General, Tips

Impostor phenomenon

Ayoola Sosan Written by Ayoola Sosan · 1 min read >

Impostor phenomenon is a learned set of behaviours leading to a self-fulfilling pattern of thought. It is a behaviour in which you consider yourself to be a fraud. You question your own talents and intelligence to the point that you consider anyone who believes otherwise is just being kind!  

I will be sharing my learnings on how you can unlearn these behaviours and stop feeling like a fraud.

Impostor phenomenon – feeling like a fraud

To simplify, impostor phenomenon:

  • is the overwhelming feeling that you don’t deserve your success.
  • convinces you that you’re not as intelligent, creative or talented as you may seem to others.
  • is the suspicion that your achievements are down to luck, good timing or just being in the right place at the right time.
  • is accompanied by the fear that, one day, you’ll be exposed as a fraud.

Up to 70% of people experience impostor phenomenon at some point in their lives. 

These feelings can inspire you to work harder, so as not to be unmasked, leading to further success and recognition. But they can also lead to downshifting. This is when you revise your goals and become less ambitious, which in turn, prevents you from fulfilling your true potential.

Who does it affect?

Impostor phenomenon has long been thought to affect more women than men, particularly in male-dominated environments. 

More recent research has suggested that in certain circumstances, men with impostor phenomenon may suffer more anxiety than women, and may perform worse.

Impostor phenomenon can also catalyse growth. Acknowledging you don’t know everything can open you up to new learning opportunities, even prompting positive contributions

“Impostor phenomenon is a spectrum, not binary,” he said. “Just as high achievement can fuel an impostor phenomenon in self-doubting people, impostor feelings can fuel high achievement, which would enhance one’s beliefs in his or her abilities and achievement.”

On the further end of the spectrum, impostor phenomenon can interfere with a person’s mental health and overall functioning. Impostor feelings are strongly linked to increased anxiety and depression.

Impostor phenomenon can drain relationships. It’s difficult to connect with colleagues and patients when you have walls up because you’re scared of being “found out.”

Experts say impostor phenomenon may also affect a person’s performance and interfere with risk-taking, keeping them stuck with impostor feelings.  

Over time, these factors can lead to career burnout. “People with impostor feelings often feel relief instead of pride after an accomplishment, which can cause them to keep pushing without taking care of themselves.

Do you suffer from impostor phenomenon?

Recognising that you have it can be the hardest part. Many people believe that the alternative is to become boastful and self-important, but this needn’t be the case.

If you recognise any of the symptoms described below, you may well be experiencing an impostor phenomenon. It is characterised by:

  • Feeling inadequate
  • Perfectionism and overworking
  • Undermining one’s own achievements
  • Fear of failure
  • Discounting praise

People who have an impostor phenomenon can outwardly achieve a great deal, but inwardly never feel that they are responsible for any of it. This can lead people to overwork, over accomplish and never feel any better.

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