How is the Impostor Syndrome Treated?

Regardless of who asks it, the answers  to the question of how to treat the impostor syndrome are more or less the same. You must be able to:

  • first recognize the impostor phenomenon and its effects
  • understand that it is just a feeling
  • work on your self-image
  • and learn to believe in your own achievements

The central task of psychotherapy with impostors is to lessen the client’s dependence on others’ positive evaluations for his or her self-esteem and to build a more internalized sense of self-worth. – Clance & Langford, 1993

Therapy can certainly help – especially if the impostor syndrome is connected with other symptoms of anxiety or depression, or if the impostor syndrome itself is causing severe anxiety. But as well as therapy, or instead of it (if your anxiety is not severe and you feel otherwise able to function), you might like to try the following two measures.

Gather Evidence for Your ‘Impostor Trial’

A central part of the impostor phenomenon is, that you become a master at explaining away your own achievements:

  • “yeah, I was able to get [on the course / my degree], but…”
  • “no, I’m not that good at it, I just…”
  • “well, yes, I got this job, but it was only because…”

These explanations eat away at our belief in our own abilities, and we feel we don’t deserve what we have achieved. Valerie Young advises us to write down just the facts, without any of the buts.

So sit down and write up all the things you’ve ever done or achieved.

  • List the schools you got into, how you performed there, grades achieved, graduations, diplomas, praise received, and grants awarded.
  • Write down any jobs, promotions, positive feedback, merits you’ve had, and any big projects you’ve been part of.
  • List any votes, elections, nominations, and prizes you’ve won.
  • Remember to also note down if you’ve been able to make a living as an entrepreneur, artist, or freelancer.

When you can’t come up with anything else, ask your family or friends to add to the list. Keep this list with you and if the impostor feelings ever take over, read through it. The impostor phenomenon has no evidence to prove you would not be capable, qualified and skilled, whereas you can prove the opposite!

I Love You Just the Way You Are

The second measure was suggested by a solution coach, but Brené Brown reminded me of it. Are you able to look in the mirror and say to yourself out loud: “I love you just the way you are”?

How can we tell that someone loves us? From their actions, sure, but also from them telling us so. And how do we know that we love ourselves? From those same things. Even so, I have to admit that saying the phrase out loud in front of the mirror did cause me to squirm uncomfortably to begin with. But if I can’t tell myself ‘I love you’, do I really love myself?

Brown reminds us in her series of lectures, that we can only love others in the same capacity as we love ourselves. The more understanding and love we have for ourselves, the more forgiving we can also be when it comes to faults and defects – in others as well as ourselves.

That is why we must learn to show ourselves love. Saying it out loud is one way of practising it – and perhaps the hardest. The other is to show our love through action, treating ourselves in the same way as we would treat people we love. Love yourself by defending your boundaries, too, and allowing yourself some rest and joy.

How do you know you love yourself? Come chat about it at our Slack Workspace!

TL;DR: How is the impostor syndrome treated?

  • The main treatment is therapy.
  • You must respect and believe in yourself.
  • An unadulterated list of all your achievements can help (no “buts” allowed)
  • Self-esteem can also be enhanced by showing yourself love.
    • Learn to tell yourself ‘I love you’.
    • Show yourself love through your actions.

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