Impostor or Imposter?!

Whenever I write about imposter syndrome, I freak out. Is it impostor with an "or" or imposter? I google. I read. I look. And, I get the same answer every time: either is fine. This second guessing, that people will care more about the -er or -or than the content of the post or message IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME! The idea that everyone is better than you, all fingers are pointed at you, and you'll be "found out" for the fraud that you are.

Do you feel like a fraud in danger of being exposed when someone praises your work? Do you think your successes are just a matter of luck?

The term was introduced in 1978 as the imposter phenomenon, as psychologists studied successful women (Clance and Imes, 1978). Women in their career were comparing themselves to male counterparts and felt they didn't measure up, likely because of the societal messages causing their second-guessing.

Further research shows that women continue to experience imposter syndrome, as do members of historically harmed communities, such as Black people, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. In fact, an estimated 70% of adults experience the symptoms at least occasionally, with the numbers varying (but amplified) for members of marginalized groups, with racism, micro-aggressions, explicit hate, contributing to imposter syndrome on an individual level. You may be especially vulnerable when you're trying something new or celebrating an important occasion like a job promotion, or when facing a mistake that really was "just a mistake," but you view it as a disastrous fall--a burden of imposter syndrome.

Mental health, the way a supervisor has trained you to respond to feedback, the messages you received from media, all contribute to your perceptions of an imposterism. Whatever the reasons, revisiting core values and repeating affirmations could assist you in casting aside failure messages, what I call you internal gossip queen. You can experience doubt without letting that doubt become a judgement on who you are as a person, and interfere with the happiness and success you deserve.

Changing Your Thinking:

  1. Remember your achievements. Review your track record. Putting your victories in context will show you that they’re not flukes. They're earned. Even if something "came easy" to you, you likely practiced or worked hard to get to that level of competency.

  2. Give yourself credit. Challenge your internal self-talk. When you observe your internal voice becoming critical of your success, or even a failure, congratulate yourself, instead. Practicing Cognitive Reframing will help you to view yourself in a more positive light.

  3. Accept uncertainty. Imposter syndrome is associated with perfectionism and comparison to others: how did I do compared to someone else? Embrace yourself unconditionally, including your strengths and areas of improvement. When you make a mistake, you've learned how to better succeed next time.

  4. Validate yourself. Live up to your own standards rather than comparing yourself to the standards of others, and relying on approval from others.

  5. Appreciate effort. Struggling is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign of dedication. In reality, success often requires careful planning and hard work.

Changing Your Behavior:

  1. Talk it over. Imposter syndrome can be a difficult cycle to break. We act like we don't have it, we think no one else experiences it, and our first impulse is to cover it up. On the other hand, revealing your doubt will help you to put your thoughts into perspective.

  2. Build a support network. Talk about imposter syndrome. I bet you'll be surprised that other folks experience it too. Take a look at this free Imposter Syndrome Bingo resource, too. Be vulnerable! It shows your success is important to you, and allows others to see your authentic side.

  3. Fight stereotypes. Feeling like you look different than co-workers or people in similar positions can contribute to imposter syndrome. For example, maybe you’re much older or younger than your coworkers. Look for ways to turn that difference into an advantage instead of feeling awkward about being different.

  4. Accept compliments. Can you receive praise graciously or do you secretly want to run and hide? Practice saying thank you sincerely; "thank you for noticing."

  5. Find a mentor. Changing long-standing habits of inadequecy can be tough work. Working with a mentor or coach will give you the benefit of ongoing feedback from someone you trust. You may also feel more accountable knowing that someone else is rooting for you, being an active cheerleader in your life, but also monitoring your progress, too.

  6. Stay relaxed. Challenging situations are likely to trigger your imposter syndrome. I can't do this, they'll know I'm a fraud, and I'll get fired. Let's not jump too quickly to conclusions. You’ll find it easier to be authentic if you manage daily stress. Block out time for planning, goal-setting, meditation and physical exercise. Slow down and take a deep breath if you find yourself starting to question your worth.

  7. Take risks. Imposter syndrome can hold you back from trying new things out of fear of failure. Make a list of projects that excite you and take pleasure in learning as you go along. Compare yourself only to your goals, not to the goals or progress of others.

Building your confidence and sense of belonging is not an overnight task. As I say when I teach Personal Empowerment, empowerment only comes from yourself--you can't empower someone else.You can provide inspirational music, amazing quotes, and all of the tools, but the person has to decide whether to accept and implement them. Overcoming imposter syndrome can be difficult, particularly when you see others being "more successful" and having an "easier time" achieving their goals than you. This is particularly prevalent in a country built on systemic racism. While the country tackles a history of white supremacy that has, too often, systematically held back and impacted the success of Black people and people of color, imposter syndrome is a mental state of mind that can be fought with cognitive restructuring and positive affirmations--allowing you to remember your self-worth, your "enoughness," regardless of others' perceptions of you. In fact, one might argue that imposter syndrome is the symptom of pandemics of white supremacy, cisgenderism, and heterosexism. If we begin to treat the cause, and the symptom, it allows for change on both individual mental health and wellness and systemic fronts.

Hi, I'm Brandon!

Most of all, I'm a facilitator. In front of the classroom, leading a meeting, or consulting and speaking, my primary goal is to get you thinking, talking, challenging, and moving forward toward your purpose.

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Imposter Syndrome Bingo! (Free)

Imposter Syndrome Bingo! (Free)

©2021 by Brandon Barile