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How to Understand and Cope with Imposter Syndrome

In official terms Imposter Syndrome refers to ‘an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be’, it can be an extremely debilitating feeling and holds so many people back from following their dreams and trying new things. Research that shows that 70% of us have or will experience it at some point in our lives. That’s a lot of people experiencing something that is rarely spoken about.

You may have finally got that dream job or worked hard for the promotion but every day you suffer with the niggling feeling that you don’t deserve it. That people are looking at you like you aren’t capable or waiting for you to mess up so they can say ‘I told you so’. This feeling is not just exclusive to one gender or type of person. People all over the world are known to suffer with this feeling, often in very high-power positions and without ever discussing it openly. It can be a very difficult syndrome to live with and hold many back from achieving their dreams.

The cause of imposter syndrome seems to stem from a family environment where a high level of performance is expected but in which mixed messages of criticism and over-praise is experienced by a child. This may lead to goal-oriented behavior on the one hand but in turn could create intellectual self-doubt and feelings of personal effort never being adequate.” says Juan Van Wyk, Clinical Psychologist at The Lighthouse Arabia Center for Wellbeing.

Dr Juan Van Wyk told us that this experience was first referred to as Imposter Phenomenon, or Imposter Syndrome as we refer to it today, by psychologist Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the seventies. It is the inability to internalise success attained but an individual which causes fear of being unmasked as a fraud. These are people who seem to have made it, yet are convinced that it is through pure luck, that they do not really deserve it nor have what it takes.

“It is important to mention that imposter syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis, but a phenomenon acknowledged by psychologists. This might however be accompanied by anxiety and even depression.” Juan explains.

Worldwide we live in a society in which the pressure to succeed and perform at high levels are common, especially in this region. This further instils the idea that individuals’ worth is determined by their performance or achievements. This exacerbates the fear and doubt in individuals with imposter syndrome.

Juan’s recommended ways to cope with Imposter Syndrome:

1. Seek the input from a mentor. It is important to receive support and encouragement to change the old, cohesive narrative about yourself.

2. Identify your strengths and what you are truly good at and areas in which you know you need more development. This helps to establish a realistic sense of self.

3. Impart your knowledge and expertise to others on a more junior level than you. This might assist in realizing just how much you actually know and can do.

4. Intentionally aim for “good enough” not perfection.

5. Seek professional help to assist you in reframing your thoughts and beliefs.


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