How to cope with impostor syndrome

20 February 2023 dot 4-minute read
Feature Mental health Feel Well Healthy Mind Impostor syndrome
People with impostor syndrome believe they are undeserving of their achievements. (Credit: Shutterstock)
You may have impostor syndrome if you keep questioning your skills or accomplishments when others believe you are more than capable. Despite achieving your goals, you have thoughts like, "Am I qualified? Am I a fraud? I don't deserve my success."
Impostor syndrome often happens to high achievers, although it applies to people of all backgrounds. Even high-profile individuals like Michelle Obama, Serena Williams and Tom Hanks have admitted to experiencing this psychological occurrence. Read on to learn about impostor syndrome and how to overcome it.

What is impostor syndrome

Psychotherapist and AIA Ambassador Dr Kate Yan says that impostor syndrome causes people to feel incompetent and anxious about their achievements. They credit their success to external factors such as luck, instead of grit or skill. Based on a study published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science, 70 per cent of people feel this way at some point in life.
"Those who experience impostor syndrome constantly worry that others will not accept them. They believe they do not deserve recognition," she explains.
Talk to a therapist if you experience the following common signs of impostor syndrome:
  • inability to assess competence and skills
  • attributing success to external factors (luck, networking)
  • lack of self-confidence
  • anxiety from feelings of inadequacy

Where the doubt comes from

Family dynamics play an essential role in impostor syndrome. (Credit: Shutterstock)
Several factors can trigger impostor syndrome. Dr Yan explains that your environment, educational background and upbringing may contribute to the phenomenon. For example, a parent who becomes disappointed and even angry at failures.
"A child who grows up in an environment where their caregiver withdraws support in response to incompetence may fear failure. They may gradually feel they cannot be accepted and loved unless they're flawless,” adds Dr Yan.

When impostor syndrome can be beneficial

Some people use impostor syndrome as motivation, whether they realise it or not. Recent findings from Basima A. Tewfik, assistant professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, notes impostor syndrome allows some people to perform better.
She says, "Impostor thoughts make you more 'other-oriented' – more attuned to other people's perceptions and feelings – which makes you more likeable."
Tewfik's research reveals the feeling of self-doubt is normal. However, by leaning into impostor thoughts – instead of trying to resist them – you can outperform others in interpersonal skills.
In his podcast, Your Insecurities Aren't What You Think They Are, organisational psychologist Adam Grant says, "Impostor thoughts can be a source of fuel, rather than a fire to burn them out. We stand to gain more from embracing our insecurities rather than hiding from them."

How to cope with impostor syndrome

Overcome impostor syndrome and recognise your potential. (Credit: Shutterstock)
A persistent lack of confidence elicits fear and can hurt your self-worth. However, you can make changes to recognise your potential and take ownership of your achievements. Here, Dr Yan shares strategies to help resolve impostor feelings.

Talk to others

Don't be afraid of impostor syndrome. Irrational beliefs tend to consume your mind when they are hidden. Talk to a trusted person about your feelings, and you may find you are not the only one. Dr Yan shares, "The experience of other people may help facilitate different perspectives about self-doubt."

Acknowledge feelings

Be mindful of impostor thoughts. Dr Yan suggests, "Rather than focusing on the goals, pause and ask yourselves how you feel when performing a certain task." Notice the feelings of being in the present state and not worrying about what could or might happen in the future.

Get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable

Establish a safe interpersonal space for yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable. Exercise your mind to believe you are enough and worthy of love and appreciation. Dr Yan explains, "When a person accepts themselves and sense contentment from others, impostor syndrome will eventually disappear.”
Don't let the fear of impostor syndrome hold you back. Success doesn't require perfection, and failure is a lesson about doing better the next time. But, if you continue to struggle with impostor thoughts, seek help from a mental health professional.
Showing yourself compassion can help maintain a realistic mindset and encourage you to pursue healthy self-growth. Join AIA Vitality and find a healthy community that can provide you with support and resources to embrace impostor syndrome.
Frontiers in Psychology. 2020. Contextualizing the Impostor "Syndrome". [online] [Accessed on 1 November 2022]
International Journal of Behavioral Science. 2011. The Impostor Phenomenon. [online] [Accessed on 1 November 2022]
Journal of Mental Health & Clinical Psychology. Commentary: Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Imposter Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Imposter Syndrome: A Systematic Review. [online] [Accessed on 1 November 2022]

This is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a financial adviser, or medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

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