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Are You A Fraud?

A 6-part series discussion of imposter syndrome

Are You A Fraud?

When Imposter Syndrome Rears Its Ugly Head

imposter syndrome - dr geneva williams

An act of deceiving or misrepresenting is a Merriam-Webster brief definition of fraud. So based upon this definition, do you secretly think you are a fraud?

If you are quietly nodding yes, don’t fret, you are in good company. According to a 2020 study, up to 82% of study participants admitted to secretly thinking they were a fraud. Participants consisted of men and women across a range of age groups.

Secretly feeling as though you are a fraud is the leading indicator and signal of the imposter phenomenon. Imposter Phenomenon is also known as fraud syndrome and is widely known as imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is the doubting of ability, capacity, and qualifications in spite of documented achievements and accomplishments. Imposter Syndrome goes beyond the occasional self-doubt and is characterized as persistent thoughts of intellectual phoniness. This phenomenon can affect anyone but is often experienced by high-achieving individuals.

Fraud Thinking Tendencies

Imposter syndrome is an internal perception. The conflict is that your internal self-perception is also a form of self-judgment. Therefore, if your internal cues are weak or misguided, it makes it challenging to accept visible external cues of perception. In taking on the self-labeling fraudulent thinking, one is unable to reconcile the two (internal and external) versions of perception. This relentless and recurring disconnect can lead to one becoming plagued with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some other unwanted tendencies of this faulty fraud thinking may include:

  • On-going damaging feelings of self-doubt and self-worth.
  • Failure to identify worthy accomplishments and achievements.
  • Unreasonable and unwarranted fear of being discovered as a fraud.
  • Inability to recognize and accept valued talents, skills, and competencies.

In the spirit of a self-declared fraud, or imposter, achievements and recognitions feel unearned and harmful self-criticism brings about even stronger feelings of fraud. This vicious cycle has the potential to bring about self-destructive behaviors.

The Imposter Cycle

The deep-held belief of imposterism with persistent thoughts of intellectual phoniness becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence, a false reality (weak internal cues) has a strong potential of becoming an actual truth due to psychological responses to fears and worries. As a result, the imposter syndrome cycle continues. Albeit a brief cycle, it is a ferocious cycle. The imposter phenomenon perpetuates in this manner, weak internal cues + insecurities + accolades = imposter syndrome.

self-doubt-low-self-esteem-failure-to-recognize-self-worth-self-value-external-praise-recognition-rewards-secret-feelings-of-being-a-fraud-with-an-unwarranted-fear-of-being-discovered-dr-geneva-williams

According to Frederik Anseel, professor of organizational behavior at Ghent University in Belgium,  “The persistent fear and self-doubt it engenders, as well as the inability to savor achievements, can result in a persistent state of physical and emotional depletion.” The first step in breaking this cycle is to first determine if you are a legitimate fraud or are you misinterpreting misguided cues leading to unfair self-imposed labeling as a fraud.

Imposter Syndrome Behavior

While the jury is still out to distinguish imposter syndrome as a mental disorder, heavy conversation surrounds this topic towards determination. Meanwhile, what is indisputable are grouped behaviors of those living this phenomenon. You may be experiencing imposter syndrome if continued conduct resembles the following.

  1. Do you attribute your success, achievements, or accomplishments to mere luck despite knowledge, training, and experience?
  2. Do you cringe when given public recognition, praise, or accolades from the concern of others discovering you are unworthy?
  3. Do you instantly begin to overcompensate or minimize tasks or goals out of fear of failing, or worse, fear of succeeding?
  4. Do you avoid celebrating your praised performance, distressed that the truth will be unveiled?
  5. Do you often feel anxious, depressed, or shameful as a result of a haunting feeling of not belonging?

What makes these developed practices more detrimental is that the one living this phenomenon keeps these feelings to self.  This makes it challenging to not only break the cycle, but also thwart the behavior. Failure to internalize success is a defining feature of imposter syndrome. The result is deceitful, disingenuous, and dangerous self-talk. Recognized or not, this behavior of imposter syndrome takes a physical, mental, and emotional toll on one’s body.

Normalizing Conversations On Imposter Syndrome

Getting past imposter syndrome involves commitment and dedication. Living this phenomenon did not make its appearance overnight. Most likely it’s a result of years of comorbidities. As such, the deliberate intentional effort is required to conquer and destroy this infringement upon one’s life.

So when we asked if you secretly felt like a fraud and assured you that you were in good company, we weren’t kidding. A high percentage of the public population admitting to having dealt with or still experiencing imposter syndrome seems to have normalized having the conversation. This is encouraging because the greatest hurdle that prevents the success of overcoming imposter syndrome is the ability to freely admit to and discuss the phenomenon in real-time. Therefore, normalizing this discourse neutralizes the sting and embarrassment associated with this experience.

Aside from medical, educational, and mental health communities, some helping to move this conversation forward are unsuspecting high-profile celebrities. Many have publicly come forward and shared their insecurities. It is important to note the bravery required to oust oneself in this sensitive manner. And while some groups are more prone to this phenomenon than others, this experience can apply to any who is unable to internalize their success.

Among the vulnerable voices willing to share their once hidden shame  of insecurity and self-doubt is American actor Tom Hanks, American singer Lady Gaga, American businesswoman and investor Barbara Corcoran, and Former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama. These are only a few who have openly admitted that they too feared ‘being found out’. Each one also admitted to being afflicted with a nagging feeling of not belonging. These commonalities shed light on the indiscriminate nature of this phenomenon.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

Candidly advancing the conversation weakens the power of this bitter cycle of imposter syndrome. Opening the door to defeat this phenomenon once and for all begins with a few simple steps. Here is your task list.

  • Instead of dwelling on doubts, focus on what you absolutely know to be true. Ask yourself what core beliefs do I hold about myself? What am I sure about myself? Consider a SWOT analysis. Include likes and dislikes of things you may think don’t matter. Nonetheless, make a list of these things to confidently include core beliefs and certain truths. Having these lists before you will aid in detecting a pattern. Thoughts may cause doubts, but patterns cannot lie.
  • Spend time listing commendations, recognitions, promotions, awards, and goals you reached. In full transparency, this may be the hardest task of all. It is likely you may not recall some activity. As a matter of fact, you may not recall a lot of it. To this end, soliciting the help of close peers, friends and family will prove extremely advantageous. This list should include any and everything you and others can recall such as interviewing for a job and being offered the position.
  • Seek out an experienced and seasoned mentor to serve as your sounding board. This mentor should be fully qualified and capable of providing an effective assessment balancing internal and external perspectives. Your selection of a mentor must be someone you yourself hold in high regard and find trustworthy. This mentor will assist with the task of breaking the cycle. Also, seek out and join social communities led by imposter syndrome experts.
  • Reach out to your human resources department and inquire about  programs specifically addressing imposter syndrome. Some employers are taking the lead in corporate responsibility by providing seminars and training in this area. They are aware that study after study has shown imposter syndrome shows up widely within the workplace with the potential of adversely impacting corporate key performances.

We covered a lot in this discussion, yet there is still much more to be covered. Nonetheless, to solve any problem, we must first adequately identify the problem. To this end, we posed a question to reach the core belief of this paradox. Therefore, Are you a fraud, was a rhetorical question asked at the onset of this discussion, because although you may feel like a fraud, an abundance of evidence exists and will suggest the internal perception is driven by faulty thinking. By shifting one’s mindset, the angle in which you learn to see yourself will allow you to see as others see you. This cycle is hard to break, but it can and shall be broken. Our next discussion will push us further along in this 6-part series of imposter syndrome.

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