How does the Imposter Syndrome show up?




Our experience of the imposter syndrome is subjective. So too is the way it shows up for each of us.

As you know, it’s not what happens to us, it’s what we do with that situation that makes the difference in our health and wellbeing, and in our performance.

When we are triggered into feeling that we’re not good enough, our first unconscious impulse is to protect ourselves from exposure, to regain a sense of control and to continue to look as though we’re intelligent and competent people.

We engage in self-protective behaviours such as

  • we withhold to reduce our vulnerability
  • become defensive to protect ourselves, taking things far too personally
  • become an unproductive workaholic, going over and over our work to get it perfect
  • we become a chameleon changing our colours to fit in and in the process, leaving our unique contribution behind
  • we may try to stay under the radar so no-one notices us and yet paradoxically notices our ‘good work’
  • we may become judgemental of others and most particularly ourselves, and righteous in our interactions
  • or we may think ‘what the heck, I’ll  just go for it.’ in the interests of proving to ourselves and others that we are good enough, we can be successful, we can get to the top.

Did you recognise any?

As a result of our ingrained behaviours, we may show up as

  • unwilling to participate; not willing to share ideas or engage
  • political, butt covering
  • judgemental, blaming others, criticising
  • defensive and prickly taking things too personally; unwilling and unable to take feedback
  • reliant on other people’s opinions; regularly seeking external validation
  • unwilling or unable to think on the spot
  • strong ‘me’ focus; not good at ‘us’
  • stealing other people’s ideas and credit
  • poor decision-maker; not willing to commit to one course of action; fence-sitting
  • poor team member; not willing/able to actively participate in the storming phase
  • follows the winds of fortune – changing agreements and behaviour to best serve self
  • dysfunctional or even toxic leadership (abusive/bullying, self-serving, political, blame …)

None of these behaviours would say exclusively that this person experiences the imposter syndrome. They can be explained by other diagnoses. What determines if they are symptoms of the imposter syndrome is how the individual is feeling and thinking before engaging in the behaviours.


Is the imposter syndrome all bad?

No. Many successful people have experienced the imposter syndrome. As I said earlier, it depends on what you do with it. If you allow it to push you down, rationalising to yourself that I will do XYZ when I know precisely what I’m doing … soon … it is limiting because we’re hiding who we are and what we’re capable of. However, when we recognise it, acknowledge it, see and accept who we are and find the courage to go for what we want, we can use the imposter syndrome as fuel for our journey.

Next:  What is it costing you?

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