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Impostor syndrome is real and particularly affects high achievers

It particularly affects high achievers, especially female entrepreneurs

While impostor syndrome sounds like an affliction brought on by social media, it is a condition that was first recognised in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Clance.

While not an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, impostor syndrome is acknowledged as a legitimate issue.

Defined as a psychological pattern that particularly affects high achievers, characteristics include being unable to internalise or accept success, attributing accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and a fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.

One demographic especially susceptible to it is high-achieving and successful women.

Said mindset coach Jillian Parekh, who has a degree in counselling psychology, conflict analysis and management: "Impostor syndrome is rampant among female entrepreneurs. Many question their capabilities and think that any success is a fluke, and often feel inadequate and unworthy.

"Female entrepreneurs specifically will downplay their success, over-consume information to feel like they know more, and constantly refine their work to make sure it is 'good enough'."

She added: "Sometimes this leads to overwork and burnout for more established entrepreneurs, but it can also lead to analysis paralysis and procrastination when they are just starting out."

There are ways to help work through this form of dysfunctional thinking and allow your self-worth and self-belief to catch up with achievements.

 • Find out where you are on the impostor scale

Start by taking the Clance IP Test to see where you rank and to what extent you are suffering from impostor syndrome.

It is designed to measure one's fear of evaluation, fear of not being able to repeat success and fear of being less capable than others.

 • Gender norms may contribute to impostor syndrome

Conventional gender norms do play a part in women feeling especially susceptible to impostor syndrome.

Ms Parekh singles out the subconscious programming that starts from young and naturally shapes one's belief system and definition of self-worth.

She said: "While the research shows that women and men suffer from impostor syndrome at varying degrees, women may feel more fraudulent because of experiences from childhood and societal/cultural norms and expectations with regard to how women should think and act.

"So many of us are taught as young women to be seen and not heard, not to boast about our accomplishments so others don't feel bad, and to base our worth on external validation instead of looking for it within ourselves."

 • Not all 'impostors' are the same

It is not unusual for women to experience both ends of the spectrum depending on the stage of their life.

For instance, tendencies to overconsume information and procrastinate tend to affect beginning stage entrepreneurs/career women and sometimes manifests as self-sabotaging emotions of feeling not good enough.

The senior manager who always comes across as a superwoman?

Ms Parekh cautions that she might be that way because she never feels good enough and continually seeks external validation.

Another telltale sign? Extreme emotional highs and lows depending on if she feels like she is doing well or poorly.

 • The root of impostor syndrome

As with most dysfunctional behaviours, the negative patterns usually take root from childhood.

While working through the past can be messy business, it is also a reservoir of solutions, and when done right, can permanently bring about positive changes.

Ms Parekh said: "I like to remind my clients that when they are feeling low and negative towards themselves, to envision themselves as their childhood self, inherently worthy without the need to perform or produce for external validation.

"Overcoming impostor syndrome is routinely challenging your negative thoughts and subconscious programming with factual evidence and the understanding that these thoughts and feelings are not factual, they are simply stories you are allowing to stand in the way of what you truly want to achieve."

Simple strategies to deal with impostor syndrome:

Keep an accomplishment journal

Read or update it on a daily basis. People who suffer from impostor syndrome are always looking at what they have to accomplish to be good enough instead of assessing the evidence as to why they already have so much to be proud of.

Name your inner impostor

Give this persona a different name than your own so you can decipher between yourself and your negative thoughts. By doing this, you can monitor what things "she" says to you on a daily basis, specifically around worthiness and the work you are producing. And whenever a negative thought creeps in, ask yourself - is this me, or is this her?

Keep a journal or start voice notes

This will help you become aware of how negative and subconscious your thoughts are and you can work to shift these beliefs.

Practise belief-bridging

The brain will do what it is told, so if you tell yourself - "I am not a good public speaker" - this does not leave room for the brain to think otherwise and it will look for evidence to support this belief. Try to think: "I am open to seeing how I can be a good public speaker."

This will give you a subconscious reason to look for evidence to support this belief through conscious thought.

This article was first published in Her World Online (www.HerWorld.com).

Employment