WHAT ACTUALLY IS IMPOSTER SYNDROME?
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.’