Feel like a fraud? It’s exhausting. The constant fear someone is going to find you out. Discover the symptoms and how you can regain your confidence.
‘God, you sounded like someone who knows what they’re talking about’. This throw away comment, of a colleague as we walked out of a meeting, cut me to the core. He knows that I’m a fraud. I’m not good enough to be here.
If like me, you think you’re a fraud, then you’re suffering from a symptom called imposter syndrome.
And if you feel that way, you just want it to stop.
Throughout my career, this nagging feeling of not being good enough haunted me. The higher up the ladder I climbed, the more insecure I felt. I lived in fear that someone would tap me on the shoulder and call me a fraud. My confidence slowly ebbed away.
I’ve since learnt that I’m not the only one who struggled with those thoughts. And, you aren’t either.
Bought the straight jacket
Now you know you’re not the only one, let’s dig in. I’m going to cover the following:-
- What is imposter syndrome and why you feel like a fraud
- Symptoms of imposter syndrome
- How feeling like a fraud affects your confidence
- Taking action to build your confidence.
What Is Imposter Syndrome and why you feel like a fraud?
According to Miriam-Webster, Imposter Syndrome is ‘a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill’.
The term was introduced in 1978 when two psychotherapists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes wrote a paper called ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention’ found that Imposter Syndrome impacted high-flying professional women most.
Although in the interests of fairness I should point out that later studies have shown men also suffer with it, just not to the same degree.
Put simply, imposter syndrome is the belief that you’re not as good as everybody else. But you’re keeping these thoughts to yourself because you worry that if you tell anyone, they will know you’re an imposter for sure.
But if you’re worried about it, it means you’re not. You’re more concerned about being genuine and, that’s good.
Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome
If you feel like a fraud, you’ll likely try to compensate for it in order to regain your confidence. Here are some of the main symptoms:
As I found in my own situation, to avoid accusations of being a fraud, I worked long hours. It’s so easy to fall into this trap thinking that doing long hours means you are productive. But sadly, no.
Working long hours is tiring. You might be able to cope for a short while, but as an ongoing solution, it doesn’t work. Your mind, body and spirit are drained. If you’re always working long hours, other areas of your life will suffer. You can say goodbye to any social life. Home relationships and any time for yourself will also be affected. Your confidence will also take a hit as you start to lose any aspect of your life where you have a strong belief in yourself.
Tiredness can cause you to:
- make mistakes
- feel stressed
- be grumpy and believe me, no-one wants to be around Mrs Grumpy Pants
In my case, taking on more work and putting in more hours was the wrong thing to do. The result – burnout.
With imposter syndrome, there is a great fear of making mistakes. You fear that other people will think you’re incompetent and therefore, a fraud. So, to avoid this, you adopt the need to be perfect.
Being perfect at everything is not possible. You’re human. I’m not saying that you don’t try and be good at what you do, but there is a fine line. Everybody makes mistakes, it’s a fact of life.
Repeat after me…’I’m not a robot’.
Besides, no matter how much work you do, you will always be upgrading the standards by which you measure yourself.
Being a perfectionist can be stressful. Waiting for the perfect time, or the perfect day is something that’s not going to happen. Imagine chasing rainbows. They look beautiful from a distance, but can you find the end to grab your pot of gold? – no. The treasure doesn’t exist.
Sensitivity to Criticism
The ability to take feedback is difficult, especially if you feel like a fraud. This is because, on a deep level, you feel as if someone is challenging you, and it’s reinforcing the idea that you are not good enough. It feels like your balloon of confidence takes a hit from a sharp pointy object.
As a result, you will do anything to avoid that happening.
I’m sad to say that the art of giving constructive feedback is rare. I’m sure you’ve experienced someone’s clumsy attempt. I know I have. At times it can sound hurtful and feels as if someone has stabbed you through the heart.
Inability to accept Compliments
‘I like your dress’.
‘What, this old thing,
- I’ve had it ages
- got it in the sale
- it’s a hand-down from my mother.
Pick whichever applies.
Why do we always bat compliments away? It’s how you see your self-worth. Not accepting the compliment, might feel as if you’re being humble. Sadly this isn’t the case. When someone takes the time to say something beautiful, it’s not because they’re at a loss for what to say. Seriously.
If you play down a compliment you’re saying to the person who is giving it that you don’t believe them. Imagine if someone told you that you didn’t know what you’re talking about, how would you feel? In refusing the compliment, you’re telling the other person that they don’t know what they are talking about.
So the next time someone pays you a compliment, smile and accept it.
The same should apply for any form of praise. ‘Congratulation on the new job, I’m happy for you’. Don’t try and say that you happened to be lucky; it was all about being in the right place at the right time. It’s not. Your promotion is down to hard work and recognition. Revel in it as if basking in the warm sunshine.
Failing To Ask For Help
Asking for help carries no shame. None of us knows everything, and on a deep level, we realise this.
Yet, you’ll struggle through. Because asking for help is seen as a weakness, a way of confessing that you can’t do something.
How often have we all done this? I know that I’ve been guilty of it.
If we’re not careful, we can become stubborn about it.
But consider how much time and effort you waste if you’re too scared or stubborn to ask for help. Not to mention missed deadlines or lost opportunities that could impact your reputation.
Asking for help is a strength.
‘Ask for help not because you are weak, but because you want to remain strong’ Les Brown.
Showing False Confidence
Have you heard the phrase ‘fake it ’til you make it’? I really hate that sentence. I don’t believe in it. If you adopt this approach, it undermines any real confidence you might have. If you feel like a fraud, it seems strange that some people promote it.
I bet you’ve come across people who are always telling everyone that they are right – I certainly have. They come across as confident, but something’s a bit off. If you listen carefully to what they’re saying, you realise that there’s no substance behind it. Creating an image of confidence when it’s a front.
Showing false confidence is dangerous. You’ll want to ‘hide … mistakes or even lie about them… blame others instead of accepting responsibility’. Learning Mind’s article on false confidence is a good read.
When you’re struggling with inner doubt, trying to disguise your lack of confidence can undermine any credibility you might have. Be honest in your dealings. If you don’t know the answer, say so. People will have a lot more respect for you as a result.
Playing It Safe
When you are conflicted with doubt, it’s difficult to make decisions.
Indecision causes accidents. You might be tempted not to take any risks, or make a decision, in case anything goes wrong. How many times have you later regretted not taking action?
Playing safe, or not taking any risks, can be damaging for you. It will hold you back from opportunities to try new things, or deny new possibilities such as career advancement.
How Feeling Like a Fraud affects your confidence
In isolation, any of the above symptoms can be exhausting. I bet you’re feeling drained. Not good.
But usually imposter syndrome will cover a few at the same time. The impact on you is significant.
Feeling like a fraud can result in a loss of confidence as you:
- Hold yourself back from achieving your potential
- Spend time and energy trying to prove yourself at work. Your home life, is affected. Family can be your biggest cheerleaders and less time with loved ones means you don’t get that support.
- Exit your career early as your confidence is low and your self-doubt takes over.
- Become susceptible to illness such as depression and anxiety. In extreme cases, it can lead to burnout.
So, what can you do about it?
How to regain your confidence and stop feeling like a fraud
I would love to tell you that there’s a cure. But, sadly there isn’t. It’s also not a quick fix. It takes time to change the way we think about things.
But there are ways we can deal with the effects of imposter syndrome and regaining confidence is a way to do that.
When You’re Overworking
When you feel like a fraud you try to do more than is necessary. Establish a working pattern that works for you and the business. In many companies, it’s expected that managers work additional hours. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t take time out. Set yourself some hard stop times. If you’re working late one night because a meeting runs over, then try to ensure that the next night you leave on time.
If you’re consistently working late, then it’s time to review your workload. Are there seasonal issues? Consider how the work can be distributed more evenly. It’s hard to say no, especially if you want to be seen as capable. But believe me, your sanity will thank you for it later.
Dealing with Perfectionism
We all make mistakes. Just acknowledging this can be liberating. I appreciate it’s easier said than done.
Set deadlines or time limits for the task you’re working on. Accept that good is enough. No-one, and I really do mean no-one gets things right a 100% of the time.
One tactic that has helped me is blocking time out in my diary to work on specific items. I use that time to focus on just one thing. Doing too many things at once isn’t productive. This is when mistakes happen.
If need be, lock yourself in a padded room where no-one will hear you scream. I’m joking, just lock yourself away so you won’t be disturbed.
How to deal with criticism
Look at criticism objectively. Not easy when in that moment you want to rip someone’s eyes out. But stay calm.
Take a step back, take a deep breath and then as you smile through gritted teeth say thank you.
You might find that on reflection, their comment has value. Consider the source of the feedback. Is this someone you trust and respect? Or someone you don’t have time for?
Remember, it’s your choice as to whether to accept the criticism or not. Honestly, you can ignore it if you want to.
Create An Achievement List
When you feel like a fraud, it’s hard to see your achievements. Try this exercise.
- Grab a piece of paper and pen, or open a document on your computer.
- Create two columns.
- In the first column, make a list of all the things that you have achieved to date, and I mean everything – passed your cycling proficiency – add it in.
If you get stuck, ask a trusted friend to offer suggestions. Sometimes we don’t recognise our own achievements until someone else points them out to us.
In the second column, put down the details of how you made each one happen. For example, passed my exam, you could put; set a timetable, studied in time increments and so forth.
At the end of the exercise, you will have a list of all your achievements and most importantly, how they came about.
The benefit of the exercise is twofold.
- Knowing this will help you repeat the process for other challenges that you are facing. A framework you can be confident in.
- You will see in black and white what you have managed to accomplish. This will boost your confidence and help you realise that you’re not an imposter.
Rather than think ‘who am I to do this?’ which is the ugly voice of imposter syndrome, change your inner dialogue to ‘Who am I not to do this? Or, ‘if not me, then who?
Tap into your own unique skills. Recognise that you do have the ability, which will be easier if you have created your achievement list. You won’t feel like a fraud if you are being genuine about your own skills.
Set A Time Limit
When faced with an overwhelming number of tasks or delays due to your perfectionism, use a timer to set a limit on how long you will have to complete tasks.
Many people use the Pomodoro Technique.
It’s one of my favourite techniques when I’m feeling overwhelmed or, I’m procrastinating on something. Remember to break the task into manageable segments. You want to see quick and easy progress to regain your confidence.
Recognise ‘Good is Good Enough’
My husband has a great phrase that he uses when I’m working too long on something – ‘are you gilding the lily?’ At some point what you’ve done is sufficient. It’s good enough.
As one of my own coaches would say ‘progress over perfection’. You can always go back and refine if needed, but endlessly tweaking will hold you back.
Just Do It
Action is the antidote to fear. You can start with a small step, and be amazed at how the momentum can drive you forward. So make a start even if you don’t feel that you’re ready. You can’t feel like a fraud when you are taking action, especially with small considered steps.
Look within yourself as to what you should do. Does it feel right? It might be scary, but that just means that you are going outside your comfort zone. Only you will know what’s right for you so avoid the temptation to seek other people’s approval.
If you struggle to find your own validation, a coach can certainly help you to dig deep and explore the issues surrounding the doubt. I coach my private clients on this. Contact me if you would like to explore this further.
Recognising your achievements gives a boost to your confidence. And I definitely encourage you to celebrate it.. It doesn’t have to be a big affair, but perhaps have a reward in mind when you do accomplish something. I’ve treated myself to things such as afternoon tea with a friend, through to buying myself a new handbag. For smaller achievements, I’ve been known to add to my pen collection.
Ok, I’m a stationery addict, but it makes me happy.
Reward yourself with something that has meaning for you.
If you’ve been working hard on a project which has also involved a few late nights then taking some time out to get a massage or facial works really well.
Say Thank you to Compliments
I covered this above. But as a reminder, people don’t generally offer a compliment if they don’t mean it. In refusing a compliment you’re saying to the person who is giving it that you don’t believe them. Imagine if someone told you that you didn’t know what you’re talking about, how would you feel? Refusing the compliment, you’re telling the other person that they don’t know what they’re talking about. They don’t think you are an imposter.
So the next time someone pays you a compliment, smile and accept it.
Talk To Someone
Talking to colleagues can create more problems. Comparing your skills to theirs is a consequence. Or you might be in direct competition with them. One study suggested they can feed feelings of incompetence, rejection, and self-doubt
Your family love you, so will want to make you feel better. Classic bias.
What you might learn is that others too feel like a fraud. In either case, you’ll not get an objective assessment or clarity on how to face your doubt.
Instead, find someone outside of your immediate environment and chat it through with them. Other people can help you see a different perspective and help you look at your doubt, objectively.
Join A Club
Try something new. This year I joined a line dancing class. I’ll be honest, I’m hopeless. If I end the dance facing in the same direction as everyone else, it’s a miracle. But I feel great. I’m allowed to be imperfect, and I’m happy with that.
Making friends outside of work is healthy. They can help you feel more accepted for who you are. Your success isn’t dependent on one area of expertise and it’s a fun way to regain your confidence
If you feel like a fraud – Summary
Imposter syndrome is real. Although you feel like a fraud it doesn’t mean you are one.
Take comfort in knowing that there’s a lot of other women in your situation. If we trust the studies it would seem more women than not!
Behaviours associated with feeling like a fraud are damaging. Not only to your wellbeing but also to your economic chances for example job promotions or deciding to run your own business.
Sadly I can’t wave a magic wand and cure you. But, thankfully, you can minimize the impact especially if you seek help with how you feel and slowly start to regain your confidence.
As Clance and Imes said, the most effective way to overcome the imposter belief is to talk it through with someone so that current beliefs and ways of thinking can be addressed.
That’s why I decided to focus my coaching on the issue of confidence in women. If you feel like a fraud it eats away at your confidence and unless addressed can have major impacts on your life. I want to help women feel good about themselves.
Remember, you’re not alone. There are many who can say:
Bought the straight jacket!