Stopping the Doubt

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
By Gina Dewink

Since the 1970s, perhaps as women came into more widespread positions of power, a phrase emerged. Frequently spoken about at conferences and in management keynotes, it is known as “imposter syndrome.” Though it is a psychological term coined by clinical psychologists, there is no official diagnosis. It is a stream of negative self-talk that should not be ignored.  

Psychology Today describes imposter syndrome as “a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.” Imposter syndrome seems to impede women’s psychological space more often than men, though anyone can be affected. It occurs when there is frequent doubt about one’s own skills, despite evidence and accomplishments, coupled with a belief that the success is undeserved. A study from the International Journal of Behavioral Science states that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lifetime.

Allison Loftus, M.A., LPCC, PMH-C has been working in the field of mental health for five years. As the owner of Flourish Counseling Center, she gears her counseling toward the treatment and care of women’s general mental health. Loftus explains, “Imposter syndrome, at its core, is our inner-human struggle with our own worthiness. Imposter syndrome runs on shame and fear, while undermining self-confidence and self-worth. It is the little voice in our heads saying phrases like ‘you are not worthy’ or ‘you are not enough’ unless more is accomplished.” Loftus opines that the syndrome is “driven by performance,” pressuring one’s self into believing value is based purely on achievements.

If creeping self-doubt or full-blown imposter syndrome is not dealt with, it can lead to several issues. Loftus explains, “Emotional distress, depression, anxiety, feelings of low self-worth, fatigue, irritability, burnout, lack of joy…If you keep questioning your capability all day while simultaneously being self-loathing, you are bound to feel worn out and lackluster about life.” So what can we do about it?

Rochester Mayor Kim Norton has spoken on the importance of confidence at public events. She believes it is a significant asset for leaders and for all people in general. Mayor Norton states, “It’s always been important to me, especially as a public figure, to be able to wake up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror knowing I’ve done the very best I can. When others criticize decisions, it’s easy to begin to doubt yourself and lose confidence. Remember that it’s your choice, your decision made with good intentions—that this is good enough; that you are good enough.”

How can doubts be squelched while confidence is built? Review these action items to get started on the right track:

Be kind. Remember that confidence is developed “one small, compassionate thought at a time,” as Loftus puts it. Be kind to yourself. Speak to yourself as you would a mentee.

Choose confidence. Inner talk can be altered with dedication. If you feel yourself beginning to doubt, choose confidence instead. Tell yourself you are qualified and have earned your success.

Make a list. Write out at least 10 ways you are just as qualified as others in the field. Prove to your inner critic that you are good enough.

Develop an internal voice that is more “pro-you.” Create space in your life to examine the most important relationship in your life—the relationship with yourself. Loftus explains, “By allowing your inner critic the space to breathe, you can cultivate the space to really get to know and own your values. This exploration will allow you to grow the courage needed to speak to yourself in a more compassionate tone, as well as develop a deep appreciation for the value you bring to the world.”

Schedule time. Loftus adds, “I say anytime is a great time to chat with a mental health professional. It is worth the effort. Seeking my own personal counseling has been helpful for me in better understanding the cascades of fraudulence which generates feelings of instability and shame within me.”

Devote yourself. Keep in mind that the art of self-compassion and finding value in one’s self may be a lifelong journey. “I am very, very human,” Loftus says. “I catch myself thinking during a session, ‘Why do these people keep coming back to see me?’ But I have learned over the years not to give too much credence to this voice. I’ve had to develop a gentle understanding and empathy for this vulnerable part of myself.”

It is important for every human being to have confidence, men and women alike. Loftus finishes by adding, “Having the confidence to just be you is the greatest gift you can give any human—from the person sitting next to you to the lovely human being inside of you.”

  Feel outside factors or “good luck” are behind your success?
  Worry you do not live up to expectations?
  Avoid asking for a merit raise?
  Fear others will reveal you as a fraud?
  Have a hard time accepting professional praise?
  Feel your expertise is not justified?
You may be struggling with imposter syndrome.