- Sarah Pospos, MD, MS
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome at Work
As a psychiatrist, I help many high performers who struggle with constant self-doubt of not being good enough; here I’ll help you understand what truly is going on so you can identify signs of imposter syndrome and discover how to overcome it.
Signs of Imposter Syndrome
Imposter syndrome is very common: 9-82% in prevalence. It’s a condition that describes high achievers who - despite their successes - have persistent self-doubt and fear of being exposed as an imposter.
If you’re struggling with imposter syndrome, you may attribute your success to sheer luck or help from others, but think of your setbacks as proof of being incapable. You may work yourself to the bone to pursue endless achievements, but are unable to accept recognition when success is achieved. This can easily lead to poor job performance and satisfaction, low self-esteem, burnout, depression and anxiety.
How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome
With milder symptoms, you may consider a specific type of therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). CBT aims to identify and address our distorted thinking patterns, which will in turn affects our feelings, behaviors and outcomes.
Some CBT techniques with examples (but by no means are substitutes for treatment):
Step 1: Take Notes
Record the situation (what happened, where and who was involved); your emotions (rate the intensity from 0-100%); and the automatic thoughts that preceded those emotions (rate your confidence from 0-100% on how accurate is each automatic thought).
Your supervisor mentioned that coworker X from another division just got promoted
helpless (70%), anxious (60%)
I’ll never get promoted because I’m not good enough (80%)
They’re going to find out that I’m not the real deal (70%)
Click here for common types of distorted automatic thoughts.
Step 2: Pick Your #1 Automatic Thought
In the example above: “I’ll never get promoted because I’m not good enough.”
Step 3: Explore This Automatic Thought in a More Logical Way
#1 List evidence of your competence in your daily life
"I'm able to finish all the things you need to do today. I didn't get into any trouble."
#2 Examine evidence for and against your automatic thought
Assess the quality of each evidence: would a good lawyer, defending you, think of it as good evidence?
#3 Use the if-then analysis
"IF coworker X from another division got a promotion, THEN are you not good enough?"
#4 Separate feelings from facts
Feelings: helpless, anxious (“I’m not good enough”)
Facts: I completed my daily tasks, exceeded expectations and received great feedback. I know how to do my job. I had received a promotion in the past.
#5 Check for double standard
Think of someone you admire and consider competent. When coworker X at another division got promoted, does it make this person not good enough? Similarly, when coworker X at another division got promoted, does it make you not good enough?
#6 Use positive self-statements
Choose 1-2 statements such as “I did it, I can do it, I will do it.” and say it repeatedly whenever doubt or anxiety creeps in.
When to See A Psychiatrist
If constantly feeling like an imposter causes distress that interferes with your work, relationships or daily responsibilities, more help is needed.
Psychiatrists are specialized medical doctors who require at least 12 years in higher education and 15,000 hours of clinical training before being allowed to independently diagnose, treat or prescribe. In comparison, nurse practitioners (NP) require 500 clinical hours (typically supervised by a medical doctor); and physician assistants (PA) require 2,000 clinical hours.
One major hesitation for busy professionals is medication may cause daytime sleepiness or brain fog that interferes with your work. I dabbled in the corporate world before my medical training - I understand. Some antidepressants, like trazodone, can be sedating and help with sleep. However, in the case of trazodone, for instance, you may also watch out for morning grogginess.
Every patient is different, and my recommendations are always made on a case-by-case analysis. If together we determine that medication is beneficial, I’ll walk you through different options, thoroughly explaining the risks, benefits, alternatives and potential side effects, so you can be fully informed and content with the next steps. My Masters in Psychopharmacology and Applied Psychology add even more insights on all things medication and human behavior.
Book a free 15 minute initial phone call to be the best version of yourself again.