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Beating Imposter Syndrome: 3 Strategies for Midlife Success

Imposter Syndrome is a psychological event that describes the secret internal belief some people have about themselves that they’re faking it and are not good enough.

This phenomenon is often characterized by a nagging sense of inadequacy, despite evidence of competence, skills, and achievements.

It’s important to note that these thoughts about having shortcomings – or feelings of being flawed – can sometimes be so deep-rooted that they operate outside a person’s everyday conscious awareness.

What follows are proven tips to help you heal – and thrive – from imposter syndrome in middle age and beyond.

Imposter Syndrome Affects Mature Adults

Some mature adults experience challenges with imposter syndrome because – in developed countries especially – people over 50 often experience new levels of professional and financial success.

When someone achieves a goal or receives a new level of recognition, it can sometimes activate imposter syndrome within that person’s mind and affect their sense of well-being.

According to a report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the employment rate for individuals aged 55 and over in the United States was 39.8%, up from 29.4% in 1999. This suggests that older individuals continue to work and contribute to the workforce at increasing rates.

Similarly, research has found that individuals over the age of 50 are more likely to start their own businesses.

According to a report by the Kauffman Foundation, in 2019, individuals aged 55-64 accounted for 26.4% of new entrepreneurs in the United States. This trend is also evident in other developed countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom.

woman looking in mirror feeling like she has imposter syndrome

Data suggests that older individuals are accumulating more wealth.

According to a report by the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of households headed by individuals aged 65-74 in the United States increased from $232,100 in 2004 to $359,400 in 2016. Similarly, a report by the Office for National Statistics in the United Kingdom found that individuals aged 65-74 had the highest median income of all age groups in 2019.

When mature adults reach new levels of success or recognition, they may experience imposter syndrome for several reasons.

First, mature adults may feel pressure to maintain their success and fear that they will not be able to sustain their level of achievement over time.

This can be especially true for individuals who have experienced setbacks or failures in the past, as they may feel like their success is temporary or based on circumstance. This can lead to self-doubt and anxiety about their ability to continue performing at a high level.

Second, they may feel they don’t deserve the recognition or that their success was due to luck rather than their abilities.

Third, mature adults may feel like they are not meeting their internal standards of success, even if they are meeting external measures of success.

They may have set high expectations for themselves and feel like they have not fully achieved their goals, even if they have achieved significant accomplishments. Perfectionism is often at play.

If left unaddressed, imposter syndrome can interfere with an individual’s ability to enjoy and capitalize on their success.

Counselors often address imposter syndrome issues in their work with clients over 50.

A counselor or clinical psychologist can help a client recognize and challenge negative beliefs, develop a more balanced perspective of accomplishments, and develop coping strategies to manage feelings of self-doubt and anxiety.

In truth, imposter syndrome impacts many people – regardless of age, gender, or profession.

The Secret Belief Behind Imposter Syndrome

People with Imposter Syndrome often doubt their abilities and fear being exposed as frauds or imposters – even if they have succeeded through hard work and talent.

But what’s behind imposter syndrome?

Individuals with imposter syndrome often have high expectations for themselves – expectations they may or may not be consciously aware of – and feel they must constantly prove their worth to others.

man dealing with his imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can sometimes be connected to childhood experiences, such as not living up to parent’s expectations or never feeling good enough.

Each child has different relational needs and experiences love differently, so a child may eventually form a secret belief:

“if only I were more this or more that – and less this or less that – my parents wouldn’t have been so ambivalent. If I were perfect, my caretakers would have been more curious about me and more loving because I would be fully worthy of happiness.”

(common unconscious belief from those with imposter syndrome)

Imposter Syndrome is not recognized explicitly as a mental disorder, but it can impact a person’s mental health. It can lead to anxiety or depression and affect a person’s relationships, career, and personal goals.

How to Heal from Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome can manifest in different ways, but some common symptoms include:

  • Avoiding new challenges or opportunities that may expose your perceived weaknesses or flaws.
  • Feeling like a fraud or an imposter, even when others praise your work or achievements.
  • Believing that your success is due to luck or external factors rather than your own abilities and efforts.
  • Having a fear of failure or making mistakes.
  • Feeling the need to over-prepare, overwork, or overcompensate for perceived shortcomings.

If you are experiencing imposter syndrome, here are some strategies to help you heal and thrive.

1. Understand that Every Single Person on Earth is Imperfect

Struggling with imposter syndrome? You are not alone. Not by a long shot. It might be helpful for you to understand that every single person on earth is imperfect. You might already understand that intellectually, but let it sink in bone-deep: not a single human is perfect. Not only that, but there is beauty in imperfection. It makes life interesting.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint a specific percentage of adults who struggle with secret feelings of low self-worth, research suggests these feelings are common for many and that addressing them can be a vital part of wellness.

A study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that about 70% of college students surveyed reported experiencing imposter syndrome, a type of self-doubt that can contribute to feelings of low self-worth.

Another study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, found that about 20% of adults reported experiencing imposter syndrome in their work lives.

However, this number climbs even more among women, people of color, people with alternative romantic preferences or gender fluidity, or individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds. This is possibly due to subliminal cultural and societal messages devaluing these groups’ worth and accomplishments.

2. Understand that There are Different Kinds of Smart

A common mistake people make is thinking there is only one kind of smart.

There are many kinds of smart. There is book smart (strong at academics). There is street smart (survival instincts). There is people-smart (social skills). There is linguistics smart (a penchant for words). There is math smart (good with numbers). There is soulfully smart (wisdom). There is politically smart (strategy). There is somatically smart (good at sports and movement). And many more kinds of smart.

Grasping that there are a variety of inherent talents and skills that people can have – and that nobody has all of them – might help you feel more grounded.

3. Develop a More Positive Internal Dialogue

Negative self-talk will not release you from imposter syndrome. Conversely, positive self-talk can work wonders. Try these tips:

  • Reframe negative thoughts and beliefs into positive affirmations and realistic expectations.
  • Practice self-compassion and recognize your own worth and value, regardless of external validation or achievements.
  • Talk to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional about your feelings and concerns.
  • Embrace challenges and opportunities as opportunities for growth and learning rather than threats to your competence or worth.
  • Celebrate your successes and achievements and credit yourself for your hard work and efforts.

“Perfectionism is just an excuse for procrastination. So, do it badly. You’ll be ahead of the vast majority of people who are too scared to even try.”

– Abraham-Hicks

Conclusion on Defeating Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is a common experience that affects many people, but it does not have to hold you back from achieving your goals and living a fulfilling life.

You can overcome Imposter Syndrome and reach your full potential by recognizing and addressing your feelings of self-doubt.