WHAT AC­TU­ALLY IS IMPOSTER SYN­DROME?

OK! (UK) - - TALKING BODY CONFIDENCE -

While not a med­i­cally recog­nised dis­or­der, imposter syn­drome de­scribes an at­tack of self-doubt which leaves us feel­ing fraud­u­lent, ei­ther per­son­ally or pro­fes­sion­ally. Psy­chol­o­gist and best­selling au­thor Katie Wood­land (www.katiewood­land.co.uk) tells OK!: ‘As a phrase, it was first coined in 1978. It’s some­thing I help women with a lot, and there are many the­o­ries on it. But, in my opin­ion, it’s sim­ply a fear­based anx­i­ety which we have ev­ery time we step out­side our com­fort zone. We’re ter­ri­fied of the un­known and are ge­net­i­cally wired to stay where it’s safe.’

WHO IS MOST SUS­CEP­TI­BLE TO IT?

Many stud­ies sug­gest women are worst af­fected, but Katie says: ‘That’s not the case – men feel it equally. Women just talk about it more.’ And though sta­tis­tics state that 70 per cent of peo­ple have it, she adds: ‘I ac­tu­ally think it af­fects ev­ery­body. We all have an in­se­cu­rity about some­thing and we all mea­sure our­selves against other peo­ple. We’re so­cial crea­tures and need to be ac­cepted, so ev­ery time we do some­thing that threat­ens us, we feel it. The only peo­ple who prob­a­bly don’t have it are young kids, be­cause they’re fear­less.’

WHAT ARE THE SYMP­TOMS?

Re­sem­bling clas­sic signs of anx­i­ety, it varies widely. ‘It de­pends how much you’re out­side your com­fort zone. If you’re tak­ing a gi­ant leap, you might get pal­pi­ta­tions, feel sick or have a panic at­tack. But if you’re just gen­tly test­ing the wa­ter, you might find your­self talk­ing neg­a­tively, or do­ing what you can to avoid cer­tain sit­u­a­tions.’ Of­ten, symp­toms can be trig­gered by ex­ter­nal fac­tors – such as so­cial me­dia or ‘fear of miss­ing out (FOMO)’. ‘Most peo­ple present their ‘amaz­ing’ life rather than their prob­lems on so­cial me­dia. We mea­sure our­selves against that – when in re­al­ity we never know what’s re­ally go­ing on with them.’ As for whether such life­style fac­tors have in­creased imposter syn­drome, Katie adds: ‘It’s hard to know – peo­ple still felt it 20 years ago, they just weren’t shar­ing it in the same way.’

CAN IT BE TREATED?

‘The only real way to over­come it is to do the thing that scares you,’ Katie stresses. ‘But that’s dif­fi­cult.’ First, we need to recog­nise what ter­ri­fies us, and then tackle it in small steps. ‘De­sen­si­tise your­self by in­te­grat­ing your­self into it slowly.’ Cru­cially, this in­volves be­ing kinder to our­selves. ‘We al­ways fo­cus on things we do wrong, which reaf­firms imposter feel­ings. So when­ever you achieve some­thing, no mat­ter how small, cel­e­brate it. You’ll soon start be­liev­ing you deserve your suc­cess.’ Katie ad­vises keep­ing a jour­nal. ‘It’s proven to be more pow­er­ful than med­i­ta­tion, and only takes five min­utes a day.’ En­tries should high­light pos­i­tives, even in chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tions. ‘If you do some­thing you strug­gle with, write down just one thing that went well. Then look to the fu­ture and note what you want to achieve next.’ Avoid­ing so­cial me­dia can help, too, says Katie: ‘Limit it un­til you feel strong enough – and rather than com­par­ing your­self to oth­ers, start writ­ing your own suc­cess story in­stead.’

Keep­ing a jour­nal can help

Right: Alesha has ad­mit­ted to be­ing ‘crip­pled by fear’. Below right: Emma Wil­lis

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