In the land of the long white cloud, where humility is prized and standing out can feel like breaking an unwritten rule, imposter syndrome (IS) is a familiar yet often unspoken experience. Individuals who struggle with IS believe their success is due to a fluke or luck, rather than their own internal abilities. Individuals experiencing IS often hold chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual deception that can overpower evidence of their competence. Despite external affirmation, they remain convinced that they are imposters and that their success is due to luck. Although not an official diagnosis, it’s a very real experience for many New Zealanders across a range of fields.
IS was first identified by psychologists Suzanne Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the late 1970s. They described a pattern among high-achieving women who couldn’t internalise and accept their successes, attributing their accomplishments to luck rather than skill. Since then, it’s been shown that while IS is still more common among women, and particularly women of colour, it can affect anyone, irrespective of their level of success or profession.
In the context of New Zealand, IS can be amplified by cultural values that stress modesty and frown upon self-promotion. IS can cause significant stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, fear of failure, and, in severe cases, depression. It can affect one’s performance at work, inhibit creativity, and potentially lead to burnout. People suffering from IS might turn down opportunities because they believe they’re not good enough or can’t succeed.
Overcoming IS involves a mix of cognitive and behavioural strategies, as well as a good dose of self-compassion. Here are some strategies for you to try:
- Acknowledge the ‘imposter’ thoughts and feelings. Reflect on the situations that trigger your self-doubt.
- Compare your self-assessment with external evidence. How do your workmates, mentors, or whānau view your achievements? What does the actual evidence say about your abilities?
- Reframe your thoughts. Try cognitive restructuring, a cognitive-behavioural technique that involves challenging and replacing negative beliefs with more balanced ones.
- Foster self-compassion. Instead of harsh self-criticism, offer yourself understanding and kindness when you confront mistakes and setbacks. Think of what you would say to a good friend facing a difficult situation. Direct these compassionate responses to yourself.
- Celebrate! Make a habit of acknowledging and celebrating your wins, no matter how small they might seem. This can help internalise your achievements.
- Connecting with others who experience similar feelings can help you feel less alone. Therapy or counselling can provide a safe space to explore these feelings and develop coping strategies.
Imposter syndrome can be a challenging experience, but it doesn’t have to control your life. By increasing self-awareness, challenging self-defeating thoughts, and practicing self-compassion, you can begin to quiet the imposter inside you. Focus on your internal abilities and experiences that have contributed to an achievement, as the minimising of these abilities and the focus on luck is at the core of IS. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and support is available to navigate these often-murky waters. In the end, identifying and managing IS paves the way for greater confidence, resilience, and a fuller recognition of your true potential.
By Ampara Bouwens
Ampara is an experienced Clinical Psychologist with over 19 years of experience, providing mental health services in private, governmental, and corporate sectors. She specializes in complex trauma, personality disorders, and other severe disorders, using a compassionate and non-judgmental approach to help clients regain control and autonomy over their lives. Since moving to New Zealand in 2016, Ampara has been running a successful private practice, offering personalised and effective treatment to individuals seeking to improve their mental health and well-being. Ampara is also the clinical lead and founder of MindGarage – a leading provider of psychological services, treatment, and assessment, with a team of skilled therapists who provide high-quality, personalised treatment via the same compassionate, non-judgmental approach. The MindGarage team takes a holistic approach to therapy, considering all aspects of a client’s life and offering tailor-made services to meet individual needs. MindGarage believes in empowering clients with the skills and knowledge needed to make positive changes in their lives, promoting long-term mental and emotional health.
Visit Ampara online: https://amparabouwens.co.nz/