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Dealing with imposter phenomenon and its downfalls

Ever felt like your success is down to luck? Or that you’ve somehow managed to fluke your way into your achievements and accomplishments? Well you’re not alone. Imposter phenomenon, is what psychologists explain as the experience of feeling as though you don’t belong where you are, that you’re undeserving of your success, or simply just feeling like a fraud.

Working with imposter phenomenon

The phrase imposter phenomenon was first coined by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1980s and was originally observed in high-achieving women. Pauline described imposter phenomenon as “an intense feeling of intellectual phoniness despite success” – how many of us can say we’ve never felt this to some degree?

Dr Terri Simpkin – my go to Guru on all things imposter and founder of – explains that those from a minority background often suffer from imposter phenomenon the most. “I was the only woman on a board of 30-40 members and often it felt implausible that I should be there. Even though this is not rational thinking, our imposter takes over, and add that to the issues minority groups are already facing with less opportunity, fewer role models etc and it feels like we are pushing water uphill.”

An example can be found within the field of Law, where a lack of diversity is apparent, with women often found to be a minority – this can then lead to feelings of inadequacy. Ropes & Gray, Withers, and Irwin Mitchell are firms with the highest proportion of female partners, according to a Their International diversity survey that shows women make up on average one in four partners at top firms in the UK. Irwin Mitchell’s London head, Alison Eddy, said: “The industry needs to be more reflective of the communities in which it works. Many of our clients still see law firms as being middle class white men…we all need to work hard to challenge that. It’s really important to provide women, and other minorities at law firms, with leadership training, to celebrate their success and help them build confidence to take on bigger challenges and roles.”

Imposter phenomenon affects approximately 70% of people at some point in their lives*, with both men and women across a varying range of age groups within a variety of professions experiencing these feelings.

The dangers of imposter phenomenon

It’s no surprise that there are negative effects that come with suffering from imposter phenomenon,  which then have a knock-on effect on the work we do. It then ends up being a perpetuating cycle that can be hard to break out of. Some examples of negative impacts are:

  1. Difficulty networking/socialising effectively and a reluctance to self-promote within organisations.
  2. Tendency to avoid challenges and responsibility.
  3. The illusion that our careers will stay as they are or worse, deteriorate.
  4. A reluctance to apply for promotions and even a tendency to leave a role due to the pressing thought one will be “found out!”
  5. An inability to see our true capabilities and therefore a lack of self-awareness.

Session 3 of my Back on Track programme looks at how the voice within us has the ability to change our narrative. One wonderful and simple trick is to flip it! Take your negative phrase, such as “I could not do this” and then turn it on its head and look for the evidence to prove your new statement right. Find times in the past when you have completed similar tasks and think of comments colleagues or friends often make that points to your success in this area.

Finding a mentor or coach that can help you navigate the negative impact of imposter phenomenon is another way to regain control and change your outlook. A third party, such as a mentor or coach, will give you unbiased support and an objective perspective that will enable you to look at your life, career and achievements through a more positive lens.

For years now, my clients have been keeping a PAL! A positive attitude log and this is my key ingredient for getting rid of the imposter. Unlike the well-known gratitude journals which document things that happen TO us, the PAL looks at what YOU have done during the day to move you forward and impact your life.  If you would like a copy of the PAL, please get in touch and we will be delighted to get you started!

Working well-being

12th October is the beginning of National Work Life Week, focussing on our overall well-being in the workplace.

With imposter phenomenon having such negative effects on various aspects of our lives, especially on our work and careers, it’s important to recognise the ways we can begin to implement small positive changes.

World Mental Health Day focusses on the importance of prioritising our mental health during challenging times, while National Work Life Week highlights the importance of focussing on our well-being at work and cultivating a positive work-life balance. Both of which are central in nurturing the positive voice within.

My Back on Track programme provides a detailed exploration of imposter phenomenon and strategies on overcoming it, to become the best version of yourself, allowing you to enjoy the successes and accomplishments you’ve achieved!

For more information, register your interest here.

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