Dumping imposter syndrome forever

Imposter syndrome is a tormenting form of self-sabotage, we're convinced that we don't deserve the confidence others have in us, especially at work. Typically, we don't feel good enough to carry out the role we have been given. We feel like frauds and that one day we will be found out and exposed.


Putting on an act at work

Plagued by low self-confidence and desperate to hide it, we are never just ourselves at work. We feel we must impress and always appear totally at the top of our game. We may do things that go against our moral grain such as covering up our mistakes or blaming another for them.

Imposter syndrome has more than one guise. In one person it may take the form of overbearing dominance: the one who always has to be the star of the show. In another, it may come across as just the opposite: self-effacement and self-deprecation.

A desperate fear of failure is the hallmark of imposter syndrome. We'll do anything to avoid it, even if it means treading on our colleagues or turning ourselves into grovelling people-pleasers. 

The history of imposter syndrome

The phenomenon exists in all areas of life. Trophy winners, TV stars and champions can have it, and so can supermarket assistants and the person who delivers your online order.

The term was coined in 1978 by Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance who noticed the phenomenon of women who were outwardly successful and riven with self-doubt over their capabilities.

Why upgrading our work skills is not enough

Imposter syndrome is not rational and does not reflect our fitness for our job. It is characterised by chronic low self-esteem and uncertainty. As these are the real obstacles to feeling competent professionally, further training or qualifications won't help as they don't address the cause. We might as well put a plaster over a septic wound.

Where it comes from

Research tells us that being raised in a secure, loving home develops confidence and a strong self of self, which can prevent the onset of imposter syndrome. If our upbringing was rocked by tragedies and instability, or worst of all, we were brought up by manipulative people who withheld approval, we are more likely to be vulnerable to it.

Upbringing alone though, is not enough to explain why some people get it while others don't. Those blessed with a good start in life may suffer horribly, whereas people who were dealt a poor hand, overcome it and achieve their life goals. In practice, the ideal upbringing rarely exists, and most of us grow up with a few insecurities, or 'chinks in our armour.' Imposter syndrome is complex, individualised and may have no single cause. 

Diagnosing imposter syndrome in yourself

If you're wondering if your confidence issues are due to imposter syndrome, ask yourself a few questions:

Have friends been repeatedly telling you that you are good at your job and deserve that award or promotion? Do you find yourself conflicted: one side of your mind believes them, but there is another part which won't accept it?

Does the thought of being observed at work on a routine task fill you with dread? Or even more scary, the thought of making presentations or giving talks?

When 'meeting and greeting' or taking part in group events, do you find yourself over-compensating for a deep-down lack of confidence and becoming overbearing and too dominant? 

Do you find yourself interrupting others, exaggerating your achievements, even bragging, and really hating yourself for it? 

If you've asked 'Yes' to any of the above, try some of the following ways to nip imposter syndrome in the bud. You don't deserve the stress and it can cause burnout. 

Remedies for imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is insidious. It's possible it has s crept up on you, robbing you of optimism, and self-acceptance.

With a friend, review your history, looking at the ways your life has developed over recent years. Have there been adverse events like a re-structure at work that was not to your advantage, and left you perhaps isolated, or working under someone unsympathetic or bullying?

In your personal life, has there been trauma: a bereavement, serious illness or divorce? Are you happy in your home life? If you're worried that your significant other is beset with issues, even depression, their low moods can rub off on your confidence, however hard they may try to hide their struggles. 

With the support of a friend, you can identify what might be going on which undermines your confidence and whether a few changes are possible. Support at work may be forthcoming if you ask for it. If your relationships are damaging your confidence, think about how you can stand up for yourself and protect your own boundaries. 

When it comes to the problem of 'putting on an act' to cover low confidence' try a couple of these remedies.

Give others attention

We can feel so self-critical and self-conscious in groups, we hardly listen to what others say; we are overwhelmed with a wish to hide away in case attention is drawn to us.

By the same token, we can put ourselves under so much pressure to make our mark that we are bursting with impatience for the other person to shut up so we can get a word in. By giving others the respect and attention they crave, we build the positive working relationships that chip away at imposter syndrome.

Align your core values with your behaviour

The pressure of imposter syndrome means we are not our true selves. We might act brash and superior when deep down we are cooperative by nature and want to see others do as well as ourselves. Consider what matters to you and develop working habits that reflect the person you are. If you feel you should be a high-earning leader, always climbing the ladder, but at heart, you would be happier to balance your home life with work commitments, then be true to that. Be the person you are.

How can hypnotherapy help?

Hypnotherapists work with the unconscious mind, although they take into account your life circumstances and events. It's a great way to work on the imposter syndrome, as its roots are in the unconscious. When we have imposter syndrome, we see others as powerful: they can raise us up or destroy us.

To fear others is a natural part of the way we are made and the way our brain develops. When young, we are driven by instincts and emotions; the intellectual brain develops later. Surrounded by huge people who can lift us up and throw us into the air, we know we are helpless and the source of power is outside ourselves. We long to have power too, but it needs to be given to us, we can't get it for ourselves. Our wishes to be more powerful are fulfilled by stories where the weak are rescued by magical beings who recognise their true worth and make them powerful. Think how much we all love the fabulous fairy godmother waving her wand over poor Cinderella. 

As our cognitive skills develop, we learn that we don't have to rely on a magic wand. We can become strong and have agency.

If we're suffering from imposter syndrome the balance between the two parts of the mind is out of kilter. For some reason, the unconscious fear of the power of others has taken control, and deep down, we feel as helpless as a small child, however much we cover it up. 

Through working with the unconscious resources: memory, imagination and emotions, the hypnotherapist can help you access the roots of the imposter syndrome and eliminate it. You stop pretending and can be your real self again, comfortable in your own skin and in an ideal position to reach your true potential. 

Don't suffer in silence any longer. Make an appointment today.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge CB21 & London W1G
Written by Marian Barry, GHP Hypnotherapist of the Year 2019 East of England
Cambridge CB21 & London W1G

Marian Barry was voted Hypnotherapist of the Year 2018 East of England. Marian is an advanced cognitive hypnotherapist practising at the Harley St Hypnotherapy Clinic London and Gt Abington, Cambridge. She has given talks at conferences around the world. She is a best-selling author of many popular works published by Cambridge University Press.

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