‘Imposter syndrome’. It’s a term often discussed, and with good reason—it’s more common than you would think and has the ability to seriously sabotage a person’s potential. However, when thinking of what imposter syndrome really is, a certain stereotype is evoked: somebody successful within their career who fears that they are going to be ‘found out’ as not deserving of their position. And while this is an all too real phenomenon, of particular note among minorities, this is only one side of the story.
We spoke to Matter Inc. development coach Yan Yi Chee, who points out that imposter syndrome does not necessitate having a certain ‘position’ in life. Rather, imposter syndrome is a complex mental phenomenon that can affect anybody. It serves to confine our identities by way of convincing us that we are ‘less than’ our true abilities. In our interview below, Chee illuminates more on the meaning of imposter syndrome, where this stems from, and techniques that we can use to combat it.
What exactly is imposter syndrome?
“The topic of imposter syndrome is often spoken about but needs some exploration to really grasp,” shares Chee. “It is often an inner voice that says things like ‘I can’t do it’, ‘I’m not worthy’, ‘I must be perfect’, ‘I must not make a mistake’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘Nobody loves me’, ‘I’m lazy’, ‘I’m going to be found out’, and so on. It’s important to note that such thoughts cause pain, while at the same time come from a place of good intention to protect you from pain.”
Where does imposter syndrome stem from?
According to Chee, feelings of imposter syndrome may stem from numerous places. As such, it’s important to truly reflect inwards so that we may understand which of the thoughts we regard as ‘truths’ about ourselves are actually limiting imposter thoughts.
“Your imposter self-talk could be filled with harsh criticism, doubt and catastrophic predictions that limit what you can do,” says Chee. “We could say that as children we go from knowing ourselves as a field of infinite possibilities to a more conditioned, limited identity. This conditioned identity comes from outside of us. Instead of knowing ourselves from the inside, we begin to internalise our outer experiences and create a conditioned identity.”
As for where such stories come from? Such sources could be endless, from cultural norms to religious conditioning, institutional bias, and even trauma or abuse. “We create stories about ourselves around these limitations and take them to be true,” says Chee.
There can be numerous types of imposter syndrome feelings, including the following:
- The perfectionist who holds high standards that are never good enough.
- The underminer who stays small and safe by avoiding risks and failure.
- The controller who controls inner attitude and outer behaviour.
- The taskmaster who is highly disciplined and hyper-productive.
- The guilt-tripper who experiences constant guilt and shame stemming from past behaviour.
How can we combat the effects of imposter syndrome?
The key to banishing feelings of imposter syndrome, Chee says, is to focus attention upon retraining your brain and its thought patterns. Involved is becoming aware of the habitual thought patterns that prevent you from embodying your full sense of self.
Below, Chee shares a number of techniques that we may put into practise to overcome such feelings.
Learn not to be afraid of failure.
Instead of considering failure to be something that must be avoided at all costs, and thereby stopping you from experiencing things that you would like to, regard failure as being a part of growth. After all, we learn from our failures and they help us to find our paths.
Reframe your unhelpful thoughts.
Try reframing feelings of imposter syndrome as a growth or learning opportunity. For example, if you don’t know how to go about doing something and find yourself feeling like an imposter, realise that this presents an opportunity to grow.
Really check in with yourself—is it fact or fiction?
Reflect inwards upon whether there is really any truth to the imposter feelings you are experiencing, or whether they are just opinions. What may help is writing your thoughts down and then returning to read it at a later stage. The more removed perspective can allow you to be more objective within considering your thoughts.
Engage with the imposter
Try having dialogue and engaging with the ‘imposter’ from which your limiting thoughts stem. This may enable you to understand the needs and the ‘whys’ behind what you are experiencing. You should then consider the best way for you to stand up against and shrink the feeling of imposter syndrome. Perhaps it’s taking a strong stance and confrontation against the ‘imposter’ in your mind, using humour, or choosing to ignore these thoughts.
“Training your brain to think differently takes time,” Chee leaves us with. “If we can learn not to fear failure, to learn from mistakes, and to be in a constant state of growth, we can overcome our self-doubt and do better than we ever thought.”
“So take this advice on board to keep on building your mental muscle.”