If you can't seem to shake the feeling that you somehow lucked into your job, or that you aren't as qualified as your coworkers, you might be struggling with an issue known as imposter syndrome. This feeling, first coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes, affects many woman and can lead to feelings of doubt and worthless at work.
"Imposter syndrome replays negative repetitive thoughts in the afflicted, such as 'I can’t do this; I’m a fraud,'" Dr. Andrea J. Marsden, an assistant psychology professor at Beacon College in Florida, tells Bustle. "It causes one to live in fear and worry about being 'found out.'" And that can, for obvious reasons, lead to all sorts of undue stress.
If this describes you, there are ways to deal with the issue. "The first step is awareness," says licensed clinical psychologist Christopher L. Barnes, PsyD. And the second step is making a concerted effort to counteract your fears. "[Assertiveness is] typically avoided by those with imposture syndrome, as they fear it may expose their inabilities," Barnes says. But this is exactly what you need to do to not only overcome the fear, but to show yourself you are, in fact, qualified for your job. Read on for some signs this may be what's going on, so you can start to feel more secure at work.
1. You're Convinced You Got Lucky
If you're experiencing imposter syndrome, you may not be able to accept that your talents and credentials got you where you are today. "In your brain, there is that voice that says 'I only got this job because [so and so] knew the head of HR, or the interviewer and I had great rapport, but I still have no idea what I am doing,'" says Barnes. It's quite common to feel like luck had something to do with it.
2. You're Certain You'll Be "Found Out" And Fired At Any Moment
If it feels like you somehow talked your way into your new position, you might worry about being "found out" and fired. As Barnes says, "... while on the job, there is a constant fear that someone is going to expose you or that somehow everyone will find out that you are a fraud." Even though that's totally not the case.
3. You Don't Feel Confident
It's OK to feel a bit of pressure, especially if you're working on a big project or taking on a lot of responsibilities. But it's not normal to experience a total lack of confidence at work. "I usually recognize that a client has imposter syndrome when they describe a lack of confidence in their professional or academic work in the face of actual credentials, success, or achievements," says professional hypnotherapist Luke Chao. If this is you, it could be that you feel like somewhat of an "imposter."
4. You Get Nervous And Make Mistakes
You notice that, despite your best efforts, you make a lot of mistakes. And once it happens, everything starts to go down hill. "Our brains begin to play games with us and use those mistakes as data to support your fear (that you are not good enough)," Barnes says. "But the mistakes are a function of you anxiety surrounding feeling like a fraud, rather than your true abilities."
5. You're The Only One Who Doesn't Know What They're Doing
Or, at least it feels that way. If you watch your coworkers and feel like they "get it" and you don't, take note. "Imposter syndrome is the feeling that everyone else around you has it all figured out, and you're just faking it," executive life coach Lara Heacock tells Bustle. While it's definitely not true, the feeling can be difficult to shake.
6. You Don't Feel Like You "Belong" At Work
When you're feeling unqualified for your job, or like you "lucked" into it, it can be difficult to accept that your coworkers are, in fact, your peers, licensed clinical psychologist David Songco, PsyD tells me. You might even feel nervous around them, or like they're somehow way better than you.
7. You Avoid Certain Tasks That You "Can't" Do
If you don't immediately understand something at work, you worry that this will be the thing that gives you away. "You might feel increased anxiety surrounding performance, avoidance of certain tasks where you feel inferior, or ... believe that you may not have the necessary skill," Barnes says.
8. You Take On Extra Work To Prove Your Worth
On the flip side, people experiencing imposter syndrome often take on extra work to prove themselves. "You may be over-committing to additional tasks thinking that maybe you can prove your worth or ability through quantity rather than quality," Barnes says. But this can lead to problems, too. "If you are only giving 10 percent of your work to 10 different activities in an attempt to defend against an irrational fear, you may be setting yourself up for failure (which you will then use as data to support your idea that you are not good enough)."
9. You Truly Can't Handle Compliment
Because it never feels like you're doing a good job, it can be difficult to hear and accept compliments. As Alexandra Isenegger, the CEO of Linkilaw tells me, you might even catch yourself downplaying your efforts — even when you clearly did a great job. "Someone that suffers from imposter syndrome will see their efforts as less relevant or impactful as their peers," she says. "Even when others welcome their work and contribution, they don't see their actions as worthy as others."
10. You Experience Genuine Shock When Someone Congratulates You
If it's gotten in your head that your work isn't as great as everyone else's, it'll likely come as quite the shock when someone congratulates you on a job well done. As Isenegger tells me, you might feel like you aren't worthy of the praise, and you may even feel a sense of guilt for "duping" everyone.
11. You Feel Weird About Taking A Vacation
Vacations are important for your mental health, and your productivity. But if you have imposter syndrome, you might not feel comfortable enough to take one. As career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen says, "They fear that when they are absent a crisis may occur that they should have anticipated, or that someone else will outperform them and that management will see eventually them as less valuable."
12. You Are A Perfectionist
Most people want to do a good job at work, but Cohen tells me women with imposter syndrome take it to a whole other level. In the same way you don't feel comfortable taking a vacation, you might not feel comfortable leaving even the tiniest thing undone, lest someone swoop in and appear to be "better" than you.
13. You Remind Everyone Of Your "Faults"
As Isenegger tells me, you catch yourself "admitting your faults and shortcomings" when someone gives you positive attention, which won't likely make a lot of sense to them. But for you, your accomplishments just don't seem to measure up to everyone else's.
And that is, at the core, what "imposter syndrome" really is. If any of this sounds familiar, start changing that script in your head. Assert yourself at work, work on your confidence, and start to let it sink in that you are, in fact, qualified for your job.
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