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Published on November 15, 2022

illustration of woman with imposter syndrome

If You Feel Like an Impostor, You Can Overcome Your Doubts

You landed the job. You’ve made it to Day 1, and now, you’re certain someone will step into your new office and insist mistakes were made – you’re not the right person for this role.

That’s impostor syndrome, a mindset that hits many people who start a new job, a new position within a company or a role in life they never had before.

Full stop: Before you let this feeling overwhelm you, realize it’s amazingly common. Writers, actors and heads of state all have said – yes, this happens to me. So if it happens to you, you’re in good company.

“Waves of self-doubt can drive us to question whether we truly deserve what we’ve earned,” said Tim Heerts, MA, Clinical Specialist with Avera Employee Assistance Program. “It’s a particularly common feeling, especially among young professionals.”

It comes in waves and can sidetrack the promise and progress that should accompany the actual situation.

Here’s how to recognize it – and fight back.

Self-Doubt Affects Everyone

Part of the problem with impostor syndrome is its fancy name. The word impostor sounds almost criminal; a syndrome can make it sound like a genetic condition, Heerts said.

“People dealing with self-doubt aren’t bad people – and they’re not sick,” Heerts said. “They are just human, and they’re trying to find their place in the world.”

Heerts said negative self-talk can wreck your confidence. You can call this internal monologue “stinkin’ thinking” like 12-step programs recommend, or you can personify it. It’s best to develop tactics that work – for you. Rebuilding confidence is a good starting point.

“I imagine it as a tape deck in my head, and I reach out and hit stop, then pull the tape out,” Heerts said, alluding to the typical negative self-talk that comes with feelings of fraud/self-doubt.

How to Cope with Impostor Syndrome

If you sprain your ankle and ignore it, your limping pain can get worse. If you get that injury evaluated, elevated and put some ice on it, the pain might decrease sooner.

Impostor syndrome or feelings like it can make us freeze up in our work and relationships, because we’re trying to be ‘perfect’ and it’s not achievable.

“When the wave of doubt ends up sabotaging our effort, we have to seek ways to overcome it," Heerts said.

The most obvious one comes with age: waiting. Time will elapse, and a new normal can begin, even in times when we feel like failures. Other strategies for overcoming doubt include:

  • Take a break or change the scenery around you.
  • Talk to a friend, loved one or mentor.
  • Seek a professional counselor who can guide your plan to overcome the challenges.

“Feelings of inferiority are natural, common and best of all – reversible,” Heerts said.

Heerts said he’s had countless clients who attest to feeling better after a single session.

Many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs to help team members.

Sometimes Self-Doubt Actually Helps You

Self-doubt can also drive most of us to do better work, seek more challenges and sharpen our skills.

“We can push ourselves when we have doubts, and we find success when we stop and realize something simple,” said Heerts. “Perfect is not realistic; being imperfect isn’t failure.”

Changing our thinking will come, in time, but requires patience as well as grace.

“Confidence and competence are not the same thing,” he added. “As humans, we’ll have successes … and we’ll stub our toes. We like success, but we have to understand we can bounce back in those times it doesn’t happen or we feel like impostors.”

Find a behavioral health professional if you need help with self-doubt or other issues.

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