Dealing with impostor syndrome

September 15, 2023

It’s common to feel like a fish out of water in a new job or personal role. But if these feelings are more severe, you may have impostor syndrome.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a psychological phenomenon (but not an official diagnosis) where one doubts that their accomplishments and successes are a result of their competence or abilities, says Kerri Sandilands, employee assistance experience coordinator at Manitoba Blue Cross.

“Those experiencing impostor syndrome may attribute their achievements to external factors or even luck, feeling they are undeserving of their accomplishments, and they may feel a constant need to prove themselves,” she says. “Some may even view themselves as a fraud and feel a sense of fear at the potential of being exposed.”

Who experiences impostor syndrome?

Some may think that impostor syndrome is limited to high-level professionals – but that’s not the case.

"This phenomenon is actually quite common for people from all backgrounds and walks of life, regardless of age, gender, culture, or profession,” Sandilands says. “Feelings or experiences of impostor syndrome can also occur at any stage within one’s life or professional journey, regardless of level of success.”

The effects of impostor syndrome

The effects of impostor syndrome can vary from person to person and may manifest differently depending on individual circumstances and coping mechanisms.  

For example, the desire for perfectionism in some may cause chronic stress and anxiety. Impostor syndrome can erode a person’s self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth, and these types of prolonged feelings of inadequacy can contribute to depression – which can spill over into other areas of life, including relationships with friends and family.

Impostor syndrome can damage a person’s professional growth, as they may avoid taking on new challenges or opportunities, fearing that they will fail or could be exposed as incompetent.  

The constant self-criticism and associated anxiety may impact their ability to focus and be productive, which can contribute to burnout – they may unreasonably push themselves too far to prove their worth.  

How can someone deal with impostor syndrome?

Dealing with impostor syndrome can be challenging, but there are some strategies that can help.

“Being self-aware and engaging in self-reflection to identify specific situations or triggers can be a helpful starting point,” Sandilands says. “It is important to acknowledge these feelings with self-compassion and to identify and challenge the negative thoughts and self-doubt. Setting realistic expectations for ourselves by breaking down larger goals into smaller, more easily achieved steps, with a focus on progress – not perfection – and celebrating the small accomplishments along the way can be helpful in gradually strengthening self-confidence.”

When dealing with impostor syndrome, it’s vital to prioritize self-care, Sandilands says.  

“Engaging in self-care practices can assist in promoting resilience by fostering emotional and physical wellbeing, reducing stress, and reinforcing self-worth and confidence,” she says. “I think the biggest takeaway is to provide yourself the kindness and compassion that you would provide to another person experiencing similar challenges.”

Counselling support from Manitoba Blue Cross

If you are struggling with impostor syndrome, reach out for help. Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get counselling support. Begin the process here.

Unsure of your coverage? Confirm your eligibility in your mybluecross® account.

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