in areas where you are genuinely more skilled than others?

If you often find yourself feeling like you are a fraud or an imposter, the negative thinking, self-doubt, and self-sabotage that often characterise imposter syndrome can have an effect on many areas of your life.

Coping

To get past impostor syndrome, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions. They might include things such as the following:-

"What core beliefs do I hold about myself?"

"What skills & knowledge do I really have?"

"What is the reality here vs my thoughts?"

To move past these feelings, you need to become comfortable confronting some of those deeply ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself. This can be hard because you might not even realise that you hold them, but here are some techniques you can use:-

Share your feelings. Talk to other people about how you are feeling. These irrational beliefs tend to fester when they are hidden and not talked about.

Focus on others. While this might feel counterintuitive, try to help others who may be in the same situation as you. If you see someone who seems as they are struggling in a similar way ask that person a question, as you practice your skills, you will build confidence in your own abilities.

Assess your abilities. Write down your accomplishments and what you are good at and compare that with your self-assessment.

Question your thoughts. As you start to assess your abilities question whether your thoughts are rational. Does it make sense that you are a fraud, given everything that you know?

Stop comparing. Every time you compare yourself to others you will find some fault with yourself that fuels the feeling of not being good enough or not belonging. Instead, during conversations, focus on listening to what the other person is saying. Be genuinely interested in learning more.

Use social media moderately. We know that the overuse of social media may be related to feelings of inferiority. If you try to portray an image on social media that does not match who you really are or that is impossible to achieve, it will only make your feelings of being a fraud worse.

Written by Amanda Forster-Searle

Mental Health & Wellness Mentor

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