Impostor Syndrome – how CBT counselling can helpAn article came via my feeds on the subject of “Impostor syndrome” and it got me thinking about the phenomenon.
What is Impostor syndrome?
My clients would mostly describe their experience of ’impostor syndrome’ as a gnawing anxiety, a constant worry related to their work role. They commonly feel a chronic sense of being not good enough at a job or role. They will often experience negative internal thoughts about ‘not being as good as’, or deserving as, their peers. Most will say they are inevitably just ”waiting to be found out” – they fear they will be exposed as failures and dismissed.
“I tell myself I only got the job by fluke..” [-typical impostor syndrome negative self belief]
Impostor syndrome is generally an issue of CBT for low self esteem can really help address that underlying self doubt and critical self belief of “I’m not good enough”.
But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater here – cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) doesn’t dismiss the realities of life – it works with them. I recall a client a while back who presented with ‘impostor syndrome’. He was already on a performance management procedure at work and his manager had specifically told him he simply wasn’t living up to the promise he’d shown at interview six months previously. But was he ‘an impostor’? No, far from it. He was extraordinarily intelligent, and very capable verbally but he really struggled with paperwork. What he hadn’t realised was that a combination of un-diagnosed dyslexia and ADHD hindered him in certain work roles – when his job was active and verbal he excelled: now promoted to an administrative role he was failing. In his case he really was in the wrong job – not because we wasn’t smart enough or talented enough – but because he needed to be in a work environment that allowed flexibility when he was working. This was a client who would come across very well in interview – but who didn’t suit the formal work environment, and ultimately did need to move job: now working in IT he’s incredibly successful.
Dealing with Impostor syndrome
Of course, it’s natural to feel a bit deskilled when taking on a new promotion or moving to a new job. However, those anxieties would normally fade after a few months – or perhaps a year or so by which time you might reasonably feel settled in the role. Impostor syndrome however lingers – it never goes away and every minor error or failure gets magnified to catastrophic levels.
But let’s get some perspective on making mistakes: after all, who really wants to be Percy Perfect: Humans are fallible and making mistakes is how we learn. I love this quote from the article, although it relates to programming it is so true for life more generally:
“programming largely consists of constantly failing, trying some things, failing some more, and trying more things until it works. One of the biggest differences between experienced and novice programmers is that experienced programmers know more things to try”
Everyone makes mistakes, (some are better at hiding it than others) so simply be prepared to work through mistakes, errors; failures and find new solutions. This ability, to learn from mistakes is what ultimately defines the most successful people – they make the most mistakes. Giving ourselves permission to make mistakes and learn from them is the key to allowing ourselves to thrive and be successful.
If you think you have ‘impostor syndrome’ then counselling can help you tackle it. In counselling you will talk through the situation to get a more objective stance on it, then develop strategies to overcome it. Contact me via this link to book a session: I offer face to face counselling for people in South Wales (Cardiff; Newport and South East Valleys), and skype counselling for people unable to attend in person. Here’s the link: Imposter Syndrome: Read the article about impostor syndrome