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6 Minutes Read

Imposter Syndrome - Top Causes, Symptoms, and How To Cope

Do you ever feel inadequate, like you're not good enough or don't belong, despite evidence to the contrary? If so, you might be experiencing Imposter Syndrome. This psychological phenomenon is characterized by feelings of self-doubt or fraudulence, especially in the professional or academic sphere. It can affect anyone regardless of their achievements or abilities, from high-achieving students to successful business leaders. In this article, we'll explore the top causes and symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, as well as ways to cope with and overcome it.

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological pattern where individuals doubt their skills or achievements, despite having external evidence proving their competence. This feeling is often accompanied by self-doubt, a lack of confidence, and the constant fear of being exposed as fraud. Imposter Syndrome can stem from different causes, including upbringing, past experiences, and internal beliefs. 

Some people may have grown up in an environment where perfectionism was the norm or have suffered from negative reinforcement from parents or peers. Others may have experienced failure or rejection earlier in life, creating self-doubt that can linger throughout their careers. Regardless of the cause, Imposter Syndrome can have a significant impact on an individual's personal and professional life, causing them to miss out on opportunities or feel undervalued and unappreciated. 

What causes Imposter Syndrome?

Understanding the root causes of Imposter Syndrome can help individuals gain insight into their own experiences and take proactive steps toward overcoming it. Here are some examples of what causes Imposter Syndrome:

1. High expectations

High expectations can be both motivating and debilitating. While some individuals thrive under pressure, others may struggle to meet the standards set for them. When expectations are set unrealistically high, individuals may feel as though their achievements are not genuine and that they are only succeeding because of luck or external factors. This feeling of being a fraud can be overwhelming and may begin to impact an individual's self-esteem and mental health.

Imposter Syndrome can occur when individuals compare themselves to others they perceive as having achieved more or being more talented. It can be challenging to recognize one's own strengths and accomplishments when one feels inadequate in comparison.

2. Perfectionism

Perfectionism is often regarded as a strength by those who possess it. However, it can also be a source of anxiety and stress, leading to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. Perfectionists are particularly susceptible to Imposter Syndrome because they set such high standards for themselves that they often feel like they can never live up to them. This can leave them feeling like they are constantly falling short of their own expectations, no matter how successful they appear to others. 

Perfectionism can also contribute to Imposter Syndrome because it creates a fear of failure. Perfectionists are often so afraid of making mistakes or of not meeting their own standards that they may avoid taking risks or trying new things. This avoidance can lead to a lack of confidence in their abilities, which only reinforces feelings of impostorism.

3. Comparison and external validation

When individuals constantly compare themselves to others, they often feel inadequate and as though they are not living up to expectations. Seeking external validation from others — such as through compliments or recognition — can create a sense of pressure to always perform at a high level. This pressure can lead individuals to constantly strive for perfection, as anything less may be seen as a failure. 

The pursuit of perfection is often unattainable and can result in a constant feeling of not being good enough. This can be a dangerous cycle as individuals who strive for perfection often cannot recognize their accomplishments and instead focus on their perceived flaws and mistakes. This belief can have significant impacts on mental health and can lead to decreased confidence and increased anxiety, depression, and stress.

What are the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome?

It is essential to recognize the symptoms of Imposter Syndrome so that you can seek help and learn to overcome it.  Here are some of the symptoms a person who has Imposter Syndrome may experience:

  • Feelings of inadequacy
  • Having self-doubt
  • Anxious
  • Feelings of stress and burnout
  • Tendency to be extremely hard on themselves
  • Often setting unrealistic standards
  • Struggling to accept praise or compliments 
  • Constantly comparing themselves to others
  • Depression

People from all walks of life can experience this phenomenon — from students to CEOs — which is more common among high achievers. If left untreated, Imposter Syndrome can negatively impact a person's mental health, relationships, and career. 

How can I cope with Imposter Syndrome?

Coping with Imposter Syndrome can be challenging, but there are practical strategies that can help individuals manage and overcome it. Here are some ways:

1. Recognize and challenge negative thoughts

Negative thoughts can include irrational fears of failure or debilitating self-criticism. When you learn to recognize these negative thoughts and challenge their validity, you can regain your confidence in your abilities. One way to challenge negative thoughts is through cognitive restructuring, which involves reflecting on evidence that disputes negative beliefs and generates alternative, positive interpretations. 

Recognizing and challenging negative thoughts is not just a one-time exercise, but a continuous process that requires persistence and intentional effort. When you remain mindful of your negative self-talk, you can catch yourself before you spiral into self-doubt and replace those thoughts with positive affirmations.

2. Set realistic expectations

Individuals with Imposter Syndrome have high expectations of themselves and set unrealistic goals, leading to feelings of inadequacy and failure. By setting realistic expectations, you can reduce the pressure you put on yourself. This can include breaking down larger goals into smaller, more manageable tasks or adjusting expectations based on available resources and time constraints.

Setting realistic expectations does not mean lowering standards or settling for mediocrity. Rather, it’s about finding a balance between challenging oneself and being realistic about what is achievable in a given situation.

3. Practice self-compassion

Self-compassion encourages individuals to recognize their humanity, acknowledge their flaws and vulnerabilities, and treat themselves with the same care and compassion they would offer to others. It involves giving ourselves permission to be imperfect, and recognizing that mistakes and failures are universal experiences. Self-compassion helps you shift your focus from self-criticism to self-appreciation, which can boost self-confidence and self-esteem. 

Learning to be gentle with oneself is a powerful antidote to Imposter Syndrome, and can help you cultivate a more positive, supportive mindset that is conducive to personal growth and fulfillment.

4. Own your achievements

This means acknowledging and accepting that you have earned your accomplishments through hard work, talent, and perseverance. Recognize your successes, both big and small, and give yourself credit for the effort and dedication it took to achieve these things. No one is perfect, and everyone makes mistakes. Own your failures and learn from them, so you can build on your strengths and improve the areas you need to work on.

5. Seek support 

Seeking support from trusted colleagues, friends, mental health professionals or support groups can provide a safe space to discuss and work through the emotional and psychological impact of Imposter Syndrome. Imposter Syndrome can lead to negative self-talk and a decreased sense of worth, but having a support system can counteract these effects and encourage positive thinking and self-esteem. Seeking support is not a sign of weakness, but rather a strength and a step towards overcoming Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is a common phenomenon that affects many individuals, but it can be managed with awareness and practical coping strategies. By recognizing the causes, and symptoms, taking proactive steps to challenge negative thoughts, and practicing self-compassion, you can overcome Imposter Syndrome. Click the button below to set up a free initial appointment and we will help you thrive in your pursuits with confidence and self-assurance.



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