Feel Like a Fraud? | Put a Stop to Imposter Syndrome

Whenever we take the next step on our professional journey we are vulnerable to imposter syndrome. Hopefully this reflective post will help you overcome that feeling and recognize your strengths.

Imposter syndrome, first described in the 1970’s by Pauline Chance and Suzanne Imes, is the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck and not because of talent or qualifications. The syndrome is characterised by an inherent fear that others will unmask you as a fraud which drives a developing sense of anxiety and depression in the work place. In essence it is a struggle to internalise success and often occurs in high achievers.

It’s not clear why the syndrome exists. Although the syndrome isn’t in the DSM, it is a well reconised phenomena within psychological literature and everyday life. There is no exact answer as to why imposter syndrome occurs and there are some conflicting theories to its cause. Some experts believe it is to do with certain personality traits whereas others believe it has behavioural causes. In all liklihood it is probably a combination of personality and behavioural factors.

We know this to be the case because teams which lack diversity, have a culture of over criticism and over praise and have unrealistic expectations of their employees are more likely to trigger imposter syndrome in their staff. Diverse teams helps reinforce a norm and level playing field by taking away those insecurities that someone doesn’t belong to be their other than that they deserve it. By having an open door policy and well defined clear objectives helps people feel incontrol of their workload. Most of all consistent and constructive feedback gives people the ability to internalise their success which is the underlying cause of imposter syndrome. It turns out consistency is the key to success for both manager and employee.

Consistency is Key to Unlocking Your Potential

Recognise Yourself?

There are a number of personality traits / styles which have a higher risk of developing and suffering from imposter syndrome. Below is a non-exhaustive list and it’s likely if you’re reading this post then one or two of these will feel familiar. This list has been taken from a research article entitled Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Imposter Syndrome: a Systematic Review and adapted to fit the Physiotherapist.

  • The Perfectionist – You set extremely high expectations for yourself. Even if 99% of your goals are met it is never enough and any small mistake will make you question your competence. All of your exercise prescriptions are perfect and never deviate from the evidence base and your notes are impecabile and you are racking up unpaid overtime because it takes too long.
  • The Expert – You feel you need to know every single bit of information before you start a project or use a new skill. You constantly look for new certifications or training to improve your skills and validate your expertise. You feel hesitant to ask a question in a meeting or supervision because you are afraid of looking amateurish if you don’t already know the answer.
  • The Natural Genius – You are used to things coming easily to you so when you have to struggle or work hard to accomplish something you interpret that as meaning you aren’t good enough. When you have to apply effort your brain tells you it’s proof you are a failure.
  • The Soloist – You feel like you have to accomplish tasks on your own and if you need help you are a failure or a fraud. You call all your patients backyourself, you book your own diary slots and you are never ask your rehab assistant to do a session for you or to go through exercises with your patients. You do it all.
  • The Superman or Superwoman – You push yourself to work harder than those around you to prove you aren’t an imposter. You feel the need to succeed in all aspects of life, seeing patients, doing supervisions, exercise out of work, getting published they are all things you must do now. You feel stressed when you aren’t accomplishing anyting.

Think Like a Non-Imposter | Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

There are a number of personal steps you can take to rid yourself of feeling like an imposter. People who don’t feel like imposters are no more intelligent, competent or capable than the rest of us. They just have a different mindset. This is great because  it means that to overcome imposter syndrome we just have to think like non-imposters. That being said, a change on mindset can seem insurmountable but remember little changes compound over time so don’t give up.

Most people stay silent when suffering imposter syndrome as it’s part of the experience that if they talk about it, they will be found out as a fraud. By taking the first step and talking to someone about how you are feeling you’ll be well on the way to changing your mindset. Plus you will almost certainly find out that others feel the same way too. The next step will be learning to value constructive criticism. Remember feedback isn’t there to unmask you as a fraud it is there to help you bounce forwards and help you to continue improving.

For you soloists out there understanding that you’re slowing your team down when you don’t ask for help and that you are likely preventing them the opportunity to learn and develop is a hard lesson to hear. For you super men or women burnout is just around the corner unless you take steps to build resilience. Those who align with the expert traits remember that you don’t need to know everything to be good at your job, understanding the pareto principle will come as a revalation.

Realising that not every task has to be completed to perfection every single time is easier said than done. But remember consistency is your hero ability – it compounds over time. Be consistently good, not consistently perfect – it isn’t achievable. It also goes without saying that learning new skills and knowledge is difficult for anyone but not equally. Some people find things easier than others but that’s not to say they aren’t bright or intelligent it’s just the way it is. You can’t be good at everything.

How to Use Imposter Syndrome to Your Advantage

This video is a different take on imposter syndrome. In this light hearted (and very funny) video you’ll learn how to see the positives in struggling to come to terms with your success and feeling out of your depth.  The morale of the story is keep doing what you’re doing because you probably are doing something right.

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