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Study Shows Imposter Syndrome Has Dropped As WFH Becomes The Norm

It’s that nagging feeling that you don’t belong, and it affects women and minority groups disproportionately. Here’s how to combat it.

Even if you’ve never heard of it, you’ve probably experienced it: Imposter Syndrome. 

Known by psychologists as 'impostor phenomenon', it is the feeling of neither belonging nor deserving your job and/or accomplishments paired with the overarching concern that you will be discovered as a fraud. 

An estimated 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science

First identified in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, it was theorised that women were uniquely affected by impostor syndrome. Since then, research has shown that both men and women experience impostor feelings, with Clance subsequently publishing another paper acknowledging that imposter phenomenon is not limited to women. 

Now, as the world shifts to a remote working amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic, it seems that working from home has lessened the feelings of work-based paranoia, as imposter syndrome is at an all-time low. 

A new survey from Total Jobs shows that fewer people are now experiencing such feelings due to their current WFH set up – with that number dropping to some 30%. This dip may be due to a change in our physical work set-ups, allowing for more autonomy and the chance to create a personalised space.

"Imposter Phenomenon is related to context. If the context changes, so can the experience of Imposter-ism," says researcher Terri Simpkin who worked on the study.

"It’s socially constructed, so change the social circumstances and the experience may change too."

Interestingly, it also seems that the fear is less common for older people, with just 21% of Baby Boomers feeling like 'imposters' compared to 33% of Generation X and 48% of Generation Z.

So, how do overcome feeling like a fraud?

When suffering from self-doubt, it’s easy to think that you’re the only one who has ever felt this way and that the rest of the world feels like they belong. But, that's not true. Some of the most successful, powerful and accomplished women and men have felt the same. 

Prizewinning author Maya Angelou once said, after publishing her 11th book, that every time she wrote another one she’d think to herself: “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody.” 

One of the first steps to overcoming impostorism is to acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective. Simply observing that thought as opposed to engaging it can be helpful – this way you can begin to reconsider your thoughts and possibly even let go. 

It can also be helpful to share what you’re feeling with trusted friends or mentors. People who have more experience can reassure you that what you’re feeling is normal, and knowing others have been in your position can make it seem less scary.

Research has also found that what you say to yourself can actually change the way you see yourself, which means that a few simple exercises can help your mind to feel worthy.  

The easiest of these exercises involves making a list of a few things that show you are just as qualified as everybody else. For those of you who feel nervous even attempting this, first ask yourself what evidence exists that you are any less qualified than anybody else to do this work. 

Many psychologists also advise impostorism clients to visualise success. This is a tactic that is taught to military recruits, training them to visualise how they’re going to handle a situation before it happens. Imagine yourself doing really well in a job interview, flying through a presentation, or winning the game. 

Important to remember: Failure doesn’t make you a fraud. Olympians don't always win and the best lawyers lose cases – failing, losing and not always being right are all part of the job. Don’t let it define you. Learn from your mistakes and move forward.

Main image by @vogueandchocolate

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