Johnny is a high achiever. He graduated from a good university with a satisfying GPA. He had also accomplished many things during his study and was a champion on a battle of wits. But once he entered the workforce, he felt like a failure. He found himself wondering whether he really fits in the role or not. He constantly told himself and others that he was lucky instead of having the real capability to get his current position. While he was still struggling each day to finish the tasks assigned to him, deep down he keeps asking himself, “Do I really belong here?”
Have you ever been in the same dilemma as Johnny? If you find yourself nodding, chances are, you are likely suffering from impostor phenomenon. First described by psychologist Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose, impostor phenomenon, often mentioned as impostor syndrome, was first occurring on high achieving women. In their study, Imes and Rose found that impostor syndrome occurs amongst high achievers who are unable to internalise and accept their success. They believe that their success is because of luck instead of their ability. Individuals who suffer from this syndrome also fear that people will unmask their inability and think of them as a fraud.
How impostor syndrome impacts your life
Impostor phenomenon can happen due to some factors. In most cases, it occurs to those who enter a new role such as a job or school. Some experts agreed that impostor syndrome often begins with big accomplishment that leads to negative thoughts caused by anxiety, lack of self-confidence, depression, and frustration. This results in inability to meet a self-imposed standard of achievements.
Just like Johnny, he starts entering the workforce right after graduating from school. Despite having a great educational background and skills that help him land a job quickly, he cannot help thinking that he is not really qualified for the position. He feels anxious and worried that if the manager finds out the truth about his incompetence, his boss will kick him.
This negative thought is constantly flooding our brain and it activates stressful feelings during the experience. John Mayer, a clinical psychologist at Doctor on Demand, explained that our insecurity thoughts will stimulate the amygdala in our brains. Our brain, then, sends a signal and interprets the data. If the data is perceived correct, our body will start feeling in some state of stress. Continuous stress, in turn, will create a mass problem for our wellbeing and lifestyle. It will also make us worry more about something that we might never experience as your brain constantly believe that you are not intelligent or capable to do the job.
“People who are very driven, success-oriented and work hard for achievements can often become frightened once they accomplish what they set out to do.” – Danielle Page
How to combat the syndrome
One of the best ways to mitigate fear is by fighting the fear itself.
If you are suffering or witnessing someone suffers from this phenomenon, you can encourage yourself and them by thinking like the non-impostors. Valerie Young, an expert on impostor syndrome and author of “The Secret Thought of Successful Women”, explained that one of the best ways to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor. Your self-thought behaviour and brain have a huge role in your ability to fulfil your life. If you constantly think that you are intelligent, you can stay away from impostor phenomenon.
The study of Imes and Rose also noted that positivity towards ourselves can change our behaviour and how we perceive life. A high achieving woman who previously considered herself an impostor, said Imes, begins to allow herself to feel ‘I am intelligent. I have learned and achieved a tremendous amount. It is all right for me to believe in my own intellectual abilities and strengths.’ This power, then, allowed her to be free from the burden of feeling like a phoney and thus she can participate more in joys.
Unfortunately, some individuals might not be able to think right, especially when impostor syndrome consumes their brain. When this happens, then the best way to mitigate the feeling is by consulting or talking to a psychologist, therapist, or friends. They can help you break the cycle of impostor thinking. Sometimes, sharing can also take our burden away and make our life light.