“I’ve been stressed at work. I’ve got a new job that I started during the lockdown. I get a lot of value of myself from my work. It was tough, it all being new, it got me down. I felt continually anxious and that seeped into everything. I want to dig deeper and figure out if there is something there why I have no self-worth and this feeling like I have imposter syndrome. I want to feel light again. I want to feel capable and not overthink things. If something goes wrong with work, to be more confident.
Like Kerry, most of us feel stressed at work occasionally, particularly if we feel overloaded or have a looming deadline. But what if we felt stressed because we don’t feel that we’re up to the job? Kerry mentions feeling like she has “imposter syndrome”. What is imposter syndrome, and how might it affect Kerry’s work and life?
What is imposter syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is not a recognised disorder, but it is a known phenomenon. At the root of imposter syndrome is the anxiety that we are not as good as others think we are. Basically, we’re scared that we’re faking it, and scared of being “found out” by our colleagues and bosses.
The truth is that those who struggle with imposter syndrome are rarely frauds; and, in fact, they are often perfectionists. To overcome their false perception that they are not good enough for the job, they often overcompensate by working incredibly hard. It can be absolutely exhausting.
Imposter syndrome may not be a recognised condition in itself, but the stress of constantly feeling like a fraud can lead to anxiety and depression. As you can see from Kerry’s quote, anxiety-related conditions like overthinking (rumination), lack of confidence, and anxiety all stem from her feelings about her new role.
I worked with Kerry (not her real name) to overcome these feelings, and she’s now back to her glowing, professional, and incredibly competent self.
What causes imposter syndrome?
There are various causes of imposter syndrome. Kerry’s experience is common, because these feelings often occur after taking on a new job or a promotion. If your new role is perceived as higher status than your previous one, it’s all too easy to worry that you’re not quite good enough. This feeling can get out of hand, to the point where the individual feels not only are they inadequate, but they got the job because of ‘luck’.
Coming from a high-achieving family is another potential factor, because of the values (perceived or otherwise) placed on success. Related to this, it can also be more common in certain cultures and sub-cultures, where success is defined as high achievement. A paper published in 2017 found no link between age and gender and imposter syndrome, but a possible correlation between the syndrome and people from ethnic minorities.
And, of course, it can be linked to anxiety disorders and depression. You’re more likely to struggle with low self-esteem and poor self-confidence, and if you add rumination tendencies to this, you can see how any example of poor performance (even if perceived not actual) can lead to overthinking and a downward spiral.
Who experiences imposter syndrome?
The term was first used in the 1970s in the context of successful professional women. However, we recognise that anyone can experience it. It doesn’t have to be a high-flying white-collar job, and you certainly don’t have to be a woman.
However, what surprises everyone is how many successful people have suffered from imposter syndrome. “But they are so famous/rich/clever/talented/beautiful/popular!”, we all cry. Exactly. We know this, but the individual involved is experiencing the same crippling doubts as anyone else. They can’t believe that they genuinely have these talents, and are scared that one day they’ll be found out and they’ll be found out on a global level.
Successful singer/songwriter Ellie Goulding recently spoke of her own struggles with imposter syndrome, and reveals that she was “thinking that I don’t deserve happiness”.
What are the effects of imposter syndrome?
There are several common effects of imposter syndrome on the individual. At the base level, they are unhappy, and like Ellie Goulding, feel that they don’t deserve happiness. This constant unhappiness will lead to feelings of depression.
The individual also works harder to mask what they believe are their inadequacies. They attempt to control their fears with long hours and more projects, believing that this will hide their deep-down incompetence. So, they are tired, possibly facing burnout, and, like Kelly, stressed.
The fear of being a fraud leads to people reining in potential success. Otherwise excellent candidates won’t put themselves forward for promotion because they fear it will “expose” them. “Imposters” are less likely to make strategic decisions, take risks, or innovate. They won’t accept compliments or rewards because they didn’t deserve them.
How can hypnotherapy help me overcome imposter syndrome?
Do any of these points resonate with you? The good news is that we can stop imposter syndrome in its tracks. It doesn’t have to take over your life, and you can find self-belief again. This is genuine, inner confidence, not the mask that many sufferers put on with their work clothes every morning.
What can we do? Talking about your beliefs and questioning them are really, really important steps, which is why talking therapies are a great idea for imposter syndrome sufferers.
I worked with Kerry to look at what her ideal experience of work would be like, and, as ever, we made a realistic plan to reach that goal. Along the way, we unpicked and addressed her issues and concerns. If someone has a genuine weaker point at work, we learn how to lean into it and grow from it, rather than let it colour our entire experience.
It can be hard to overcome entrenched feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem. Solution-focused hypnotherapy, with its positive, forward-looking approach, can help you realise your own true worth again.