Part III: How Imposter Syndrome Shows Up

Imposter Syndrome in the Workplace

Imposter syndrome shows up in many ways, both personally and professionally. Understanding how imposter syndrome manifests in different parts of your life can help you recognize the emotional patterns around feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, and how to overcome them.

In the workplace, imposter syndrome may look like a fear of failure, a lack of confidence in your abilities, and a reluctance to speak up or take risks. it might also feel like not belonging or that your achievements are not valued. For many of my clients, this can lead to anxiety, stress, and low motivation.

Imposter Syndrome in Relationships

Imposter syndrome shows up in personal and professional relationships – I see these patterns consistently in clients who share these feelings with me. They may feel undeserving of love and appreciation, that a partner will eventually discover that they’re not such a great person, or that employees and clients will discover their incompetence. Unfortunately, this often leads to trust issues, a lack of intimacy, and difficulty expressing feelings authentically at home and at work.

Imposter Syndrome in Personal Achievements

Imposter syndrome can also manifest in personal achievements like hobbies, sports, or creative pursuits, and in professional achievements like receiving recognition and awards. They discount these accomplishments, feel like they don’t deserve the accolades, or compare themselves unfavorably to others. I often hear “I was just there at the right place at the right time,” “they didn’t have anyone else to give the award to,” or “oh, they’re just being nice.”

A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-deprecating comments and overly critical thoughts create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Unflattering statements may undermine one’s reputation and change the way employees, clients, and colleagues perceive their authority and expertise. This causes them to doubt their leadership abilities and competence, essentially making those fears a reality.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

We’ve established what imposter syndrome is, who’s most likely to suffer from it, and how it shows up at work. If any of this is familiar, it’s time to talk about effectively managing these feelings.

First, it’s important to recognize and challenge negative self-talk:

  • Write down your accomplishments and refer to them when feelings of self-doubt arise.
  • Keep a folder of greeting cards, printed emails, and notes from clients and colleagues thanking you for your help. Revisit that gratitude when you second-guess the difference you make for others.
  • Journaling is helpful for reflecting on self-growth and taking the focus off of negative feelings and external validation.

Second, understand that self-doubt can stem from a variety of sources including low self-esteem, past experiences, or comparisons to others:

  • Set realistic goals and celebrate your progress, especially small achievements – they all count!
  • Practice self-compassion by being kind to yourself. Encourage yourself the way you would a good friend on a bad day.
  • Identify and challenge negative thought patterns by asking yourself if your thoughts are based on facts.
  • Put an end to comparing yourself to others by remembering that you don’t know someone else’s circumstances and by taking a break from social media.

Third, know that feelings of professional inadequacy can be overwhelming, especially when they impact your work:

  • Manage these feelings by identifying genuine areas for improvement like working on systems or taking continuing education courses.
  • Seek honest feedback from colleagues or mentors including what’s going well and what you can work on.
  • Reframe failures as opportunities for growth and learning.
  • Consider a peer advisory group for ongoing support, or if you’re experiencing pervasive feelings of low self-worth and inadequacy, find a licensed therapist.

Imposter syndrome can show up in different areas of life and can manifest in a variety of ways. It’s important to remember that these feelings are completely normal – even the most successful, charismatic, and powerful business leaders feel this way from time to time. By recognizing the causes and symptoms of imposter syndrome and taking steps to overcome them, you can manage these feelings more effectively. Consider working with a therapist if these feelings are out of control, or impact important decisions in your life. And, remember, you don’t have to go it alone – check out our advisory program for professional and peer support – join our interest list to be notified when our next cohort begins.