Imposter Syndrome

Imposter syndrome can feel like... an inability to accept accomplishments and then internalize that nothing was achieved. A person feels like a fraud and not competent enough.

Imposter Syndrome

I’m getting fired for sure today!

What happened? Are you getting fired? - someone asks. Nothing, it was really me thinking I was going to get fired. A single negative thought about oneself can feel like the truth.

Imposter syndrome

Sometimes we achieve new positions, roles, or opportunities that we believe we might be a fraud, not good enough, or just that we believe we did not really deserve.

There’s a lot of doubt swirling around in our heads. We might fear those around us will figure it out - we were not meant to be here! That can feel really scary and stress rises!

Imposter syndrome can feel like... an inability to accept accomplishments and then internalize that nothing was achieved. A person feels like a fraud and not competent enough. It becomes easier to internalize that the success is not deserved or that the person can keep this charade of deception in front of others into believing they are more intelligent or competent than it seems.

Risk factors:

Depression, anxiety, perfectionist tendencies, and low self-esteem

Irrational thinking that forms with feeling like an imposter:

Irrational thoughts are normal from time to time but when these thoughts become harmful or cause us to emotionally spiral negatively, this leads to a dark path. Take control of your life and begin to practice self-awareness. Increase your ability to make choices in how you react. This means just recognizing a thought before it influences your emotions and reactions. We assign meaning to every situation we are put into by having a thought. Self-check your thoughts.

Common irrational thoughts:

Magnification and minimization: Exaggerating or minimizing one's effort or importance toward a situation. "My achievements are insignificant, and my mistakes are very important."

Catastrophizing: Looking at the worst possible outcomes of a situation. " I said one wrong thing in my lecture now I am going to fail and get fired."

Overgeneralization: Having broad interpretations of situations. " I felt like I was weird in my interaction with a colleague. I am always weird."

Disqualifying the positives: Ignoring the positives and highlighting the negatives of a situation. Received feedback that I could have done these tasks correctly and ignored that the supervisor recognized my ability to be creative on the overall project I was leading.

"Should" statements: Belief that things should be a certain way. "I should always be the top performer and win."

Ways to manage the emotions/thoughts:

  • Ground yourself: deep breathing exercises and slow the nervous system or try to notice 3 things you can see, 2 things you can physically touch, 1 thing you hear (use your senses and savor your experience in the now)
  • Gratitude for the present: what are you truly thankful for today?
  • Self-compassion: being kind to yourself in this learning & growing process in this part of your life
  • Situations are neutral: meaning neither good nor bad, we assign meaning to situations in our lives
  • Self-awareness- pause and check in with your thoughts: is this thought factual/can I question how I interpreted the situation?
  • Counter the negative thought by letting go of the thought, insert a rational thought, or insert a positive thought
  • Remember mind and body are connected: take care of both through healthy nutrition, physical activity, and taking a rest

Ways to overcome long term:

  • Find an expert in your field, gain a mentor and gain knowledge
  • Do some training and build your own competence levels: keep going to become the subject matter expert
  • Invest in higher education over the next 10 years: master the skills
  • Work on yourself - become authentic & comfortable with yourself: by working on your deep insecurities, inner challenges, or negative core beliefs through a therapist
  • Hire a life coach to provide encouragement, guidance, and support in your career or life goals - therapists serve in these roles & receive several years of training/certifications/licensure to provide coaching services
  • Surround yourself with the support that knows your value or celebrates you

You are not an imposter. I encourage you to list in full detail what you did to get where you are. What is the sum of your efforts? Take a moment and self-reflect on the steps taken to be where you are. How much effort did it take? What were the most challenging aspects? What actions did you take to reach this level or part of your life?  How do you define success or achievement? Break down every part.

Remember you are an accomplished individual, a winner, and a resilient fighter. You were chosen for a reason - whether seen for potential or someone seeing your capabilities. Be kind to yourself during this growing pain or where you are in life. Rather than seeking validation from others find that inner voice that self-validates. Allow that voice to grow and make the choice to believe in yourself. Believe I can or I will. Know your worth.

  • Highly recommend Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy and/or Internal Family System (IFS) Therapy for an evidenced-based therapy approach. Ask a therapist what treatment approach their style is during the consultation process if offered. Life coaching can be a part of your therapy experience, just inquire. Work through your past, present, and future to bring out the best you.

Kim Ernst, MSW, LCSWA