When someone experiences feelings of not belonging or feeling that they don’t deserve the accomplishments they have achieved or that one day, people will suddenly discover they are a fraud; this is Imposter Syndrome.
Since shelter-in-place was set in motion four months ago, we have been experiencing some changes to the way we work. Most offices have closed and sent their employees off to work remotely, while some have closed down completely, sending workers to unemployment lines. These are certainly unsteady and trying times.
One issue arising from the destruction of the coronavirus is the rise of what psychologists call Imposter Syndrome or the Imposter phenomenon. This syndrome is a psychological disorder that can cripple even the most stoic people, and it seems to be feeding on the uncertainty and fear of the moment.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
When someone experiences feelings of not belonging or feeling that they don’t deserve the accomplishments they have achieved or that one day, people will suddenly discover they are a fraud; this is Imposter syndrome. It is a genuine, very destructive phenomenon.
An estimated 70% of people have these feelings at some point in their lives. This statistic is according to The Impostor Phenomenon, an article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. The phenomenon affects all kinds of people across many demographics: women, men, marketing managers, actors, and high-powered executives.
Imposter syndrome can apply to anyone who isn’t able to internalize or own their success.
The syndrome was first discovered in 1978 by a pair of psychologists, Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes. The pair wrote a paper on the subject and theorized that women were uniquely affected by the phenomenon. Since then, extensive research into the subject has proven that both men and women are affected.
In later years, Clance wrote a paper wherein she acknowledged the syndrome was not limited to women, and she even created an Imposter Syndrome Test.
Patterns and People
Although anyone is susceptible to the syndrome, there are patterns and certain types of people who are more prone to feeling the effects.
- Perfectionists: These folks set incredibly high standards for themselves, and even if they accomplish 99% of their goals, they will still feel like failures. They are harder on themselves than they are on others and often see those who do not achieve as much as better than they are.
- Experts: These are people who need to know every piece of information about a subject before starting a new project. They rarely speak up in meetings out of fear that they will look stupid for not already knowing all the information.
- Natural Genius: These people get uneasy when they struggle or have to work hard at something, and they suddenly believe they are not good enough.
- Soloists: These are the ones who feel they need to accomplish everything on their own or it doesn’t “count.” If they have to ask for help, they see themselves as frauds.
- Superwomen or Supermen: These are the ones who feel they have to push themselves harder than anyone else around them to prove to the world they are not frauds.
There is no single answer as to why someone suddenly feels the effects of Imposter syndrome. Some theorize it could be a personality trait like anxiety or neuroticism, while others posit it comes from behavioral causes, such as feelings of inadequacy in childhood.
Being compared to a sibling that was always good, always right, always achieving. The need to prove worth at a young age could be a trigger.
Imposter in The Time of COVID-19
One thing that experts agree on is that our current situation of shelter-in-place, social distancing, and insecurity at work, has exacerbated the Imposter Phenomenon.
Many people who get their needs for achievement fed by work are stumbling and having great difficulties adjusting, and thus, the feelings come out.
Working from home has magnified these feelings because people are not feeling as motivated or as productive. The truth is, we aren’t as motivated or productive and we need to feel okay with that. Forcing productivity and motivation in these very uncertain times is only making matters worse.
Psychologists recommend that you don’t look at Imposter Syndrome as something to conquer, to be cured of, but rather to accept that it is a conversation you'll have with yourself now and again over your lifetime.
Tips to Improve Your Mindset
As we said, Imposter Syndrome will affect over 70% of the population at some time in their lives. Here are some tips to help you deal with the problem if or when it arises. These may help you move through it and maybe even learn to tame it when it strikes.
First and foremost, if you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome, especially now during the pandemic, it is vital that you are compassionate with yourself and know that you are good enough.
- View yourself through the eyes of someone who admires you. Look at yourself from the perspective of your biggest fan. Your biggest fan isn’t connected to your insecurities and negative beliefs about yourself. All they see is your glory and potential. Let their eyes be your guide for a little while and allow yourself to see you as they do.
- Appreciate your unique talents. Appreciate who you are and what you do. Don't compare your uniqueness to that of others. Comparing will lead you to self-judgment and failure, seeing someone else’s uniqueness as better or more real. Recognize your skills and talents. Write down a few things that you know you’re good at, and when you feel the imposter stepping up, refer to that list and trust that you have a lot to offer.
- Redefine what’s productive. Especially now, during this pandemic and an unstable economy with the added worry of civil unrest, you’re going to need to redefine your terms. What you called productive before the pandemic cannot be used as a guideline now. No one is as productive, and that’s okay. Make your to-do lists but, don’t beat yourself senseless if you cannot accomplish every single task on that list. It’s just not possible. Know that, accept that and relax into it.
- Shift focus. Where work filled the holes and served your need to feel useful or productive, shift to other parts of your life and try to improve or expand there. Read some books on subjects you’re not familiar with. Try new recipes. Take pen to paper and write some actual letters. Build a new skill, write a blog, focus on your online brand. Or, take a “zero-day” where you give yourself permission to accomplish nothing and not beat yourself up about the next day.
- Stay connected. Use skype or zoom or email or use your phone as a phone and stay connected with family, old friends, work buddies. Connecting lessens the feeling of isolation and keeps the Imposter feelings from creeping in.
- Keep talking about it. This is great therapy. Talk to others about feeling like an imposter, how it binds you up, and what it has been doing to your mood and mental state. If people don’t understand, explain it. The chances are, once you open up about it, you’ll be surprised how many others in your circle are experiencing the same thing.
It’s probably safe to say that not many of us have lived through a pandemic. It’s not often we get to be in a moment when we recognize that what we’re experiencing is going to be history. Because it is so unique, so jarring, so unexpected, we cannot force the same day in day out, this is how we’ve done it all the time, rules on ourselves and expect there to be no repercussions.
We here at ThoughtLab are getting through this like many of you. We are adjusting to a new dynamic, we are working separately from each other, and some find it difficult to manage. We are concerned about you and how you’re handling this trying time. We are doing our best to offer advice and pointers on how to do more than just survive, but being ready when a level of normalcy is back in place.
What work and life are going to look like when the fog lifts and the sickness is tamed, we have no idea. We know we’ll still be here, helping you be the best you can and doing everything to help you achieve your company goals.
Be kind to yourself and to each other and know, no matter if the demons try to convince you otherwise, you're good enough, you're valuable, and you are always welcome here at ThoughtLab.