Have you felt like a fraud? Worried that you’re not as good as everyone seems to think or feel afraid of being ‘found out’ at any moment? If so, you might be suffering from impostor syndrome – or more accurately impostor phenomenon (‘syndrome’ makes it sound like a medical condition, whereas it’s actually a measure of your self-belief).
I was 26 when I achieved my life dream and qualified as a lawyer – after 5 years of studying and 2 years training, I had finally made it! My life was meant to ‘start’ now… I would finally have a good income, stop having to struggle and I was highly ambitious.
I was proud on my first day when they screwed in the name-plaque on my door. I had my own office and secretary – I felt like I’d ‘made it’. Very quickly I became crippled with anxiety, somehow, I’d expected that I would know everything when I qualified, but it seemed like I knew nothing! I felt out of my depth, doubts started to creep into my mind – who was I to be a lawyer? The expectation and pressure that I placed on myself meant that I began to experience huge levels of anxiety about making mistakes. I would wake up in the night in fear and felt sick every morning walking into the office.
Just 15 months later I quit, feeling like a failure. I went on to have a successful career in financial services, until I was promoted. Overnight all those same feelings and beliefs began to surface. I was gripped by the icy cold hand of anxiety, I felt out of my depth, didn’t feel like I had enough knowledge or experience and expected to be ‘found out’ at any moment. I compared myself to my high performing colleagues and wondered how I would ever live up to them. After 6 months of extreme stress I hit burn out.
When I first started my business I recognised the ‘who am I to do this’ thoughts cropping up again, I compared my stage 1 to someone else’s stage 10 and felt like I’d never be as good as them. I’d procrastinate or self-sabotage. I kept waiting for someone to find me out again; I wasn’t an entrepreneur really – was I?
Impostor phenomenon was first identified by psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in the 1970’s. Since that time numerous studies have been conducted into this issue, which seems more common in women than men (that’s not to say that men don’t experience it but it seems to be less common). Dr Clance writes that impostor phenomenon occurs “with great frequency amongst successful, high-achieving people”. It often arises in people with perfectionist tendencies, and usually where the sufferer places huge amounts of pressure on themselves not to fail, or feels like they are only in their current position because they have been lucky or because someone made a mistake in their abilities, which increases the fraudulent feelings. A 2019 report estimated that 66% of women had experienced impostor phenomenon in the previous 12 months.
Impostor phenomenon is often related to periods of change or significant milestones such as starting a new business or when moving up a level. Many high-profile women including Michelle Obama, Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg have admitted experiencing it.
How to overcome Impostor Phenomenon
If you find that you are experiencing feelings of being a fraud, like you don’t know everything you need to, fearing that you will be ‘found out’ and experiencing anxiety about making a mistake or failing, the first step is recognising that this is completely normal.
What can you do if you find that you are experiencing impostor phenomenon?
1. Recognise that it’s highly successful people who feel this way – to chances are you are successful - Awesome!
2. Review the evidence – are you getting good feedback but focusing one negative comment or mistake?
3. Celebrate your successes, achievements and accomplishments – keep a log of all successes and positive feedback to remind yourself in times of doubt
4. Talk about what you are experiencing – your friends or mentors may have been through the same thing and will be able to support you
5. Reframe mistakes as ‘a learning opportunity’ – everyone makes mistakes, instead of criticising and mentally admonishing yourself recognise that this is an opportunity to learn something
6. Pay attention to your language, impostor syndrome is often associated with putting unreasonably high standards on ourselves – so watch out for the words ‘should’ and ‘must’ reframe them to ‘could’ or ‘might’
7. Reach out for professional help – there are a number of ways that you can retrain the mind to overcome feelings of being an impostor and anxiety including Rapid Transformational Therapy©, hypnotherapy, neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). If you are experiencing mental health issues speak to your doctor.
If you are a women with an online business whose confidence is holding her back join our free group at www.facebook.com/groups/raiseyourconfidence