Imposter syndrome: What it means and how to get over it

We’ve all heard the words imposter syndrome being thrown around but most of us are unsure of exactly what the imposter syndrome definition is – making it that much harder to fight it.

There’s a reason the phrase imposter syndrome has gotten so big – and it’s important to know the imposter syndrome definition so we can kick it to the curb for good.

We like to think of imposter syndrome as a proverbial energy vampire – an unwelcome guest settling into the crevices of everything that is good in our lives.

This article will teach you how to evict this uninvited guest.

So what is the imposter syndrome definition?

“The imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a persistent, often internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud,” according to Psychology Today. “Not an actual disorder, the term was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with imposter syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have,” the article continues.”

While it may appear crystal clear to others that those afflicted are able to “earn their keep,” they may have trouble seeing it themselves, attributing it instead to luck, good timing, or any number of other things.

In short, they feel they are deceiving others of their intelligence and competence, which they don’t actually have.

And while the phrase imposter syndrome is (for reasons unbeknownst to us) mostlyCar, the syndrome actually affects men and women equally. It also touches people on all levels of the career ladder.

“Powerful men who still wonder if what they are doing is good enough, or if they are about to be found out for being an imposter,” the Psychology Today article writes.

“You get the promotion at work, and your inner narrative is that they must have been short on candidates. Your business has a great win, and you tell yourself that it was sheer chance that the client found you (and they mustn’t have looked too far and wide). You are getting ready to give a presentation, and you secretly think that you’re about to be found out for how hopeless you really are.”

Is imposter syndrome always coming from you?

The short answer to this question is no.

To explain, the imposter syndrome definition can present itself as the fear of getting fired in an instant and the related inability to complete small tasks. It can be saying you don’t know how to perform a task because you’re afraid to get fired and overestimating the importance of not knowing something.

It can come in the form of devising strategies to keep yourself “safe” at work by overcompensating, which only makes things worse.

Let’s face it: imposter syndrome can really get in the way of our happiness. None of us know everything, but that does not make us imposters. It makes us dynamic, well-rounded human beings with everything to offer.

But what many of us fail to realize about imposter syndrome is that many companies actually thrive on it. After all, if you think you’re an imposter, they won’t have to pay you as much or give you a promotion, or sometimes even treat you like a human being.

If the imposter syndrome feeling is creeping up on you, it’s important to ask yourself why. Could someone else be making you feel this way? It’s not always you!

One you recognize the fallacy of imposter syndrome, you can get to work on setting boundaries – at work and at home.

But how do you do this when you aren’t supposed to talk back due to a fear of being accused of insubordination?

Sound familiar? Us, too.

Which is why we brought you this list of boundary-setting strategies that you can start using today:

1) Be willing to have a difficult conversation: The only way someone’s behavior is going to change is if you tell them how you feel. “You see, managers and other authority figures will generally presume everything is OK unless you let them know otherwise. For others to become aware that their behavior is unacceptable or that your needs aren’t being met, you need to tell them. Otherwise, you simply reinforce their behavior,” explains The Muse. “When you embrace the practice of having these difficult conversations, you’ll be able to open up about what you need.”

2) Realize you’re normal and none of us were ever formally taught how to set boundaries, especially at work: “Somehow, we are supposed to be experts on dealing with other people and with our own emotions even though these issues were never formally addressed in our education and training,” New York-based forensic psychiatrist Roy Lubit, MD, PhD, told The Muse.

3) Being aggressive won’t work but being assertive will: The urge in one of these meetings is to be aggressive since you are feeling stepped on. However, this solution is not effective. You can feel the way you feel, but it’s better not to express it since there is no benefit to it. “When you’re sharing what you need in a difficult conversation, stay calm, focused, and unemotional throughout the meeting. You’ll want to focus the conversation on what you need, rather than casting blame or criticizing others,” explains The Muse.

4) Identify the facts then explain exactly what needs to happen for you to feel comfortable: This one is self-explanatory.

5) Ask follow-up questions: Without follow-up questions, there’s no way to ensure what changes will and will not happen. “To ensure that your requests are understood, finish the conversation with questions like, “Based on the current situation and what we need to do to be successful, what can we do to make this happen?” This will engage the other party and help problem solve, rather than block conversation with objections,” writes The Muse.

It is better to overdo it than underdo it here.

Does imposter syndrome occur in other areas of our lives?

Imposter syndrome does not discriminate.

Not only does it affect our work lives, but it can wreak havoc in all areas including our relationships.

In fact, they often go hand in hand since imposter syndrome by definition is a feeling of lack of self-worth which usually comes from the inside.

In relationships, this can look like being hypervigilant about your partner leaving, asking for excessive reassurance, or feeling like you’re just “not good” at relationships rather than just recognizing the inevitable ups and downs.

In-home life, it can appear as not feeling like a good enough parent or that you do enough for your child. None of these areas are easy, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Conquering imposter syndrome is a lifetime learning process and not something you should just know. The good news is that seeing it from this perspective frees you to move at your own pace.

“Both reflect an underlying lack of confidence in yourself and a sense that you don’t belong in the situation you’re in, whether it’s a romantic or professional one. Both involve feelings of self-doubt and even guilt that you’re making the situation worse, both of which lead you to believe that you don’t deserve to be there and someone else deserves to be there more,” according to this article by Psychology Today.

“A person can be confident about her job skills but not her qualities as a romantic partner, and vice versa. In such cases, people can try to leverage their greater confidence in one area of their life to increase it in the area in which they feel less confident. For people with more general self-loathing, however, this is not an option, and they have to confront the source of their feelings of general inadequacy directly (ideally with a therapist),” the article states. It is important to address areas of low self-esteem, which is best done by finding the roots (i.e. childhood, attachment patterns, etc.)

As humans, we all sometimes feel like others have it easier than we do or that they never have to worry about anything. These areas can (and need to) be worked through. Only then can we cultivate the unshakeable confidence we need to shake off imposter syndrome.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket

One of the most effective ways of cultivating healthy self-worth at work is to avoid putting all your eggs in one basket.

If you put all your eggs in one employer’s basket, they have too much power over you. The way to take your power back is to diversify your baskets – both “physically” and emotionally.

To succeed, you need to put your eggs in many different baskets (i.e. if this one doesn’t work out the next one will.) There will always be a next one.

This is how you internalize that your skills can be applied to many different positions (and organizations) and that no organization deserves all of your eggs.