5 Small-But-Painful Triggers For People With Imposter Syndrome

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Woman losing confidence at work

Imposter syndrome is a somewhat mysterious mind trap that affects most people's confidence at one time or another.

Have you ever felt like an imposter at your job? Are you afraid that your boss or colleagues might find out that you don't have all the answers or aren't as talented as they think?

What are the negative thought loops that keep swirling in your mind, depleting your energy?

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Do they sound something like, "Do I deserve to be here? They must have made a mistake in hiring me." Or, "If they find out I don’t know the answer, they’re going to fire me."

Or even, "I’m not as good as they think I am! Have I done enough? Should I have worked more?"

How often do thoughts like these play in your mind, like a recording on an endless loop? And worse, what’s the impact on your mental and physical health when these loops start to play over and over and over again?

It can be exhausting. 

Imposter syndrome affects both mental and physical health

When these negative thoughts start swirling in your mind, it creates a cascade of other physiological issues, as well.

Increased stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline start flowing through your body — getting you prepared to fight or run from the perceived threat.

This can stir up a myriad of feelings like dread, lack of confidence, self-doubt, or being inadequate, which can lead to anxiety, restlessness, poor sleep, stress, sweaty palms, and worse.

This negative self-talk can also lead to more severe conditions like migraines, IBS, adrenal fatigue, panic attacks, and even heart attacks in some severe cases.

What is imposter syndrome?

According to Wikipedia, imposter syndrome is "a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills, talents, or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a 'fraud'."

Despite external evidence of their competence, those experiencing this phenomenon remain convinced that they are frauds, and do not deserve all they have achieved.

Individuals experiencing impostor syndrome incorrectly attribute their success to luck as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent than they perceive themselves to be.

Many people — and especially high achievers — experience imposter syndrome.

First and foremost, it’s important that you know this: You are not alone.

Psychology Today tells us that around 25 to 30 percent of high achievers may suffer from imposter syndrome.

And around 70 percent of adults — both male and female — may experience impostor syndrome at least once in their lifetime, research suggests.

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Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes were the clinical psychologists who first identified and named the phenomenon back in 1978 in their research with high-achieving professional women.

Research shows, however, that men and women can equally suffer from imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome arises from feeling inadequate.

While a healthy dose of modesty is always a good thing, imposter syndrome takes it much deeper.

It arises from the sense of being inadequate in a particular environment, that you don’t belong, despite the data that would otherwise prove your levels of competence.

Despite overcoming obstacles and challenges large and small in your life, the feelings of self-doubt, inadequacy, fear of failure, and fear of not being enough can loom large in your mind.

Which can then trigger yet more feelings of shame, guilt, and depression. All of which hurts how you show up to do your job, your levels of creativity, and your productivity.

Pay attention to your body's signals.

High achievers are often suffering in silence, as well. Their shame and guilt have them hiding out and not sharing their feelings with others. Certainly, not a colleague!

Over time, this quiet killer can take an immense toll on someone as the fear, worry, and self-doubt build up inside and easily fester into both physical and emotional challenges.

This is your body's way of trying to get your attention, my friend.

It's telling you that you need to talk with someone like a trusted confidant or counselor to get an outside, objective perspective, so you can process your emotions, recognize your own achievements, and gain the clarity you need to take back your power from your fears.

As someone who has battled with this issue and overcame many aspects of it in my career, asking for help and guidance is a powerful step to reclaiming your confidence.

What triggers imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome breeds what therapists call "cognitive distortions" or thinking errors. These distorted beliefs we hold about ourselves come from a variety of factors that are amplified over time.

The longer these distortions persist, the more ingrained they become in our psyche and self-perception.

RELATED: 7 Deep Questions To Ask Yourself When You Feel Like You're Not Good Enough

Do you have imposter syndrome? Here are 5 small-but-painful triggers that can crush your confidence:

1. Your family of origin

As a child, your parents, guardians, or other family members may have been overly critical of you or put too much emphasis on being a high achiever.



2. Social pressures

Being part of a group or social circle, which offers conditional acceptance and approval based on your achievements, can start at an early age.

3. Sense of belonging

One of the major fears of imposter syndrome is being found out and then cast out or discarded.

Any situation in your lifetime, that has made you feel different or excluded from the group — whether that's language, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, religion, or physical or learning differences — can fuel fears and doubts, and trigger imposter syndrome.

And this sense of not belonging, once captured in your subconscious mind, can stay with you for years, driving your behaviors until you recognize the beliefs and behaviors, and consciously change them.



4. Disposition

Based on your life experiences, some people are more prone to adopting the external pressures of work and stress, which then get embedded at a subconscious level.

5. Societal norms

Male-dominated industries, such as technology, for example, tend to have more gender bias that comes in both explicit and subtle forms. This bias can easily make highly skilled women succumb to stereotype-driven expectations.

Some combination of these factors causes us to not believe in our accomplishments and abilities. To discount or downplay our achievements and all we’ve gone through to get to where we are today.

It’s also important to recognize the powerful impact of feeling "not enough" or "inadequate" can create a downward spiral of emotions such as low self-esteem and self-worth, lack of confidence, shame, or even depression.

This prevents you from speaking up for yourself, stops you from asking to be as equitably paid as your counterparts, and even discourages you from taking credit for your hard work when credit is due

It also inhibits you from seeking new opportunities that elevate your career or from exploring beneficial relationships, personally or professionally

All of these can stifle your personal and professional growth.

The good news is, that once you start to recognize the effects that imposter syndrome is having on your health, well-being, and career success, you're then able to consciously choose how you’d like to move forward with more grace, grit, and self-compassion.

Isn't it time to step out of the shadows and into the recognition you deserve?

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Michele Molitor, CPCC, CHt, is a certified coach and hypnotherapist, and co-author of the book Breakthrough Healing. She assists high-achieving professionals in reducing their overwhelm and reclaiming their self-confidence, calm, and clarity to create a thriving life and career.

This article was originally published at Linked In. Reprinted with permission from the author.