Understanding imposter syndrome


Imposter syndrome - also known as imposter phenomenon - is a psychological pattern of thought where we doubt our accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud". It can affect anyone, regardless of gender, age, profession, or background.

The causes of imposter syndrome aren’t fully understood, but it is believed to be a combination of several factors such as perfectionism, fear of failure, social comparison, and past experiences1. Research suggests that imposter syndrome can have a negative impact on individuals and can also affect relationships and the ability to perform well at work2.

While imposter syndrome can create feelings of stress, anxiety, depression, and self-doubt, it's important to remember that it's a common human experience. Dr Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa Health Clinics explains: “We all have moments of feeling like an imposter, but imposter syndrome is not a reflection of our abilities, but rather a manifestation of our own self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud. Remember to acknowledge and address these feelings, rather than allowing them to hold us back.”

People struggling with imposter syndrome are often also battling ideas of perfectionism and commonly attribute their accomplishments to external factors or luck rather than their own abilities. These behaviours can lead to a cycle of negative thinking and feelings of inadequacy, which can be difficult to break without addressing the underlying beliefs and thought patterns associated with imposter syndrome.

Although the experience of imposter syndrome can feel overwhelming, there are things you can do each day which may ease these feelings. Dr Naomi explains: “Try to focus on the facts, not the feelings - remind yourself of your accomplishments and qualifications and recognise that everyone has moments of self-doubt.”

Some strategies that can help include:

Recognising and challenging negative thoughts and beliefs
Be aware of negative thoughts such as self-doubt, inadequacy, and a lack of confidence. Once identified, these thoughts can be challenged with evidence to the contrary and reframed with a more positive perspective.

Embracing failure and learning from mistakes
Failure is a natural and valuable part of learning and growth. Instead of fearing it, it's important to understand that it's an opportunity to learn and to try again.

Practicing self-compassion and self-care
Be kind to yourself - take care of your physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing by getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.

Seeking support from friends, family, or a medical professional
Talking to someone you trust can help you gain perspective. Mental Health professionals, like therapists, can also provide guidance and support in developing healthy coping mechanisms – also, check with your employer as they may have access to trained professionals who can help you.

Reducing the use of social media and avoiding comparison
Be mindful of how much time you spend on social media and avoid comparing yourself to others. Remembering that people’s social profiles are usually carefully curated and are simply a small ‘snapshot’ of their lives. Instead, focus on your own progress and accomplishments.

This article was provided by Private Client by Bupa.

Private Client by Bupa offers premium private health insurance that goes beyond health cover. The Ultimate Global Health Plan provides a complete concierge service and award-winning medical cover at home or abroad provided by Bupa Global, with rich, proactive, preventive wellbeing benefits that are designed to be used.

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1. According to Imposter Syndrome | Psychology Today. Accessed 18.01.23

2. The International Journal of Behavioral Science shows that people are negatively affected by workplace imposter thoughts. Study from 2011, updated in 2022. Accessed 18.01.22

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