Impostor Syndrome and Anxiety: fake it till you make it?

Woman hiding behind door

What is Impostor Syndrome?

How many times have you felt like the odd one out in a room, or that you don’t deserve to be somewhere? You may not feel qualified or smart enough to be involved in discussions and fear that at any moment, you’re going to be found out as a fraud or a phony.

If this sounds like you, then don’t worry! This is impostor syndrome and it can happen to us all – including me.

Impostor syndrome is defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills.” and is often related to places of work or successful accolades we may have achieved e.g. publishing a book. In fact, some studies have shown that up to 82% of those tested feel impacted by impostor syndrome.

With this self-doubt implanted in our minds, it’s no surprise that impostor syndrome goes hand in hand with anxiety, but why do we get it and and why do we begin to challenge ourselves despite our successes proving otherwise? 

Woman hiding behind door

Who can be affected by Impostor Syndrome?

The answer is anyone! Impostor syndrome was first cited by Pauline Clance & Suzanne Imes in a study focusing on high-achieving women. Other studies now show that impostor syndrome affects both genders and is the mind’s inability to internalise successes, putting them down to things like luck instead.

Impostor syndrome affects people in all stages of their life and career and the associated negative thought spirals can often lead to worsening of anxiety or depression.

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What Causes Impostor Syndrome?

Whilst there is no clear-cut reason for why we feel like this, some scientists attribute it to factors such as upbringing and pressure to succeed. This could be made worse if there is competition between siblings or being criticised as a child.

There is also argument that individual character traits such as perfectionist tendencies, self-esteem and levels of anxiety also play a role in whether or not we face impostor syndrome. Labels such as ‘the smart one’ or ‘the talented one’ can also have an impact on our own perception growing up.

My Experience with Anxiety and Impostor Syndrome

From a young age, I often felt like I stuck out from others or felt like I didn’t belong in certain places. The most glaringly obvious trait was my complexion. Being of half-Asian descent, I wasn’t like the other girls and boys in my class and having moved around to numerous schools when I was younger, I was frequently the ‘new girl’ just trying to fit in. This remained true as I reached secondary school (aka middle and high school) between the ages of 11-18.

I’m very fortunate to have had such supportive parents growing up, challenging me to do my best but not overbearing. I never felt overworked or pressured to succeed, but did so out of my own self-pride and satisfaction.

Despite coming from a working-class family, I managed to get into 2 grammar schools (schools that were free to attend but dependent on academic ability). Yet, perhaps it was the schools themselves or the area I grew up, I noticed that I was different to the others on another level. 

Whilst my friends were able to go on the £3000 ski trips or sports tours, I was conscious of my family’s financial position and passed on such opportunities. I was even receiving free school meals – one of the 8 or 9 people doing so in a school of over 1,000 – and something I hadn’t admitted to anyone until this day. Whilst this didn’t impact my amazing friendships or education, at the back of my mind I still had this feeling telling me I didn’t deserve to be here, coupled with anxiety telling me that I would be judged for it.

Flash forward past university to my first corporate job in London. It was here where impostor syndrome really took hold, made worse by my nagging anxiety fuelling me with self-doubt. Starting any new job can be a daunting task, especially in a new industry, but over 4 years later I was still was thinking the same thoughts:

    • “What am I actually doing here?”
    • “I’m not experienced enough to do this task!”
    • “When will they find out that I’m not capable of this!”
    • “I am definitely the dumbest person in the room”

What confused me most was despite these thoughts, I was receiving praise… and increased responsibility… and even offers for promotions! My days were filled with uncertainty mixed with fear, and finally relief when I realised what I was doing wasn’t being thrown in the virtual recycling bin.

Even writing this blog, I still have thoughts of self-doubt and my capability but I’m tackling it one day at a time. People aren’t perfect so stop trying to be!

Woman at desk with laptop with head held in hands

How I Manage Anxiety and Impostor Syndrome

If you’re looking for an easy fix to tell you you’re doing fine, I’m afraid it’s not that easy but it is possible!

1. Reframe your negative thoughts

Instead of feeling like you don’t deserve something, try writing down what is going through your mind. Think about whether what you’re thinking is based upon actual evidence or if you’ve conjured up the thought unnecessarily. This helps bring back some perspective on your situation which may have been clouded by insecurity. Our Reframing Negative Thoughts notepads could help!

Woman at desk with laptop with head held in hands

2. Be kind to your yourself

Understand that you don’t need to know everything or be an expert! You may not be at the top of your field, but remember that not many people are. You’re on a journey of education and growth – with each experience we learn something new. Start celebrating the small wins and begin to appreciate your achievements!

3. Talk it out

Whether it be a mentor, colleague or therapist, don’t be afraid to let them know how you’re feeling. Chances are they’ve been in that position too! Both anxiety and impostor syndrome produce irrational thoughts which can be helped by receiving an outsider’s perspective.

Found this blog useful?

Whether you feel like an impostor sometimes or not, let us know in the comment section below!

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