Whenever I am involved in discussions about women and confidence, whether that is in business or personal life, inevitably the subject of the Impostor Syndrome comes up.

So, what is it? Impostor syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence. It is basically feeling that you are not really a successful, competent and smart person, but that you are only posing as one!

In December last year, this phenomenon again lit up the media when Michelle Obama was asked how she felt to be seen as a “symbol of hope”, Mrs Obama told students: “I still have a little [bit of] impostor syndrome, it never goes away, that you’re actually listening to me. It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know?”

Studies suggest that up to 70% of us, at sometimes in our lives, struggle to accept our achievements and accomplishments. Dr Pauline Clance, one of the two women who first coined the phrase in a 1978 paper, has developed the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale (CIPS), which can help you see how you compare to others (for personal use only).

Another Impostor Syndrome expert Valerie Young “People who experience impostor feelings worry that others will find out they are not as ‘smart’ or talented as everyone ‘thinks’ they are. There are plenty of reasons why someone might experience impostor feelings, including from parents and teachers that constantly tell kids they are smart; up to occupations that test intellect day in, day out.”

I know just how this feels, after a successful 30 year career, at my retirement party I half-expected the Boss to say in his speech – “Well Gill, we sussed you out after all – you don’t really know what you are doing do you?”

So here are a few tips if you find these limiting beliefs entering your thoughts.

  1. Identify those feelings: be aware when you engage in thoughts and feelings of the Impostor – awareness is the first step to making a change and it is not always obvious, because often we are not aware of our automatic thoughts.
  1. Get support – being able to discuss these feelings with others in order to understand that you are not alone and to get a reality check, can be really helpful.
  1. Notice the difference between feelings and reality: Sometimes we think that if we feel something strongly it must be right. “If I feel so stupid, it must be that I am stupid.” When you catch yourself thinking in this way change it to a positive statement like “The fact that I feel stupid does not mean that I really am”, or even “I know I am not stupid”

To find out more listen to my interview with Impostor Syndrome expert Dr Valerie Young 

Also, you can download a free copy of the A-Z of Banishing the Impostor Syndrome here

Gill Donnell MBE is the Founder and Owner of Successful Women Ltd, you can find out more about the #swibtribe and events taking place across the South West of England here – https://www.swibtribe.com

Views expressed by the writer are not necessarily the views of the Springboard Consultancy Ltd

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