By Erick Garcia MHA, CDP, and Monica Ibarra MSEd, CDP

We all think differently even when we look at the same thing. Our identity contributes to our schemas and representations which technically are correct. However, those differences bubble up uncertainties within us. Leaving us to question if I speak out, will I be wrong? And potentially folks will now have the proof that I do not belong here!

What does it take for a person, us, to step away from impostor syndrome? That is a million-dollar question. Impostor syndrome is the feeling(s) you will be out as a fraud, feeling unworthy of success, dismissing positive feedback from others, over-preparing for tasks, and/ or identifying accomplishments on luck vs. capabilities.

“Up to 82% of people face feelings of impostor phenomenon, struggling with the sense they haven’t earned what they’ve achieved and are a fraud,” stated Dena Bravata, M.D., M.S., an internist. “These feelings can contribute to increased anxiety and depression, less risk-taking in careers, and career burnout.”

Imposter syndrome is increasingly being portrayed in the media and popular literature as a significant behavioral health disorder that impairs job performance.

Clinical Psychologist Audrey Ervin, Ph.D. spoke of impostor syndrome as a phenomenon that can drain interrelations. It is hard to develop a relationship with coworkers and patients when one is afraid of being exposed.

For example, coming from a family of athletes, an individual may be the first one to admit they do not have great coordination, are not an athlete, and were consistently chosen last for gym class or community sports team year after year. Going forward, this narrative of being less than or incapable of would become hard to shake and overcome even as identity shifts.

Impostor syndrome describes people who cannot internalize their success and believe their achievements were the results of chance or extraordinary effort. The concept was originally thought to occur more frequently in women.

Here are some other examples that illustrate impostor syndrome:
⦁ You have obtained credentials in the field you dreamed of, yet you are filled with fear of being called out as a fraud because for years you have heard others say people like you are not smart enough to be in this profession.
⦁ You have written and published an article that has received positive feedback. However, this public praise is not enough to dismiss your feelings of unworthiness.
⦁ You are new to this role and have been in the profession for years. You doubt your preparedness and knowledge of being in this role with constant thoughts of “Am I good enough to be here?”
⦁ You are aware of your family’s history within an organization you were admitted to, and you wonder “Am I here because I earned it or because I am a legacy?”

You are not alone if you see yourself in any of these examples.

Psychology Today reported that 25 to 30 percent of successful people may suffer from impostor syndrome. According to research, about 70 percent of adults may feel cheated at least once in their life.

“Being caught between the desire to flourish and fear of achieving success can be painful and paralyzing. That fear may be indicative of specific fears such as the fear of responsibility, making a mistake, uncertainty, or an identity shift. Learning to tolerate discomfort and accept imperfection can help overcome the fears that prevent people from striving for success.” – Psychology Today

Over time people develop strategies to counter the symptoms of impostor syndrome embracing discomfort and accepting imperfection to overcome the fears. Using the following strategies to build a foundation for your awareness will fortify your personal interpretation to hold space as an academic, an athlete, an ally, etc.

⦁ Look at the evidence. Take a personal assessment or tally of the work you have completed, are developing, or are looking to complete. This is a tangible affirmation of your accomplishments.
⦁ Self-talk with compassion. Ask yourself, “How would I support a friend or colleague who minimizes their accomplishments?” Use this realization and reflection to normalize the same supportive and compassionate language within your internal monologue.
⦁ Celebrate your successes. Take the wins. Small or large, the totality of the achievements fosters a disposition of worthiness for you to be aware of when impostor syndrome enters your thoughts.

Remember, numerous people feel this way.
As indicated above, Self-talk with compassion is a tool to counter impostor syndrome.

The American Psychological Association states that using mindfulness to shift from an external place of self-worth to an internal one can help you let go of perfectionism. Notice when your impostor’s feelings come up and how you react to them.
“Whereas Impostor [Syndrome] is unconscious and mindless, mindfulness can help you move in a different direction,” said the American Psychological Association. “It’s about learning to recognize those feelings of fear and learning to truly be OK as you are, without your accomplishments.”

Remember you are not alone in this mindset. Impostor syndrome occurs in new parents, new team members and senior leaders in an organization.
Take time to intentionality cultivate your self-compassion.

Bravata, D. M., et al. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: A Systematic Review. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(4), 1252-1275.
Palmer, C. (2021, June 1). How to overcome impostor phenomenon. Monitor on Psychology. Retrieved February 14, 2023, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2021/06/cover-impostor-phenomenon.
Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Imposter syndrome. Psychology Today. Retrieved February 9, 2023, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/imposter-syndrome

About the Authors 

Monica Ibarra is an Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Advisor to the Research Shield, the Education Shield, the Health System, and Shared Services. She has worked extensively within Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity spaces over the last 15 years. Including within Wisconsin K-12 urban classrooms, Wisconsin and Minnesota Higher Education, and on various Equity Committees and Boards such as the Minnesota Association Of Professional  Employees Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (MAPE EDIC), Minnesota Association of Community Corrections Act Counties (MACCAC), the Ramsey Corrections Advisory Board (CAB), and the Volunteers In Corrections (VIC) board. Monica has a bachelor’s degree in Education from Carroll University, a master’s degree in Education with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from the University of Minnesota. Monica spends her time reading, writing, as an urban gardener, and kayaking on the Chain of Lakes in MPLS. MSEd, CDP

 

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