Surprising Imposter Syndrome symptoms


The lesser-known symptoms of Imposter Syndrome

In 1978 Dr Rose Clance and Dr Suzanne Imes (psychologists at Georgia State University) created the term “the Imposter Phenomenon”.

They observed hundreds of women who were respected professionals in their fields,  as well as high achieving PhD students and undergraduate students. Despite the high intelligence of participants, Dr Clance and Dr Imes found these women didn’t internalise or ‘own’ their achievements.

If these women were praised or singled out for their talents or intelligence, they felt like frauds. They would dismiss their achievements by believing that their high exam scores were down to luck or that their promotion was a mistake.

Whilst this study reflects Imposter Syndrome as most people define it, the reality of imposter syndrome is a bit more messy. As a coach and therapist working with successful professionals, I’ve noticed that no two people experience Imposter Syndrome in the same way. This is why my sessions are always tailored to the individual.

Here are some other examples of Imposter Syndrome symptoms, which are also described in the book Composure: The Art of Executive Presence by Kate Purmal and others:

Lack of confidence

Let’s talk about a couple of different ways lack of confidence can arise.

1.Out of your comfort zone

Say you’re breezing along quite comfortably in your work. You feel in control. You know you have the competence, skills and experience to handle what comes your way.

One day, something new comes along: a project, an interview, presentation or promotion opportunity. Perhaps you’ve decided to embark on a career change.

Suddenly, in the face of this new challenge, self-doubt rears it’s ugly head. You’re being asked to move beyond your comfort zone or test the limits of your skills and your self-belief is shaken. You’re paralysed with thoughts of “I’m not good enough”, which in turn results in over-thinking, anxiety or even panic attacks.

2. A core belief to mask

What if your lack of confidence isn’t situational, but more all-consuming? Perhaps it’s something that you’ve lived with for many years, or even from early childhood. For some the ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I don’t deserve’ narrative has been something they’ve had to mask with a veneer of shiny confidence. I often hear the words “I know I come across really confident. People think I’m really self-assured, but they have no idea what’s going on beneath the surface”.

Maintaining the mask of confident self-preservation is draining and gets in the way of authentic relationships and self-expression. It also gets in the way of pursuing ideal opportunities because you don’t have the self-belief to fuel the actions you take.

Rejection sensitivity

When someone experiences high rejection sensitivity, they tend to take opinions or feedback very personally (even if it’s constructive). Rather than taking feedback as an opportunity to learn or grow, someone with rejection sensitivity is more likely to experience shame around criticism.

Of course, it’s natural to have some fear of failure or negative feedback. But if rejection sensitivity is running the show, it can lead to anxiety and hypervigilance in your work. You might find yourself working to the bone to please those around you and avoid criticism. This is an exhausting cycle to be trapped in, particularly if your needs are dropping to the bottom of the list.

Rejection sensitivity can also cause you to become defensive or shut down when you’re being giving useful feedback. This can result in missed opportunities to improve and fulfil your potential. You also risk damaging working relationships with people who want you to succeed.

Rejection sensitivity says “because you’ve critiqued me, I’m less than and I’m not good enough. I’m now going to have to work even harder to avoid any more judgement or criticism”.

Depressed Entitlement

No-one wants to be described as ‘entitled’ do they? But wait, there is such a thing as ‘healthy entitlement’ where you can make claim to what is rightfully yours, such as fair pay, benefits or a work/life balance.

Yet, if you struggle with Imposter Syndrome, your self-assessment is distorted by “I’m not good enough” and self-criticism. You may judge yourself too harshly and mistakenly equate your self-worth with your perceived performance.

For some people that means they feel they’re being paid “too much” and therefore need to work even harder and deliver at a higher level. For others, it means not asking for levels of pay or other benefits that someone with healthy entitlement would ask for.

Perfectionism

If Imposter Syndrome is about feeling “less than”, perfectionism is a protection strategy against it. Dr Brené Brown describes perfectionism as a “20 tonne shield” “to avoid or minimize shame, blame and judgement”.

In the book Composure, Joshua Isaac-Smith sums it up like this: “the core belief that most perfectionists carry around with them is that they’re loveable and worthy only when they are perfect”.

Perfectionism is, in a word, exhausting. It means over-preparing, over-working and over-striving only to be met with less reward and fulfilment. Firstly, because perfection is an impossible standard. Secondly because a brain that is in protection mode and fatigued by over-work is unlikely to result in your best work.

Imposter Syndrome Symptoms begone!

You’ve now seen that Imposter Syndrome manifests in ways that go beyond simply feeling like a fraud. Everyone is different in how they experience it and yet the recurring theme behind these symptoms is the core belief about being “not being good enough” or “less than”.

The good news is that no matter how you experience Imposter Syndrome, it isn’t something you need to live with anymore. As a coach and therapist, it’s a privilege to help people let go of the beliefs that say they are lacking and instead embody beliefs that start with “I am good enough”, “I deserve” or simply “I am enough”.

If you’re ready to start living and working from self-belief and confidence, let’s have a chat about how I might be able to help you with my free, 45 minute Confidence and Clarity Call.

March 18th, 2022

Category: Anxiety,Burnout,Career Coaching,Confidence,Imposter Syndrome,Self-trust

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