How to deal with imposter syndrome


It’s estimated 70% of people will suffer from imposter syndrome at some point in their lives – but what exactly is it? We caught up with mindfulness Urban pro Alexandra to find out the different types of ‘imposter’ and how to reframe your outlook.

Have you ever thought you’ve just fluked an exam, got a job because you exaggerated your ability, or that you’re not worthy of the praise you receive? Have you experienced a fear of being exposed as a fraud or that one day people will catch on that you’re not as good as you made out to be? Chances are, you’re experiencing a form of imposter syndrome.

A common misconception, imposter syndrome is not just for the shy, meek or anxious – it can affect anyone. In fact, people who struggle with imposter syndrome are in extremely good company – Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck, Sheryl Sandberg and many more have all presented signs of imposter syndrome – and it’s actually estimated that 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives, according to this study.

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Despite its name, imposter syndrome isn’t a disease or abnormality, and isn’t necessarily tied to depression, anxiety or self-esteem. It is a feeling, an experience, a belief that can be hard to shake.

Valerie Young, a leading imposter syndrome expert, identified and described the following five different “types of imposters”:

The Perfectionist

The Perfectionist’s primary focus is on “how” something is done — and one minor flaw in an otherwise stellar performance is not enough.

The Expert

This is the knowledge version of the perfectionist. The expert expects to know everything; even a minor lack of knowledge is a failure.

The Soloist

Cares about who completes the task, and feels like it needs to be them alone and that needing help is a sign of defeat.

The Natural Genius

For the natural genius, competence is measured in terms of ease and speed. Struggling to master a subject or skill or not succeeding on the first try feels like failure.

The Superwoman/Superman

Falling short in any role – as a parent, partner, in the home or at work – all evoke shame because these people feel they should be able to handle it all perfectly and easily.

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Reframing the way we think and using mindful practices can be a useful tool in dealing with common forms of imposter syndrome. Try these tips:

  1. Recognise that just because you think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.
    We have 70,000 thoughts a day and over 80% of these are old, repeated, thoughts. So you might still be carrying a belief from something a teacher said to you when you were 5 and take it for granted as truth. So become aware of when doubt, limiting thoughts, nasty critical thoughts enter your mind. 
  2. Name the critic and give your imposter syndrome a character.
    What does it look like, sound like, how does it talk to you? When the critical voice arises, you can say to yourself: ‘Ah, there goes Minerva again.’
  3. Challenge the critic by owning your success.
    Make a list of all the reasons why the critic is wrong, over exaggerating, being unkind, ignoring your wins.

Book a mindfulness session for your team with Alexandra through the Urban for teams app. Get in touch to find out more.

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