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  • BY NATALIE PETERSEN

Raise Your Hand If You’re (un)Sure

Guidance for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome


I’m a fake. A phony. A fraud. It’s a matter of time before I’m found out. Exposed. Canceled.


Doesn’t matter that I’ve worked my ass off to get here. Don’t want to talk about the evidence showing I’m capable.


Do you ever feel this way?


I’m not as smart as people think. I got lucky. It’s my charm. The stars aligned. Do I even have the right to be here?


These types of internal battles can lead to excessive preparation out of fear of failure, or procrastination out of fear of making mistakes, or even succeeding.


Whether it’s in social settings, at work, in new environments, or a fresh relationship, the nagging voices that undermine our progress, downplay our accomplishments, and convince us we’re unworthy or not deserving of the praise, love, promotion, or benefits bestowed upon us, can lead to general anxiety, paralysis, panic, isolation, and more.


This is Imposter Syndrome, and sadly, most people with imposter feelings are suffering in silence. In fact, Imposter Syndrome is more common than most people realize, affecting individuals at all levels of experience.


Fraud Alert


Imposter Syndrome, initially termed Imposter Phenomenon, or Impostorism, was a concept introduced in the late 70s by two female researchers. After surveying 100+ high-achieving women in academia and professional fields, they found distinct similarities in how they viewed themselves as inept, under-qualified, and having “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness.” These women were all credentialed or otherwise recognized for their accomplishments, but they were quick to play down their success, attributing it to luck or others overestimating them. Further, as Suzanne A. Imes, Ph.D., and Pauline R. Clance, Ph.D., detailed in their 1978 article, “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention,” these women struggled with anxiety, depression, and all-around lack of self-confidence.


Although not classified as a mental disorder, it is estimated that nearly 70% of people will experience signs and symptoms of Imposter Syndrome at some point in their lives. And while it was originally thought to be more prevalent among women, it’s now known to affect all genders, with the distinction of women being more likely to face Imposter Syndrome as it relates to their performance, and men being more often driven by the fear of not measuring up.


In a society that demands relentless success against unattainable standards, it’s natural to feel some self-doubt when facing challenges. Someone with imposter syndrome, however, has an all-encompassing fear of being found out to not have what it takes.


In “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women and Men: Why Capable People Suffer from Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive In Spite of If,” Valerie Young, Ed.D., has identified five “competence types” associated with Imposter Syndrome.


  1. The Perfectionist. Always looking for things to go “perfectly,” this individual’s main concern is “how” something is done. The slightest error or defect will rule something a failure and result in feelings of shame and guilt.

  2. The Expert. This individual expects to and works to know everything. Failure comes when they are found to have even the slightest lack of knowledge about something.

  3. The Soloist. This person doesn’t want help, because asking for it is a sign of weakness and failure.

  4. The Natural Genius. Quick and effortless attainment of goals is the norm, so shame and guilt rain when things get difficult or a task isn’t completed on the first try.

  5. The Super Woman or Super Man. As a multi-tasking, multi-hat-wearing, multi-role-bearing human, this individual’s success is based on how much they can handle. They work longer and harder and rarely acknowledge doubt in their ability to juggle it all. If they can’t, they are a complete failure.


Someone with imposter syndrome, however, has an all-encompassing fear of being found out to not have what it takes.

For those severely affected by Imposter Syndrome, the negative feelings can be debilitating and greatly hinder a person from pursuing goals, setting boundaries, making plans, or otherwise realizing their full potential. Imposter Syndrome can happen to even the most accomplished among us, and this load of self-doubt can have a powerful negative impact on a person’s life, causing burnout, severe depression, and strained or absence of relationships.


sad woman on Her Nation Magazine.
This load of self-doubt can have a powerful negative impact on a person’s life, causing burnout, severe depression, and strained or absence of relationships.

Stop, Drop, and Roll With It


Even as I write this, I have questioned my qualifications to address the topic of Imposter Syndrome. I’ve thought, “Who do you think you are? How do you think you’re qualified to support others in thinking about this topic? I’m in over my head.”


Truth is, I’m not.


Buckets of lived experience of dealing with and overcoming Imposter Syndrome qualifies me to share with you, partner with you, and cheer you on in realizing your value and worth. It’s taken time and determination to learn how to regulate the voices in my head, question my surroundings and stimuli, and move through powerful emotions that threaten progress, connection, and seeing myself for the talented, compassionate, valuable human being that I am.


Consider these hacks in grabbing your own attention and rerouting thoughts of doubt.


Stop.


The most powerful weapon against the stress of Imposter Syndrome is our ability to choose one thought over the other. Catching a thought pattern in its tracks, we can begin to unwind a spiraling mindset with just a few simple questions.


  • Is this thought really true?

  • What emotion is present, and what is it trying to tell me?

  • What are the facts of the situation vs the feelings I’m experiencing about the facts?

  • Is what I’m feeling related to this particular situation, or is it bubbling up from a prior experience?

  • Do I need a few minutes to regroup and reroute?


Committed to having more authentic conversations with ourselves, we can build mental muscles and develop resilience against self-doubt.


Drop.


Comparing ourselves to others, especially those we don’t know, see on social media, or some other proverbial stage, is a recipe for a big ol’ batch of Imposter Syndrome. Seeking external validation, or determining our value based on what we see others doing or saying or achieving, is unhealthy and undermines the legitimate and exciting journey of life, not to mention results in resentment or being judgemental of others.


So, drop the comparisons! They are never fair! Try to be aware of when you begin comparing yourself to others, and once you recognize the internal chatter that’s telling you someone is better in any way, tell yourself, “Drop it!” Don’t shame yourself for doing so. Simply change focus. Count blessings. Count your strengths. Count down from 10! You are exactly enough.


Roll With It.


Those of us who struggle with Imposter Syndrome may find it difficult to accept compliments or talk about our accomplishments with confidence. Depending on how our doubt shows up, we are quick to dismiss praise, apologize for being ‘excited’ or ‘eager,’ and are often questioning others’ perspectives of our work.


Chrysta Bairre, a career coach, speaker, author, and founder of She Goes High, a community of women leaders in Northern Colorado, shares a wonderful suggestion in her own workshop on overcoming Imposter Syndrome. She suggests a response to positive feedback in any form can be simply, “Thank you, I know.”


Oooooh, that’s a doozie, isn’t it? If that’s too sassy for you, try another version that more easily rolls off your tongue.


  • Thank you, I appreciate that.

  • Thank you, that makes a girl feel good.

  • Thank you, I’m proud of my work.

  • Thank you, it’s wonderful to hear positive feedback.

  • Thank you! I’ll pay that compliment forward.


My challenge to you is to try something other than talking the person out of the compliment or downplaying the suggestion that you are worthy, talented, thoughtful, and deserving of praise.


TRY IT! Roll with what comes your way. There is incredible power in your thoughts, and the way you approach and react to life has the power to shape your reality - in positive and negative ways. And remember, rewiring and rerouting the way we think takes time, and no one is getting life perfect.


So give yourself grace. Be compassionate with yourself and others. Take mistakes in stride, and learn to take constructive criticism seriously, not personally. There is no shame in asking for help when you’re in the midst of self-doubt, for every one of us is a beautiful work in progress.


Now go out there and do good. The world needs you.


Are you wondering if you have Imposter Syndrome? There are tests like this one and this one you can take to get a sense of your own tendencies around the topic. As well, Imposter Syndrome is often up for discussion with podcast hosts (listen here) and bloggers (read here).


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Natalie Petersen with Her Nation Magazine
Natalie Petersen | Communications Mentor

Meet the expert:

Natalie is a Communications Mentor and Author living in Northern Colorado, and her calling is partnering with human beings in personal and professional spaces to realize worth and voice, compassion and courage, and value in our vulnerability. Having walked a life of many lessons, models, and mentors, Natalie won't pretend to be an expert at any one of way of living, working, or surviving this life. She is capable across multiple disciplines and strives daily to educate and earn respect in the areas of Emotional Intelligence, Mental Health, Wellness/Illness Spectrum, Be-Do-Have Modeling, and Multi-Potentiality.


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