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5 Signs You’re Dealing With Imposter Syndrome At Work – And How To Stop It

over 1 year ago by Rose Hunt

5 Signs You’re Dealing With Imposter Syndrome At Work – And How To Stop It

Stressed Woman At Work

You may well have been there before. You’ve just started a new job, and you begin the lengthy process of office introductions. ‘This is Jason’, they say. ‘He’s a specialist in JavaScript and Python. He’s a real expert, so any questions at all – he’s your guy!’ You feel all hot and uncomfortable, with a slight urge to look behind you and check they aren’t talking about someone else. Despite years of training and knowledge you’ve worked day in, day out to cultivate, you suddenly find yourself wondering – am I a fraud?

Imposter syndrome refers to the internal experience of not believing yourself to be as competent as other people think you are, and worrying that the ‘lie’ might be exposed at any moment. First coined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s, it was originally thought to apply exclusively to high-achieving women. However, we now know that although it affects women (and especially women of colour) more often, the insidious condition is commonplace in both genders. 

Despite its prevalence, believe it or not, signs you’re dealing with imposter syndrome at work aren’t always obvious. What’s more, it’s important to recognise if you’re dealing with it sooner rather than later, so you can prevent any consequences to your career and future happiness. Let’s run through some of the most common indicators – and how to banish it from your life for good.

Woman looking stressed clutching hair

1. You give other people credit for your success

People with a healthy and balanced self-esteem are able to see the big picture, and take credit for hard-earned achievements. If you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, however, you’re probably fantastic at identifying everything that those around you do well – and have no issues dishing out praise accordingly – but have a really hard time accepting it yourself. In fact, you’ve probably gone through life attributing your accomplishments to simply being in the right place at the right time, or to experiencing a higher level of privilege than most. Although those factors might have played a role, it’s vital to be able to view your situation objectively, and accept credit where it’s due. 

2. You put a huge amount of pressure on yourself

Do you often find yourself working after everyone else has gone home, and over-preparing for every meeting? Perhaps you’re constantly comparing yourself to others? Then when you do take a moment to yourself, you can’t shut down that critical internal monologue, which leads to constant anxiety. If all of this sounds familiar, imposter syndrome might well be the culprit. People with IS will often overcompensate in a desperate effort to avoid being ‘found out’. Paradoxically, the more success they achieve, the worse this feeling becomes, becoming an escalating cycle which can eventually become unbearable. 

3. You’re a master of self-sabotage

You get an ambiguous email from your boss, and find yourself trapped in a paralysing spiral of anxiety. In fact, you convince yourself she’s probably going to fire you. Even without all the relevant information, you’ve already crafted a story in your head that will keep you awake all night. Alternatively, you might find yourself planning every aspect of your life, down to even the most minor details – you know exactly what you’re having for breakfast for the next fortnight, and spontaneity is strictly off-limits when it comes to your social calendar. And your personal relationships aren’t anything to write home about, either; you don’t really have any friends at work, and you haven’t been on a date in months. At the heart of all these experiences is a subconscious feeling that you don’t deserve to be happy, and that if you don’t take risks, you won’t get hurt.

Woman looking fed up next to laptop

4. You’re convinced no one really likes you

Okay maybe your mom likes you, but she has to, right? As far as friends are concerned, however, part of you highly suspects that they only continue to see you out of a sense of obligation, and that they’re only kind and supportive because they can see you’re going through a hard time. Even when you receive praise from your boss after smashing your targets at work, that voice in your head tells you that she’s only complimenting you because she’s a nice person, not because she means it. Of course, all of these feelings stem from your deep-rooted insecurities. You’re so convinced you’re not good enough, you presume that other people feel the same way.

5. You use minimising language

“The project just kind of fell together”, “I think my idea might work”, and “I’m no expert, but…” are all phrases that may well be heard tumbling from your lips. Prefacing your ideas and opinions with qualifiers is a major indicator that you’re unsure of yourself, and as a result you’re trying to avoid sounding too assertive. If you make it clear that you’re not convinced by what you’re about to say, then no one can be too harsh if what you say isn’t correct. It’s a protection mechanism, stemming from a serious lack of confidence. Additionally, your body-language and posture may well be giving you away; sagging shoulders reflect a subconscious attempt to not be noticed or take up too much space, whilst avoiding eye contact betrays anxiety and an unwillingness to interact with other people. 

Getting Rid of Imposter Syndrome for Good

Of course, if imposter syndrome is causing you serious anxiety or interfering with your ability to enjoy life, then the very best thing you can do is speak to a mental health professional. However, there’s also a few simple hacks you can try.

Two people making notes on a whiteboard in the workplace

1. Focus on facts, not feelings

Sometimes in life, you’re going to feel stupid. You might even do stupid things. That doesn’t mean you are stupid, and it’s vital to gain enough perspective to recognise the difference. To help make that inner critic a little more friendly, try critiquing yourself the way you would a friend. Can you imagine telling your bestie, “You’re ridiculous and will never amount to anything” after he tells you he messed up the order of the slides in his presentation today? Of course you wouldn’t, you’d assure them it simply didn’t matter, so give yourself the same grace. 

2. ‘Fess up

Research suggests that up to 62% of UK adults may be dealing with imposter syndrome, so here’s an idea: why don’t we start talking about it? Chances are, once you open up to your friends and family about it, people will welcome the opportunity to tell you about their similar experiences. In fact, you may be disturbed and comforted in equal measure to discover that even doctors suffer from imposter syndrome!

3. Embrace it

Imposter syndrome is simply one of the quirks of human existence, and your experience is far from unique. Accept it for what it is – an indicator that you’re moving forward with your career and experiencing unprecedented success. And, as long as it’s not causing too much anxiety, it can actually help to keep you on your toes and remain focused. 

4. Develop a healthy response to failure

Everyone fails at things in life, and at work – it’s natural, and it can even be character building if you let it. The next time things don’t go your way, pay attention to your internal thought processes: are you telling yourself it’s because you’re terrible at your job, and you shouldn’t be doing it anyway? This is known by experts as a type of cognitive distortion. The next time you experience this, identify your irrational beliefs, and answer them with logic and truth: this will help you to become a fair and reasonable self-critic.

5. Write a new script

Pay real attention to the thoughts you’re experiencing on a daily basis, and make an effort to re-frame them. The next time you’re tempted to think, “Soon they’re going to find out I have no idea what I’m doing!”, instead tell yourself, “Everyone feels unsure sometimes. I’ve succeeded until now, and although I know I don’t have all the answers, I’m smart enough to find them out.” If you do this often enough, you’ll find that positive, balanced thoughts will naturally pop into your head in times of stress, replacing the old, negative ones.

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