Impostor syndrome: what is it and how to cope when it happens?

Impostor syndrome: what is it and how to cope when it happens?

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Impostor syndrome is a chronic insecurity that nullifies any feeling of success or public proof of competence.

This psychological phenomenon affects around 70% of the world population, according to a study by The Journal of Behavioral Science. Thinking about it, reflect on these questions below:

  • Have you ever felt that you do not belong to a certain group or place?
  • That you don't deserve that job or that project?
  • Are you not enough?

If the answer is yes, know that it is not just you. These feelings are reflections of the so-called imposter syndrome. Keep reading and learn more about what it is, the causes and how to deal with it.

What is impostor syndrome?

Impostor syndrome is a feeling of insecurity that nullifies any sense of success or public proof of competence at work and also in other areas that involve personal life.

The vast majority of people suffer from the imposter syndrome at some point in their professional careers.

In general, impostor syndrome leads people to believe that they do not have enough capacity to do something.

In the topics below are some of the ways in which impostor syndrome manifests itself:

  • “It was luck”. People who suffer from the imposter syndrome tend to ‘cover up' their effort and attribute their success to luck or other external events that are beyond their control. This works as a defense strategy if they are unable to achieve the same success from that moment on.
  • “This is not a big deal.” The ‘impostor' has a tendency to underestimate his own success and generally finds it difficult to accept praise.
  • “I can't fail at all”. Another way in which the syndrome manifests itself is by exacerbating pressure on success. It is a double-edged sword, because success is also fraught with expectations and visibility, something that imposters have a hard time enjoying.
  • “”This is not my place, I don't deserve it.” Another very common trend is to downplay skills and qualities, for example, when asking for a raise or applying for a project.

What causes impostor syndrome?

There is no single answer to that question. There are several factors linked to the imposter syndrome, such as personality traits (compulsive anxiety, for example) and family context.

Another very relevant factor is the social context that can end up significantly stimulating this feeling in some people.

Looking at the social context, institutionalized discrimination has a relevant role and can fuel this syndrome.

The more people who look and sound like you, the more confident you feel, right? So the opposite also applies: the less people who look and sound like you, the more insecure you feel.

This phenomenon is potentiated when people find themselves in functions or industries in which the social group they belong to is not a majority – such as, for example, a black person in corporate leadership position or a woman at an engineering university.

In this sense, it is important to recognize that the imposter syndrome is not always an internal issue. In many situations women, black people and LGBTQ + are despised and have opportunities denied in their professional lives due to bias and prejudice.

While it is common to feel insecure from time to time, it is important to understand that there are a number of external factors that help to create and cultivate that feeling in you and other people.

For this reason, it is very important that companies offer their employees a safe space so that they can report cases of discrimination they experience on a daily basis.

How to deal with “imposter” feelings

The first step in dealing with imposter syndrome is to recognize these feelings and put them in perspective.

If you find yourself thinking that it is not enough, lowering yourself or charging yourself too much in a proper situation, try to put that feeling back in order to understand how you feel this very moment does not mean that you should always feel this way.

Talking to others about what you are feeling is a good way to put the situation in perspective as well. Try to talk to colleagues and mentors who understand your role and position in the workplace.

These people are best positioned to help you understand the situation and direct you to the best way to overcome it.

We know that speaking out about feelings at work is not an easy task. That is why it is very important that companies offer their employees a safe space so that they can do it in the way they feel most comfortable with.

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Did you like to learn a little about what the imposter syndrome is? So share this content with your friends, so that more people know about it.

This post was written by Rafaela Frankenthal, cofounder of SafeSpace in partnership with our blog.



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