Overcome Impostor Syndrome and Heal Your Inner Critic!

By: Niyatee Sukumaran, Ph.D. | February 2, 2024

Impostor Syndrome is a persistent feeling of inadequacy and self-doubt. If you suffer from impostor syndrome you feel anxious, insecure, and consistently worry. You feel like a fraud and believe that you don’t deserve to be where you are. You might attribute your success and accomplishments to luck or circumstance, rather than the result of your hard work and talent. If these feelings are familiar, you are not alone.

Impostor Syndrome is quite common. It can be observed across many different cultures, professions and affects people from all walks of life. This article explores the roots of impostor syndrome and the impact it has on us. I also provide practical strategies that you can use to heal your inner critic.

What Is Impostor Syndrome and Where Does It Come From?

In the 1970s, psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes first introduced the concept of impostor syndrome after observing a large percentage of high-achieving individuals frequently doubt themselves. They also observed that high achieving individuals questioned their abilities and feared being unmasked as frauds.

Our early childhood experiences and upbringing influence how impostor syndrome develops. Individuals who received constant direction, conditional praise or were faced with constant criticism at a young age are more susceptible to impostor feelings. This happens because they develop a belief that their self-worth is solely based on their accomplishments and achievements.

Impostor syndrome is not limited to any one demographic or profession; it can affect anyone, regardless of their level of success. However, it is notable that societal and cultural expectations can influence perceptions of success and failure. In cultures that emphasize high achievement and competition, or if there is frequent social comparison, it is likely that individuals feel immense pressure to meet high standards.

The constant pressure to “measure up” to a family or societal expectation can lead to impostor syndrome. Individuals who belong to underrepresented groups or face stereotype threats (e.g., based on race, ethnicity, or neurodiversity) may be more prone to impostor syndrome due to the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about their group.

Signs and Symptoms of Impostor Syndrome

Self-doubt and insecurity are part of the universal human experience. You might wonder what are the differences between these feelings and impostor syndrome? Below is a list of the most common characteristics of impostor syndrome:

1. Self-Doubt

Individuals who experience impostor syndrome doubt their skill and abilities. They question their accomplishments and attribute their success to external factors or luck. They tend to downplay their successes and dismiss their achievements.

2. Fear of Failing

Impostor syndrome is characterized by a persistent fear of failure, which leads to perfectionism and an overwhelming effort to avoid mistakes. Individuals with imposter syndrome believe that their self-worth is tied to their achievements.

3. Overthinking

The constant need to prove oneself can feel overwhelming and is preoccupying. This drive for achievement and accomplishment can result in overworking, increased stress, burnout, and an inability to acknowledge personal boundaries and limitations.

4. Self-Criticism

Individuals with impostor syndrome are overly critical and hard on themselves. They tend to lack self-compassion and have a difficult time recognizing their talent, skill, and hard work. Examples of thoughts that characterize impostor syndrome include “I feel like a fake,” “My colleagues are going to find out I don’t really belong here,” and “I got my college admissions because the counselor made a mistake.” Individuals with impostor syndrome refer to their achievements by saying, “I just got lucky this time,” “It was a fluke,” and fear that they will not be able to succeed the next time.

5. Impact on Mental Health and Performance

The negative effects of impostor syndrome extend beyond the emotional realm and can impact one’s professional and personal life. Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression may arise, and the fear of being exposed as a fraud can hinder career progression and personal growth.

Tips to Overcome Impostor Syndrome

Impostor syndrome can occur due to a combination of psychological, social, and environmental factors. When you understand the factors that personally impact you, you can develop strategies to begin to overcome impostor syndrome. Below are helpful tips to get you started:

1. Identify Impostor Syndrome

When we identify the thoughts and feelings of impostor syndrome within ourselves, we can seek the support we need to heal our inner critic. Remember that impostor syndrome is a common experience for many people, and you are not alone. Many successful people, including high-profile professionals, have openly shared their struggles with impostor syndrome.

2. Challenge Negative Cognitions

Actively challenge negative thoughts and beliefs about your abilities and skills. Keep a record of your achievements and the positive feedback you receive from others to counteract self-doubt.

3. Seek Support

Share your feelings with trusted friends, family, mentors and colleagues. Sometimes, discussing your experiences can provide valuable perspective and support.

4. Goal Setting

Set realistic goals and break larger tasks into smaller, more manageable goals. Celebrate your achievements along the way to reinforce a positive self-image.

5. Incorporate a Growth Mindset

Embrace the concept of continuous learning, learning through mistakes and enhancing your growth. Understand that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process and does not diminish your worth.

6. Seek Professional Help

If impostor syndrome significantly affects your well-being and performance, seek support from a professional San Diego psychologist. Your therapist will guide you to explore and understand the subjective experiences that influence your impostor syndrome.

Your therapist can provide guidance and coping strategies to help you foster a growth mindset, unmask, and heal your inner critic and build a more resilient and confident sense of self. Remember, you are not alone in this experience, and success is often accompanied by moments of self-doubt – the key is developing strategies to sustain positive change and thrive.

If you, or someone you know are struggling with impostor syndrome, our talented team of dedicated professionals provide compassionate and expert guidance to help you overcome impostor syndrome. Contact us today and take the first step to improve your emotional well-being and enhance your self-confidence.



Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

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