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What is Imposter Syndrome?

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Many life coaches, especially those who are first starting out, can suffer from a phenomenon known as imposter syndrome. In fact, people working in all industries and at all stages of their careers can experience feelings of self-doubt, lack of confidence and not belonging. And it’s not just related to work. People can suffer from imposter syndrome in other aspects of their lives, too. Parents, spouses and friends can even have feelings of being a fraud in their relationships. 

Studies have found that many people suffer from imposter syndrome at different points throughout their lives, an estimated 70%. With so many people experiencing it, why isn’t it something we talk about more often? What is imposter syndrome? What are the signs of imposter syndrome? What can you do to overcome it? 

What is Imposter Syndrome? 

Back in the 1970s, two psychologists first coined the term imposter syndrome, also referred to as imposter phenomenon. They identified it as a form of self-doubt that can manifest in people who may be high achievers in academics and other areas of their lives, but have an inability to accept their success. Instead, they see their success as pure luck and feel that they are frauds rather than being deserving of their achievements. 

Often, they suffer in silence, refusing to let anyone else know that they experience these feelings of inadequacy. Because of the propensity to keep it to themselves, imposter syndrome can also come with feelings of anxiety, depression and fear. 

Common Traits of Those Who Experience Imposter Syndrome 

Researchers have identified common traits, patterns and experiences in those who experience imposter syndrome. Those whose families or communities put high value on achievement can suffer from feelings of being a fraud. They were pushed hard to excel in school and praised when they achieved goals, yet harshly criticized when they failed to live up to expectations. 

Others who felt different than their peers because of race, socio-economic background, gender or some other factor are also prone to experiencing imposter syndrome. They may wonder if success or opportunities were provided to them because of their knowledge or skill, or some other reason entirely. 

Author Valerie Young, who wrote a book about imposter syndrome, identified certain patterns that people with imposter syndrome often exhibit: 

Perfectionists: Set high expectations for achievement. Nothing less than perfect will be good enough. 

Experts: Must know everything about a topic before putting themselves out there to get a job or participate in a discussion. 

Natural Genius: Thrown off when learning something does not come as easily as it normally does. 

Soloists: If they need help or can’t accomplish something on their own, they feel that they have failed. 

Supermen and Superwomen: Over-achievers who work extremely hard to accomplish things, succeed and always get things done. 

How to Handle Imposter Syndrome 

Knowing that you might be experiencing imposter syndrome is half the battle. Once you determine that you are suffering from feelings of self-doubt, being a fraud, fear of failure or “being found out,” you can begin to explore the reasons why. Consider the situations or behaviors that bring up these feelings and observe what they physically feel like in your body. 

If you are frequently comparing yourself to other people, assess whether it’s bringing on feelings of anxiety, jealousy and fear. Are your comparisons impacting your life? Are you avoiding taking on new projects, challenging yourself or taking a leap that would bring on new opportunities? 

If the thought of failure is paralyzing, ask yourself if you’ve delayed launching a project or some other endeavor because the idea of failing is all too terrifying. Have you worked tirelessly on a new business, program or offering, only to let it sit there for months or even years without launching it for fear that it won’t be a success? 

If you refuse to ask for help, consider that some of the most successful people had a long line of people who have helped them get to where they are today. The reality is that we simply can’t do it all on our own. Successful people recognize where their strengths lie. They find people who have skills that complement their own so they can focus on what they do best, instead of trying to wear too many hats. 

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