Are you an Imposter at Work?


As the information in the our section on Workplace Counselling indicates there are lots of reasons why someone might suffer from stress in the workplace. Some of these reasons will include:

  • the expectations of the organisation and the job,
  • the work-place culture,
  • changes in the role,
  • difficulties in interpersonal relationships, and
  • issues with work-life balance.

However, sometimes the demands that we place on ourselves can be equally as stressful – if not more so. Wanting to be perfect in all areas of our job, which can be out of proportion to the expectations of the role or the specific issue at hand, can cause feelings of inadequacy. Often we can be our own harshest critic – ignoring the range of positive feedback and choosing to focus only on the negatives – which may be real or imagined. This is because this affirms what many actually believe about themselves – that they are a fraud, an imposter, and at any moment they are going to be exposed, ridiculed or belittled.

The term ‘Imposter Phenomenon‘ was coined in the late 1970s, based on a study of high achieving women. This indicated that many did not experience a sense of internal success despite high academic achievements, praise and professional recognition. Leading to feelings of being ‘inauthentic’ or ‘phoney’, which can be a cause of significant anxiety and stress for both women and men.

The reasons for this can stem from childhood. One reason can be feeling inadequate compared to a sibling designated as the ‘intelligent’ one by the family and knowing one can never match the accomplishments of this sibling, no matter how hard one tries. A second reason is having been told from an early age how brilliant one is and that you can accomplish anything with ease, but realising – as one grows up – that this is not the case, leading to feelings of self-doubt and lack of self belief. You are not the genius that you have been made out to be – so therefore you are an imposter.

Whatever the reason, early childhood experiences may inform a person’s core beliefs of not being good enough and contribute to their fears of letting someone down; of not being good enough, just as they are, without trying to constantly attain some unattainable standard of perfection. Often basing their own sense of self-worth on external factors rather than an intrinsic and positive self-belief.

The ‘Imposter Phenomenon’ can lead you to have a rigid belief system based on ‘If I am not perfect then I am no good’ and this personal belief system is likely to influence your feelings and behaviour at work, as this is where you may derive much of your sense of self-worth and identity.

Counselling can help you explore the reasons why you may feel like an imposter at work.

It can also enable you to:

  • challenge the negative thinking that is maintaining these unhelpful and irrational feelings and behaviours,
  • adopt a more flexible and realistic outlook on life and your achievements, and
  • manage your stress and anxieties more effectively.

All of which will hopefully enable you to perform better at work and have a happier and more fulfilling life.