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Imposter Phenomenon:Facing Fears of Inadequacy and Self-Doubt Part II

Imposter Phenomenon:Facing Fears of Inadequacy and Self-Doubt Part II

Last time we introduced, impostor syndrome, today let’s talk about the cause, conquering impostor feelings and how we deal with it.


The initial causes of IP often come at a young age. And it often has to do with relationships with primary caregivers and important adults in our lives. A parenting style that is highly achievement-oriented and highly critical. This pattern is a setup for being high-achieving and driven but also insecure and looking to other people for signs of self-worth and value. An early traumatic experience., it’s not uncommon for them to develop a deep sense of shame and fundamental unworthiness in themselves. Consequently, when these children grow up, no matter how successful they are, this deep belief in their own unworthiness can manifest itself in the form of imposter syndrome

The maintaining causes happen in the present. And they often take the form of habits and behaviors which seem like coping skills but actually reinforce the IP in the long term such as a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset refers to a person’s belief that their personality, talents, and abilities are relatively predetermined and fixed by nature and genetics. This means that any failure or mistake is often interpreted to be a sign of personal deficiency and low self-worth. Having such a fixed mindset is frequently a risk factor.

It’s essential to understand that regardless of what led to a person developing or being at risk for IP initially, nearly all cases are maintained by habits and reinforcement in the present. And often working through IP is more about these maintaining causes than the initial ones.

Conquering impostor feelings

To get past impostor feelings, it helps to start asking yourself some hard questions. Here are a few to consider:

• What core beliefs do I hold about myself?
• Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?
• Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?

To move past these feelings, you need to become comfortable confronting some of the deeply ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself. This exercise can be hard because you might not even realize that you hold them, but here are some techniques you can use:

Assess your abilities. If you have long-held beliefs about your incompetence in social and performance situations, make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Write down your accomplishments and what you are good at, then compare these with your self-assessment.

Question your thoughts. As you start to assess your abilities and take baby steps, question whether your thoughts are rational. Does it make sense to believe that you are a fraud given everything that you know?

Develop a new script. Become consciously aware of the conversation going on in your head when you’re in a situation that triggers your Impostor feelings. This is your internal script. Then instead of thinking, “Wait till they find out I have no idea what I’m doing,” tell yourself “Everyone who starts something new feels off-base in the beginning. I may not know all the answers but I’m smart enough to find them out.” Instead of looking around the room and thinking, “Oh my God everyone here is brilliant…. and I’m not” go with “Wow, everyone here is brilliant – I’m really going to learn a lot!”

Stop comparing. Focus on measuring your own achievements instead of holding them up against others. Comparing your own life to a carefully curated influencer’s social media feed, for example, is a trap for feeling like you don’t measure up.

Psychotherapy with Impostors

The central task of psychotherapy with impostors is to lessen the client’s dependence on others’ positive evaluations for his or her self-esteem and to build a more internalized sense of self-worth. The impostor behaviors result from the preoccupation with others’ impressions as a “persona.” The goal of therapy is to make that persona no longer necessary. The metaphor of persona recalls the writings of CG Jung who believed that successful therapy helps people individuate out of their own inner needs, as it decreases the necessity of presenting persona to win others’ affirmation.

Please get in touch with our mental health professional, Wendy Chao to support your recovery.

Wendy Chao is a psychologist and executive coach, the range of treatments includes business, psychology and family matters. Her specialties focus on helping clients through crisis and transformation, dealing with anxiety and stress-related difficulties, and promoting clients’ personal growth and leadership development. 
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