Have you ever felt you did not deserve a praise, a compliment or even that promotion even though you were actually qualified and the results reflected your brilliant performance? If that is the case, you might have experienced what it has become known as imposter syndrome. 

At SPEAK we had the honour to welcome Tara Halliday B.Eng., PhD, Dip. Healing Science, who on May 25th shared with us not only what imposter syndrome is, but also how to recognize it and work toward breaking that cycle. With this post, we sum up her core message.

What is imposter syndrome?

Originally designated as “imposter phenomenon”, it is the secret feeling of being a fraud (when you’re not) and the fear of being found out. It occurs specifically in professional environments. The studies around this condition, even though it is not a medical syndrome, developed around the second half of the 70’s but started to get wider attention in 2015. And logically so, since around 70% of high achievers have at some point in their career experienced it. So, let’s better understand what we mean by it when we talk about imposter syndrome.

What is it not?

Let’s begin by what doesn’t fall under the definition of imposter syndrome:

  • It is not an actual fraud: the qualifications, your performance and your experience all support the fact that you really are qualified for the job and the results show it. 
  • It is not a medical syndrome: this feeling is not one that requires psychotherapy, which helps an individual to move from a dysfunctional behaviour to formal functioning. It is rather experienced in the spectrum ranging from formal to peak functioning.
Graph explaining how Imposter Syndrome is experienced in the spectrum ranging from formal to peak functioning.
  • It is not a women’s issue: being conditioned to express more freely their feelings, an early survey seemed to show that mainly female participants were affected by it. However, once the same survey was made anonymous at a later stage in the 90’s, the percentage shifted and shone a light on imposter syndrome being organically a human condition.
  • It is not low self-esteem: which would affect every aspect of your life. Imposter syndrome however doesn’t affect your logic knowing that you are capable of something and yet you still feel you are not good enough. You have two contradicting beliefs and it causes confusion.

How does it manifest?

Imposter syndrome, similarly to a flu, manifests itself with specific behaviours and feelings. As we mentioned, it happens when two beliefs coexist in our minds but they do not complement each other. This causes confusion.

Also, the definition overtly describes it being a secret feeling. The secrecy aspect of it implies that the individual would not be likely to talk about his state of mind, leading towards isolation from the rest of their colleagues or friends.

Having to constantly battle against this dichotomy leads also to distraction and anxiety which in return not only end up with taking bad decisions, but in the worst-case scenario, might also cause a full-scale burnout.

It has been shown that imposter syndrome shuts the prefrontal cortex (where logical thinking takes place) activates that part of our brain which switches on the flight-fight-freeze response. This state is useful to humans in case of danger, but a prolonged state in this survival mode, triggers physiological changes in our nervous system.

Our creativity drops by 50%, we are prone to lose up to 13 IQ points (the average is around 100 points) and they are accompanied by irritability and impulsiveness.

What are its triggers?

The responses to imposter syndrome are unique. Each of us might experience different profiles of it: it might manifest more at a thought level for some (self doubt, self criticism and over-thinking), while for others it would show up with certain behaviours (procrastinating, comparing, hiding opinions and perfectionism. Or it might strongly affect your nervous system causing lack of sleep, anxiety and the fight-flight-freeze response.

Stacking stressful situations is one of the triggers. When we forget to take breaks, get proper rest and foster calm, imposter syndrome might find a fertile soil.

Transitions as a promotion or changing country, in the case of migrants, also cause this feeling. Finally toxic behaviours surrounding us, such as bullying, violent scenarios and microaggressions lie behind the experience of this condition.

Graph explaining what happens with our nervous system, behaviours and thoughts when experiencing Imposter Syndrome

How to outsmart imposter syndrome?

Imposter syndrome is not permanent and there is a lot you can do to outsmart and manage it.

You can break it down into three areas to work on: your mind, your actions and your body.

By addressing your mind, you will remind yourself that you are not alone and you can do something.

Your body will also help you through this if you care enough for it: practise being calm and self-care, immerse yourself in a relaxed environment, get active and challenge your body.

And when the time to take action comes remember to take small steps. Set your priorities straight and, if you feel the need to, reach out for help.

Conquer Imposter Syndrome by Belonging

As discussed in the webinar, imposter syndrome is not partial to a specific demographic. It can be experienced in different contexts, be it a new job or a new country. It manifests at different levels and now that you know what they are, you can more easily watch out for them – be it yourself or someone else. Having a supportive and safe environment helps prevent such contradictory beliefs to cause some “fraud” feelings.

Here’s your invite to conquer Imposter Syndrome by belonging: Join a language group and connect with other people from all over the world who might be experiencing a similar situation than yours and get the support system you need to overcome it. 

At SPEAK we thrive to champion those kinds of environments by supporting migrants to integrate in their new home. OurThanks to language groups, the goal is to empower the new-comers communicate with the locals and feel welcome and seen.

Did you find this interesting? Discover more about the Power of Learning About Other Cultures, How to Make Friends in a New City and more in our past blog articles. 

A note on the speaker: Tara Halliday PhD is a specialist in Imposter Syndrome with 22 years of experience as an holistic therapist and coach. She is also the author of Amazon #1 bestseller “Unmasking”. Her background includes a Diploma in Healing Science and trainings as a Certified Inner Worth Coach and Neurofeedback Trainer.

Author: Valentina Rampazzo

Valentina is a polyglot and a culture deep diver. She has lived in 5 countries across Europe and has most recently joined SPEAK as a Copywriter Intern. Her passions are her plants, plant-based cooking and writing.

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