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Impostor syndrome is a term that we use when describing people who are successful in what they do but feel like frauds despite their career achievements. This is because of a belief that they are not as good as others think they are. All of us at some point or other, might question our competences and capabilities. We may sometimes think less of ourselves than we should and appraise ourselves inaccurately when we are stressed out or going through some difficulties. However, most of us would then generally bounce back once things take a turn for the better. The problem with imposter syndrome is that the person in question would generally have a fundamental fear that they are not good enough to hold the job position that they have and that they will be revealed as a fake. This is a pervasive thought that does not generally leave the person.

Underlying all this is a belief that the person is unworthy of success. This belief might be formed in childhood and stay with us in our adult lives. In the very first few years of life our sense of self-worth is already deeply impacted by how much we feel valued by our caregivers and other people in our life. If we feel unloved or uncared for, or if our family is going through a rough time, we might blame ourselves for all that’s happening as we wouldn’t have an explanation as to why such things are happening. As young children we find it hard to understand that adults might not know how to handle certain situations well and we might feel that our attempts or efforts are not enough to help change a situation. If we do not work on challenging these beliefs, that sense of shame continues throughout our lives.

Overworking, perfectionism, competitiveness and/or procrastination might trigger thoughts that you are not good enough to reach your or others’ expectations and instill a fear that you’ll be ‘found out’. These are some of the things that you can look out for to understand whether you might be going through this imposter syndrome:

  1. Finding it very hard to accept compliments or speak about your accomplishments
  2. Feeling that your success might only be due to chance or some kind of luck
  3. Comparing your abilities to others and falling short
  4. Thinking of your mistakes more than you think of your achievements
  5. Being hesitant to tell others about a promotion

This imposter phenomenon has unfortunately been linked to Depression and other mental health problems. If you often find yourself ruminating about your ‘deceitfulness’ it might be a good idea to talk to a mental health professional. A therapist can guide you towards a better understanding of where all this might be coming from and how you can challenge such negative automatic thoughts.

Claire Borg is a gestalt psychotherapist at Willingness. She works with adolescents and adults. She has a special interest in mental health. She can be contacted on claire@willingness.com.mt or call us on 79291817.