Most of us have had an experience of feeling we are not good enough at our jobs despite evidence to the contrary. If this is a consistent theme in your stream of thoughts, you may be experiencing “impostor syndrome”. My friend and colleague Elizabeth Brokamp, shared the following information about impostor syndrome and steps to take to combat it.

Could You Have Impostor Syndrome?another-cat-imposter

Nearly one out of five American workers say that fear of losing their job is a primary cause of job dissatisfaction, according to a recent Gallup poll.  But what the Gallup poll does not delineate is how many of those workers are experiencing fear that is actually out of proportion to reality.  If you are among the nearly 20% of employees who fears termination, ask yourself this: Are you really one business email away from being fired or is something else going on?

Not long ago, a young woman sat across from me in a session, describing her work-related fears.  She was worried that her boss and colleagues see her as a “fraud,” unworthy of her advanced position in her company.  “I avoid saying my job title when I meet people,” she confided, “because I am worried that they’ll be thinking, ‘You?  You’re the Division President?”  She continued, “I wonder every day if I am going to be fired.” 

From past conversations, I know that she:

– is the youngest person at her level of authority in her company.

– has been promoted several times in her short career.

– has been offered numerous incentives to maintain employment following the birth of her first child – and,

– supervises a staff of employees, many of whom are older and have more years of employment. 

Given all of that, how is it possible that she feels so insecure about her standing in the company?

After probing with several cognitive therapy inspired questions, I said, “I think I may know what is going on here.”

She leaned forward in her seat, concern etched on her face.  “You do?  What is it?”

“Impostor syndrome,” I said.

You won’t find it in the DSM-V, the giant manual that therapists use to determine which psychological conditions their clients are confronting.  But the term was coined in the 1970s by two psychologists, Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD, who observed that many high-achieving people think it was a fluke that they are successful, rather than attributing their success to competence and hard work.

Afflicted with academic and career-oriented self-doubt, impostor syndrome sufferers are sure that everyone else is more qualified than they are.  Consequently, they can tend to develop perfectionistic tendencies, wanting to “make up” for their self-perceived inadequacies. 

While these feelings and misperceptions don’t detract from their work product, impostor syndrome sufferers are short-changed when it comes to their ability to enjoy their work.  It’s an uncomfortable, anxiety-provoking way to approach a career and can sometimes lead to over-working and burnout.    

Sound familiar?  If you’re interested in seeing whether you or someone you love has impostor syndrome, take the Clance Impostor Phenomenon Scale.

Did you score over 60?  Then it’s time to take Impostor Syndrome seriously.  The good news is that there are many ways that sufferers can mitigate the negative effects of their intellectual and career-oriented self-doubt. 

Seek out counseling with a professional knowledgeable about impostor syndrome.  Counseling can help you learn to quell the negative self-talk, do some reality testing, and learn stress reduction techniques that will help your on-the-job anxiety.

Challenge your own perfectionistic tendencies.  Try to change your goal from doing a job perfectly to doing it well or “good enough.”  Seek out support and advice from mentors or trusted colleagues so that you get validation and encouragement while trying to cut back.

Learn to effectively prioritize.  Perfectionists sometimes attribute too much importance to job tasks across the board, rather than dividing the list into “Must do,” “Would like to do,” and “Optional.”

Use apps to help you unwind on the job.  Andrew Johnson and Tara Brach are favorites.

Set boundaries around your work.  While another couple of hours at work may help you get more tasks done, the effect of never having true downtime is corrosive, not just to you but to your relationships.  Likewise, always being accessible by phone, email, or text for work-related concerns is a surefire way to court burnout.

Uncover your secret superstitions.  Most folks with impostor syndrome have superstitions about how much they need to do and how fast they need to get it done in order to avoid being outed as a fraud.  For example, a person may think that they “have to work on weekends” or that they “can’t” take vacation time.

Stop attributing thoughts and feelings to other people.  Impostor syndrome sufferers will often ascribe negative judgements to others or interpret others’ behavior as a negative judgement.  For example, if a co-worker fails to respond to an email within 5 hours, an impostor syndrome sufferer may think, “She’s avoiding me,” or “He probably didn’t like what I said.”  In reality, there are many other possible explanations: She was in meetings all day, he was at a conference, she has fallen behind in her work, the email went to junk mail, etc. 

With time and attention devoted to your work identity and self-esteem, you can create a more harmonious, better balanced work life.

Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia.  She can be reached at elizabeth@alexandriawomenscounseling.com.