Just this past week, I read an interview with Charlize Theron in the latest issue of Harper’s Bazaar.
The academy award-winning actor—arguably one of the most successful people in Hollywood—said this about imposter syndrome:
“Unfortunately, I am of the generation that thrived in imposter syndrome—and I probably still have it, actually I definitely do,” she said.
Imposter syndrome is a term that has become common in our current lexicon, and it refers to a persistent belief that one’s success has been illegitimately achieved.
People who are plagued by imposter syndrome feel that they are fooling the world into thinking they’re better than they actually are. They believe they are undeserving and unworthy of any acclaim based on their own merit and laurels.
Theron’s struggle with imposter syndrome shows that you can be at the top of your field and still feel like you don’t deserve any of the acclaim.
How do you know if you’re suffering from imposter syndrome? Here are seven hints that might bring any suspicions to the surface.
1) You get dragged down by self-doubt
People with imposter syndrome suspect that their achievements are something of a fluke: they chalk it up to luck, good timing, or “just being at the right place at the right time,” says the team from Mind Tools.
“You become convinced that you’re not as intelligent, creative, or talented as you may seem. You might find that you often question your ability or ask yourself, ‘What gives me the right?’”
The main thing those with imposter syndrome have is the idea that they don’t belong. Experts say this feeling can be linked to other areas of self-doubt such as a fear of success and a fear of failure.
“Imposter syndrome often strikes at moments of success: starting a new job, receiving an award or promotion, or taking extra responsibility such as teaching others, starting your own business—or becoming a first-time parent.”
2) You don’t have trust in your talent
Similar to the above, imposter syndrome has a lot to do with the worry that we don’t have what it takes.
Tomer Hen, the founder and CEO of Mobo Media and a Forbes contributor, says that those with imposter syndrome often tell themselves that they are out of their league.
“In some cases, it’s in our…nature to pull up our socks and power through, but often our lizard brain (the past of the brain that’s meant to protect us) tells us a different story.”
These could be phrases such as “I’m not really a…”’or “I better go back to the familiar”.
The sad thing is that many times we do just that.
3) You constantly compare yourself to other people
It’s not a stretch to say that social media has made it easier than ever to feel the effects of imposter syndrome.
“We see carefully curated photos and posts that show other people living seemingly perfect lives, and we start to believe that we’re the only ones struggling,” says Linda Neville, the founder and Managing Director of SanaMente Hypnotherapy.
We know intellectually that social media isn’t an accurate reflection of reality and that people are presenting their best selves online—leaving out the messy, imperfect aspects, adds Neville.
But there is still a part of us—sometimes a big part—that feels like we don’t measure up.
Neville coaches her clients to deal with imposter syndrome by turning inwards.
She recommends limiting social media use, unfollowing accounts that make us feel bad, practice gratitude, and surround ourselves with supportive people.
Of course, a big way to beat back imposter syndrome is to celebrate your successes.
You have earned and deserve every inch of your success. Nobody—not even you—has the right to take that away.
4) Anxiety can also be an indicator of imposter syndrome
Despite the recent attention to imposter syndrome, it is still a taboo subject to talk about, so people who suffer from it often suffer in silence, says Imes, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Georgia.
“Imposter feelings are generally accompanied by anxiety, and often, depression,” she says. “Most people don’t talk about it.”
The anxiety could have roots in childhood, says Imes.
“Many people who feel like imposters grew up in families that placed a big emphasis on achievement…Societal pressures [in adulthood] only add to the problem.”
The anxiety can come from receiving accolades or or praise that you feel you don’t deserve. The guilt can feel very troubling.
5) You feel like you’re a fraud who will be found out
The anxiety can also come from a fear of being found out.
People with imposter syndrome live with the constant dread that one day they will be exposed for the “fake” that they “really” are.
The idea of experiencing exposure, isolation, and rejection can be crippling.
Feeling like a fraud can also go back to childhood, says Imes.
“Parents who send mixed messages—alternating between over-praise and criticism—can increase the risk of future fraudulent feelings…There can be a lot of confusion between approval and love and worthiness. Self-worth becomes contingent on achieving.”
6) Even though you have evolved, some of your subconscious is still stuck in the past
Maybe you believe to a certain degree that your dedication and hard work has paid off, but you still don’t see yourself as good enough.
Maybe more than with this current version of you, you identify more with the “lazy” college kid who could never get it together.
You need to see yourself as the person you are now, not as how you saw yourself—or perhaps how other people saw you—in your past.
Your accomplishments are the icing on the cake of who you have worked hard to become.
7) Your self-concept is self-sabotaging
People with imposter syndrome tend to have a poor self-concept—so much so that they get in their own way.
In their professional life, for example, a poor perception of their skills can result in something called “downshifting,” say the people at Mind Tools.
“This is when you revise your goals and become less ambitious, thus preventing you from fulfilling your true potential.”
So you might pass on the promotion you were offered, or you purposely don’t apply for a higher position, even though you want it.
Some ideas on how to overcome imposter syndrome:
Tomer Hen from Forbes tells us to make imposter syndrome our friend.
“You may have rejected meetings, business opportunities, or even dates because your brain told you [that] you weren’t good enough,” she says.
“Try saying, ‘Brain, you may be right. What can I do to increase my competence and improve my skills? What am I missing that if I had I’d feel more confident taking the next step?”
Hen says that over time you will walk into new opportunities with confidence. “Not as a know-it-all; but as one who has the faith and trust in themselves that they will figure it out—one way or another.