Receiving accolades, promotions, and praise should be a cause for celebration, but for some people it can become a source of shame. Kurt Cobain was honored as the most important musician of his time, yet he felt like a complete fake. Emma Watson is another example of someone who has achieved fame and wealth, yet it makes her feel like a fraud. Impostor syndrome is common, and it can not only prevent people from enjoying their successes, but it can also mean they sabotage their own efforts to become successful.
The Fear Of Being Found Out
There are likely millions of people who live with at least some fear of being unmasked as a fraud. This is not just something that happens to celebrities, it also affects entrepreneurs, professionals, athletes, managers, scientists, and people in academia. There are children doing well in school who can’t escape the nagging feeling that there must be some mistake, that they don’t deserve the credit, and there are bosses of incredibly successful companies that are just waiting to be fired.
Impostor syndrome means the person doesn’t feel deserving of any success. It doesn’t matter how much evidence accumulates to confirm how well they are doing in life, such people can continue to feel inadequate and fake. Individuals in this situation can work incredibly hard in an attempt to prove their worthiness, but the sense of inadequacy persists.
Impostor syndrome differs from low self-esteem in that the person is still able to work towards difficult goals despite their chronic self-doubt. People with low self-esteem usually don’t have enough confidence to take the necessary steps that would lead them to success. With impostor syndrome, the individual has the motivation to achieve great things but is just not able to enjoy a sense of achievement. This feeling of being a fake is more closely related to problems with perfectionism than it is to low self-esteem.
Instead of attributing success to effort and talent, people with impostor syndrome become convinced that it is due to less flattering explanations like luck, error, undeserved help, or cheating the system. These individuals will also have a habit of playing down any achievement by saying it isn’t important or it was easy.
The most common symptoms of impostor syndrome would include:
• Feeling uncomfortable with praise
• Playing down any accomplishments
• A belief that peers are somehow more deserving of success
• Fear of losing a job despite evidence of being a valued member of the team
• Low threshold for even mild criticism
• Unwillingness to apply for promotion despite being a qualified applicant
The Root Of Impostor Syndrome
Impostor syndrome occurs when there is a difference between how people see themselves and how they act around others. This can happen if the individual feels obliged to act confident and self-assured in order to project the right image. It can feel like wearing a mask, and so the fear is that somebody is going to see right through this fakeness.
The feeling of being a fraud is often associated with a pattern of thoughts that generates a sense of self-loathing. People can experience an internal dialogue that is mostly critical, bullying, and negative. These inner thoughts can create unrealistically high standards and the fact that the person regularly fails to live up with them generates more feelings of inadequacy.
How Impostor Syndrome Can Limit Your Potential
Impostor syndrome may drive you to work incredibly hard at your job to prove yourself, but it can also limit you in other ways. It may mean you avoid taking risks because you are terrified that any failure would allow other people to see beyond your mask. You may also avoid applying for promotions because you don’t even feel worthy of your current position. If you have developed a reputation as an expert in some field, you may be so worried about being found out that you spend more time trying to protect your image than you do developing your knowledge.
If you have managed to get close to success in the past, but failed at the last hurdle, it could be because you are dealing with impostor syndrome. The feeling of unworthiness can cause you to sabotage your own efforts – although this is all going to happen unconsciously. It could mean that you turn up at an important meeting with a bad hangover or you don’t turn up at all. You may spend years dreaming about achieving something big, but when you get close to making this a reality, your fear causes you to drop the ball.
The Steps To Overcoming Impostor Syndrome
The key to overcoming impostor syndrome is to recognize that it is there in the first place. One way to do this is to pay more attention to the mental chatter that is going on inside your head. You need to be able to spot the thoughts that feed the idea that you are a fake and challenge them. It is always the negative thoughts that pass through our brain unchallenged that cause the most damage. It is also important that you become more objective about your talents and positive personality traits – they are definitely there if you look for them.
Opening up about feelings of inadequacy is an important step. This honesty is often rewarded by hearing from friends and family who have similar feelings. Negative thoughts are always going to be more dangerous when they are left to just bang around in your head. The beliefs that support impostor syndrome are like vampires who become powerless in the cold light of day.
Developing self-compassion can be an excellent way to overcome impostor syndrome. The voice inside your head that demands perfectionism may appear like a wise guide, but it is actually a merciless bully. By learning to be kinder to yourself, you can let go of the need to be perfect. Self-compassion allows you to see that you are already enough and that you deserve to enjoy all the good things in your life. If outward success has been alluding you up until this point, a bit of self-compassion may make all the difference.
One of the other important steps to overcoming impostor syndrome is learning how to accept compliments. Instead of just looking at praise as meaningless words, it is better to see them as a type of fuel. If you react to praise the right way, it can give your motivation a boost, and this means you are going to be able to get more done. Striving at work out of fear can be a real drain on your inner energy resources but praise can lift your spirits so you just soar towards your goals.
If you feel like a fake at work, you are probably going to assume that your colleagues are just acting naturally in their roles. The question you need to ask is – how could you know this? Can you read minds? All humans need to change their behavior in relation to what they are doing and getting through life involves wearing multiple masks such as mother, husband, wife, father, son, daughter, boss, and employee. If you look closely at your colleagues, you’ll notice that just like you, they have their flaws.
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