Does your job make you feel like a fraud sometimes? Do you often think, “Actually, I don’t know what I’m doing, I kind of slid in here and now I’m pretending I can”? And then you are haunted by the fear that eventually everyone will notice!
If this sequence of thoughts seems familiar to you, you may be suffering from the impostor syndrome, also known as Impostor Syndrome. What you can do against this destructive self-doubt is explained to you by an expert.
What’s impostor syndrome?
When you hear the word, you probably think first of dazzlers or marriage-impostors, real impostors with criminal energy and too much self-confidence. In this respect, “impostor syndrome” is not quite the right expression, because people who suffer from it usually have exactly the opposite of a big ego: they doubt themselves very strongly and think that everyone thinks they are better than they really are.
They don’t think they are good or competent enough, so they often feel like impostors* in their jobs or tasks, and are tormented by the fear of “discovery”.
Despite success, you still doubt your abilities? Then you may be suffering from impostor syndrome. © fizkes / Shutterstock.com
“In simple terms, the problem is understood to be a pathological underestimation of one’s own abilities and doubts about one’s own abilities”, explains Anatolij Körner, who has a practice in Berlin as an alternative practitioner for psychotherapy. However, there is no exact definition or diagnosis, because the impostor phenomenon is not officially recognized as a disease.
It is therefore not possible to say exactly how many people are affected. “However, of the people I treat as patients, at least a quarter are plagued by such considerable self-doubt,” said Körner. The problem is therefore very widespread and can severely restrict the lives of those affected.
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How does Impostor syndrome manifest itself?
Self-doubt can strike you whenever you should actually trust your own abilities, for example in professional life. Instead of being proud of a success such as a promotion, those affected then believe that they have only managed it through luck, coincidence or outside help.
The phenomenon can also manifest itself in your private life, for example in a relationship if you want to be perfect for your partner. “Mothers can also have such doubts and fear that they will not be able to take proper care of their child,” Körner explains. Nevertheless, those affected continue to do so and do not let on. This creates the feeling that you are pretending to be better than you really are, an impostor.
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What are possible consequences of the impostor syndrome?
The doubts are initially followed by the constant fear that the “swindle” will be discovered. The boss might find out that you’re not the right person for the job after all. Everyone else will be disappointed if you can’t meet their expectations after all. Or you are afraid of losing friends or your partner because you are not as perfect as you always pretended to be.
So for those affected, the most important rule is: Don’t make any mistakes, always give everything and be perfect! Doubts are stress for the body and in the long run you will break down. “If you can’t compensate for the doubts with positive thoughts, there’s a danger of burn-out, depression or anxiety disorders at some point,” warns the expert. These should then be treated by a psychotherapist.
This is how depression announces itself The demand to always be perfect can lead to the Impostor Syndrome. © fizkes / Shutterstock.com
What are the causes of self-doubt?
The feeling of not being good enough has to do with the personality, but it is encouraged by a certain type of upbringing: “Often people come to me with such doubts, who were exposed to high performance pressure in their childhood or who have older, successful siblings,” says Anatolij Körner.
Sentences such as “Your sister could do better at your age”, “But no man wants you with your hips later” or “What is to become of you if you only get three on your report card” are poison for the self-confidence of a child.
Körner also suspects a social cause, especially in women. “Nowadays it is often expected that women work, have children and do the housework at the same time and have a fulfilled relationship,” says the alternative practitioner for psychotherapy. This constant pressure from all sides also leads to the feeling that you have to be able to do this on your own.
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Do I have impostor syndrome?
Are you often plagued by self-doubt and you are afraid of having the impostor syndrome? Test whether you know the following sentences or thoughts of yourself:
- “I don’t really deserve this success, I just had luck/help.”
- “I don’t know how I did it.”
- “If I do this wrong, I’ll definitely get fired.”
- “I hope the others don’t find out I can’t do this.”
- “The others can do it much better than I can. They deserve this success more.”
- “What do the others see in me?”
If you feel that way often, you should definitely act. Whether you call it impostor syndrome, lack of self-confidence or toxic thoughts, you should definitely get to the bottom of these warning signals before they gnaw too deeply into your self-esteem!
Putting your strengths in writing can help to overcome self-doubt. © Sfio Cracho / Shutterstock.com
What can I do against Imposter Syndrome?
The most important thing to dissolve the constant self-doubt is to recognize it first. Find out the moments when they appear. Maybe when you’re responsible for others? Or when you’re being praised for your accomplishments?
If you know that, try to watch your thoughts. Is there a pattern into which you fall, that you then compare yourself with others or enumerate your weaknesses, for example? When you have found these trigger points, according to Körner, you can do three things yourself:
- Write down your strengths: “The most effective method for more self-confidence is to write down your own strengths,” says the expert. That way you visualize your positive thoughts and can fall back on them more easily in weaker moments. So grab a piece of paper and a pen and write down everything you have already achieved in your life, what you are good at and what you are proud of. Ask your family and friends what they value most about you. This will take some effort, but you won’t seem arrogant or narcissistic, I promise!
- Stand in front of the mirror: It may seem silly at first, but it works: Stand up every morning in Wonder Woman Pose in front of the mirror, that is, with your hands on your hips and your legs apart Look at yourself, smile and tell yourself how strong, confident, professional and attractive you are. “This kind of posture causes the body to release hormones that make us more self-confident,” explains Körner. Make this your daily ritual, preferably for at least two minutes. That will give you a real self-confidence kick.
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- Replace your beliefs in everyday life: The last and most important step: Replace your doubts with self-affirmation. Thoughts often follow the same pattern in your head. “You can therefore train yourself a new scheme and replace the old beliefs with new ones,” the expert says. If you notice that you are once again at the point where the doubting thoughts come back, interrupt them consciously. Small reminders in everyday life, such as a sticker on your screen, can help you do this. Then think about what you have written down as your strengths. You can do this, you deserve this and you are doing great. It takes a bit of patience until it works automatically, but it’s worth it!
- Get outside help: If you feel that you cannot overcome your doubts on your own, you can seek help. Often a professional view from the outside helps to assess the situation and yourself more neutrally. A first point of contact can be a family doctor, counselling centres or psychological practices. A professionally conducted psychotherapy will help you in any case. The psychologist portal of the BDP (Professional Association of German Psychologists) helps you to find therapy professionals. It doesn’t matter whether you are ultimately helped by talk therapy, hypnosis or behavioural exercises. The main thing is that you recognize what you can do!
We all have our moments of self-doubt. But if you put yourself under too much pressure to perform, you will soon get the feeling that you are never quite equal to your own life and that you will disappoint others. Dispel these doubts, don’t ask too much of yourself and think about what you can do.