Understanding Imposter Syndrome

In simple terms, Imposter Syndrome is the disconnect you experience between how others see you, and how you see yourself. The feelings of inadequacy typically exist despite lots of evidence to the contrary that you are indeed capable and don’t have anything to be worried about. The irony is that the more things go well in your life, the more praise you get from others, typically the more you will feel like an imposter. Experiencing imposter syndrome can really impact your happiness, your anxiety levels, as well as the choices you make in your life. Imposter Syndrome doesn’t just exist at work but can also show up in your relationships. In this blog I will explore some of the common causes of imposter syndrome, the way it may be impacting you, and how therapy could help you.

Causes of Imposter Syndrome

There are lots of factors that can influence the development of imposter syndrome. Here are 4 that I consider the most significant:

1. Our upbringing and significant life experiences

The environment in which you were raised, the parenting style you received, the expectations placed upon you, and the messages you received growing are all hugely influential in how you tur out as an adult. Perhaps you grew up with overly critical parents, or positive attention was conditional on academic successes, or you were compared frequently to your siblings and their achievements, or your school was highly competitive, or there was a frequently expressed disappointment in your achievements. All these aspects and more, combined with your personality type, can become contributing factors to imposter syndrome in later years.
It’s not just your upbringing that can impact on the development of Imposter Syndrome, but also significant life experiences that you have as an adult. This could be a manipulative critical partner who repeatedly tells you you’re a waste of space, or a bullying boss or colleague who tells you you’re useless. Sometimes it’s an employer who unfairly sacked you, or a teacher or coach who told you that you’re not trying hard enough. Negative experiences can have a lasting emotional impact.

2. Impossible expectations

Expectations can come not just from ourselves, but also from our partners, our children, our bosses, and others in our lives. If the expectations you have for yourself, or others have for you are impossible, and are effectively setting you up to fail, you will naturally feel as if you aren’t good enough. Human beings are flawed in their nature, they make mistakes, they take time to learn, they struggle to juggle at times. If there are expectations that don’t account for you humanness, it’s understandable that you might feel as if you are doing it all wrong, that you are going to be found out, that you are an imposter.

3. Comparison culture

We live in a world now when everyone puts forwards a filtered version of reality. Whether that be on social media or in how we represent our lives when talking to colleagues or loved ones. There’s a constant strive to be more, achieve more, do more, and it’s all become quite exhausting. Rather than making the choices that are right for us, we’ve begun to make choices based on what we think we should be doing. Despite the fact that we all know that we’re not fully honest about ourselves and our lives with others, it can be easy to forget that this is the same for everyone else too. Therefore, the versions of others we are comparing ourselves to are really all smoke and mirrors. Trying to live up to that is bound to make us feel like an imposter.

4. Black and white thinking

The way we think massively influences the way we feel. Black and white thinking is particularly problematic as it leads to thinking in extremes – If I’m not a complete success, then I’m a total failure, If I’m not the perfect husband or parent, then I’m a terrible one, If I’m not there for my friends in every way, then I’m a complete let down to them. Black and white thinking ignores the shades of grey in between, it dismisses anything that isn’t one extreme or the other. Therefore, not much needs to be wrong in your work or your relationships for you to feel as like you are an imposter.

Impact of Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome can have a wide-reaching impact across all aspects in your life. It can show up in your relationships, at work, and also in your hobbies. It also massively feeds into your overall emotional wellbeing state with increased lack of confidence, lack of satisfaction, and heightened anxiety.

1. Imposter Syndrome at Work

If you feel like a fraud, there’s certain ways you are more likely to act as a result. With imposter syndrome it’s common for you to take on too much, not ask for help, play down your achievements, push away compliments, seek reassurance, not put yourself forwards for opportunities or promotion, and be always looking out for signs that you’re going to be ‘found out’.

2. Imposter Syndrome in Relationships

A lot of people when they think of Imposter Syndrome automatically think about it at work. But it can also very much be present both in your romantic relationships and in your friendships. Perhaps you have someone in your life who tells you how great you are, but inside you feel like they don’t know the real you, and if they did, they wouldn’t think of you the same. Just as there can be a fear of being found out at work, there can be the same fear in our relationships. This might show up as you hiding parts of yourself, putting yourself down, or sabotaging the relationships by pushing them away.

3. Imposter Syndrome with hobbies

Hobbies are supposed to be fun, an outlet or escape. However, social hobbies can be particularly problematic for those experiencing imposter syndrome. If some tells you you’re good at something, if someone suggests you should take a step up, it can result in you perhaps wanting to avoid, or work extra hard to meet the idea you think they have of you. Hobbies can very quickly lose their joy, and instead become just another part or your life where you’re trying to prove to yourself that you’re good enough.

4. Imposter Syndrome and our Emotional Wellbeing

It’s common with imposter syndrome to experience worry – worry about being found out, worry about failing, worry that you aren’t doing enough. With worry comes anxiety, and with anxiety can comes other symptoms – disrupted sleep, difficulty relaxing, feeling on edge. It’s also common with imposter syndrome to find yourself overcompensating in all areas of your life, trying to hard and never giving up, which can easily result in burnout. If you’re feeling like you’re not enough all the time, sadness is also a likely emotional impact, sapping the joy out of all the things that you wish you could be proud of and celebrate.

Therapy for Imposter Syndrome

When people experience emotional difficulties, it will consist typically of unhelpful thoughts and worries, untrue beliefs about ourselves, and a pull towards behaviours that feed into a vicious cycle of keeping the problem going. CBT Therapy can help you to work on all these aspects. It can help you to break the patterns to overcome imposter syndrome across all the aspects of your life.

Therapist Reviews:

Head over to Hannah Paskin Therapy Reviews | Read Customer Service Reviews of awarenessinmind.co.uk (trustpilot.com) or https://g.page/r/CWDZQkukG3CzEB0/review
There are over 40 x 5* Reviews of me as a Therapist and Supervisor. I am an Anxiety Specialist and I provide online therapy and therapy in Middlewich Cheshire.

Other useful blogs:

Perfectionism: How Can it Manifest? | Hannah Paskin (hannahpaskintherapy.co.uk)
Understanding Unhelpful Thinking Patterns | Hannah Paskin (hannahpaskintherapy.co.uk)