Are you stuck in the Imposter Cycle?

May 4, 2021 | Blog

I remember the day I first experienced severe imposter syndrome vividly.  It was the first time that I was delivering a training course.  As I stood in front of the group I could feel my heart beating frantically in my chest, my mouth was dry, and a voice in my head repeated these words over and over.

“why would they listen to you, you know nothing, they are going to find out that you have no idea what you are talking about.”

I remember physically shaking my head to get rid of those words.  I’m now 13 years on from that point and there are still some days, usually when I am under extreme stress or ill, that I hear those same words.  Luckily now I have the strategies to be able to deal with it!

The term Imposter syndrome was introduced by Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Dr. Suzanne A. Imes and is defined as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts their skills and accomplishments and has an internalised fear of being found out.  It was first discovered in studies with women, but we now know that it can affect both men and women equally.

Do you often reject positive feedback on the basis that they are only saying that because they like you? Or perhaps you argue that it was a fluke, that you just got lucky? Do you have a fear that one-day people are going to find out that you don’t know what you are talking about?  If you answered yes to these things then I would suggest that you suffer from imposter syndrome.

Some strategies will help you manage your imposter syndrome, but before you engage in these it is important to understand the foundations of why you are experiencing this, especially if you are stuck in the imposter cycle.

The imposter cycle was defined by Clance, and it usually begins with an achievement-related task.  For example, this could have been an assignment at school, or perhaps a project at work.  Once you have received this task, then self-doubt, worry, and an element of stress sets in.  The cycle allows for two responses to these feelings.  These are over-preparation or procrastination.

If you respond with procrastination, this will mean that you end up completing the task last minute and having a frantic rush to get it done in time.  If you get successful feedback and a positive outcome you will most likely put that down to luck.

If you respond with over-preparation and you succeed, you will tell yourself that this success is solely down to your hard work.  Both of the responses in the imposter cycle do not require personal ability.  Essentially anyone can work hard or get lucky, this is not down to your skill.

Therefore you are likely to reject any positive feedback due to this belief.  From this the cycle continues, this outcome only reinforces the imposter feeling, as you do not believe you have the skill so have to continue to overprepare or rely on luck.  Believing that at any point you might be found out, keeps this cycle in motion.

If you are stuck in this cycle we want you to break out and feel free.  To help you in this struggle, we have put together a course designed to give you actionable steps to end the cycle.  Using our 5 step model, we help individuals who are struggling with a fear of being found out, believing that their achievements are based solely on luck, to step into their power and become the most effective and confident version of themselves.  Sign up here for our Imposter Syndrome course.

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