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Impostor Syndrome: Strategies for Recognising and Overcoming Challenges

The mask of the impostor syndrome

What characterises the phenomenon known as impostor syndrome is that evidence indicating one's excellent skills and deserved success are overshadowed by the underlying belief of being inadequate and incompetent. 

How do you know if the impostor syndrome impacts you?

If you believe that all your achievements are due to fortunate coincidence and all your failings result from your incompetence, you most likely suffer from impostor syndrome. 

Most people will find themselves experiencing these uncomfortable feelings at some point in life as the impostor syndrome tends to come and go. Unfortunately, knowing this doesn't help when you feel like a fraud, but it can help you understand what is happening.

Understanding the Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome comes in various forms, and many factors contribute to its development: individual personality, followed by influences from family, friends, teachers and all personal experiences. In unravelling the intricate web of impostor syndrome, the persistent belief of inadequacy can overshadow even the most evident success.

Prison chain

Don't wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what?

Mark Victor Hansen

Recognising its impact is the first step to free yourself.

Shared traits like self-doubt and overachievement may resonate, yet understanding these fleeting moments is critical.

Characteristics commonly shared by people experiencing this syndrome:

  • Continuous self-doubt

  • Inability to truly appreciate your achievements

  • Underestimating your performances

  • Referring to any success of a fortunate event.

  • The constant worry of being exposed to the truth

  • Overachieving 

  • Self-sabotaging 

  • Setting very high standards to confirm your incompetency.

The above beliefs and behaviour underline the notion of never being enough, building a confining prison where self-worth and personal achievements are overshadowed by an unrelenting sense of inadequacy. This self-imposed prison restricts one's ability to fully embrace accomplishments, perpetuating a cycle of self-doubt and fear of falling short. Constantly pursuing unattainable standards creates an environment that prevents personal growth and self-acceptance.

Surviving the challenges

Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.­

Mark Victor Hansen

Challenge Your Limiting Beliefs

To free yourself from these challenging feelings, you need to become comfortable exploring the truth behind those established beliefs you hold. Facing your limiting beliefs won't be easy. Fortunately, there are some tools you can use to help you with the task:

  • Talk with someone about your feelings. Irrational beliefs are more persistent when unspoken, and talking to someone you trust always helps.

  • Ask this person to help you make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Complete separate evaluations and afterwards compare them.

  • Perfection doesn't belong in this world. Don't focus on doing things perfectly but on doing them reasonably well

  •  As you begin to evaluate your abilities, do it in small steps and challenge your thoughts. Do you genuinely believe you would be where you are if you were a fraud?

  • Stop comparing yourself to others. You will just enhance the feeling of not being good enough. Instead, if you think someone does something better than you, be genuinely interested in learning more from them.

  • Avoid social media as much as possible. Comparing yourself with the unreal images of perfect lives portrayed on social media will only make you feel worse.

  • Stop fighting unwelcome feelings. Only by acknowledging them can you begin to challenge the beliefs holding you back.

  • Refuse to let insecurity hold you back. Don't let your feelings of not belonging stop you from pursuing your goals.

Love yourself and roses

You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you 

if you realised how seldom they do.

Eleanor Roosevelt

And finally, remember that if you feel like an impostor, it means you have achieved some degree of success in your life and that, for some reason, you are ascribing this to luck.

Enhance self-care to promote more positive thinking patterns:

  • Train your brain to focus on your qualities; feel free to list them.

  • Learn to practice self-compassion.

  • Start a gratitude journal

  • Celebrate little achievements.

  • Journal your fears. They look different on paper.

  • List the challenges you have overcome.

  • Practice positive self-talk.

  • Accept that some things are out of your control.

  • Failing is a lesson; it doesn't define who you are.

Be yourself everyone else is taken

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

John Wooden

Final Thoughts

Acknowledge unwelcome feelings; they're signals for growth. Celebrate successes, nurture self-compassion, and reframe failures as lessons. Impostor syndrome may persist, but it doesn't define you. Cultivate resilience, practice self-care, gratitude, and positive self-talk. Recognise achievements, embrace uncertainty and face your fears. Impostor syndrome is a journey, not a destination. As you navigate, let each step affirm your worth and contribute to your success.

When unpleasant feelings rule your day for too long, it’s time to reach out to someone you trust. You don't have to face everything alone. If you don't have someone to talk to, contact a helpline, a support group, or a professional. Your GP or a counsellor can make a difference in your wellbeing. 

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