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Quieting Your Inner Critic: 3 Strategies to Beat Imposter Syndrome

Imagine a world where success is a double-edged sword, where the very achievements that should bring you joy are overshadowed by a nagging voice whispering, “You’re not good enough.” Welcome to the realm of imposter syndrome, a psychological phenomenon that affects countless individuals – from high-achieving professionals to everyday people striving to make their mark.

Below, I reveal the root causes of this self-sabotaging mindset and I show you three proven strategies for quieting your inner critic so that you can embrace your authentic self and thrive happily in life.

How to Tell If You Have Imposter Syndrome (and what to do about it)

Picture yourself standing on the precipice of a significant accomplishment, your heart racing with a mix of excitement and trepidation. You’ve worked tirelessly and poured your heart and soul into your endeavors – and yet, a sinister thought creeps in: “I don’t deserve this. I’m just faking it.”

This is the essence of imposter syndrome, a pervasive belief that – despite evidence to the contrary –you are an imposter, unworthy of your own success.

Imagine a childhood where praise was scarce, where achievements were often met with a shrug or a dismissive remark.

When relational needs and emotional-support needs go largely unmet in early life, it can plant the seeds of self-doubt, leaving a child seeking validation and feeling “never quite good enough.”

Each human child has a different biological temperament and unique relational needs. Answering the question “What is love?” is difficult precisely because each person experiences love slightly differently.

When children are not loved in the way they need to be loved, they can form a deeply rooted unconscious belief that they are unloveable.

Of course, “being loved” and “being loveable” are two completely different things. Just because you are unloved doesn’t mean you are unloveable. But as children, we don’t understand that distinction.

Someone can tell you that “you are loveable and you are worthy of joy and success,” and, intellectually, you might know that is correct, but the intellect isn’t running this show – your deep-rooted beliefs are.

Mature couple collecting eggs, laughing in celebration after having beat imposter syndrome.

Now, fast-forward to adulthood, where societal pressures and the constant comparison game create a breeding ground for imposter syndrome.

You find yourself measuring your worth against the highlight reels of others – forgetting that behind every polished exterior lies a story of struggle and imperfection.

The pressure to maintain an image of flawless success becomes a heavy burden, leaving you trapped in a cycle of self-doubt and fear of exposure.

But here’s the plot twist: imposter syndrome is not an isolated affliction reserved for a select few. It’s a widespread experience that touches lives across the spectrum, from the boardroom to the artist’s studio.

Take comfort in knowing that you are not alone in this struggle and that even the most accomplished individuals have grappled with the same feelings of inadequacy.

So, how do you break free from the grip of imposter syndrome?

The answer lies in a combination of self-awareness, self-compassion, and a shift in perspective.

Strategy 1: Embrace Imperfection and Celebrate Your Unique Strengths

The first step in overcoming imposter syndrome is to recognize and accept that perfection is an illusion.

Every single person on this earth is beautifully flawed, and it’s precisely these imperfections that make us human and relatable.

Take a moment to reflect on your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem.

Acknowledge the effort, dedication, and resilience that have brought you this far.

Instead of striving for an unattainable ideal, shift your focus to celebrating your unique strengths and embracing your quirks.

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.

“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

Recognize that success comes in many forms, and that your journey is valid and worthy of celebration.

There are countless ways to be intelligent and talented. Perhaps you have a gift for words, a knack for problem-solving, or a deep well of emotional intelligence. Embrace the diversity of your abilities and know that there is no single definition of success.

Strategy 2: Challenge Negative Self-Talk and Cultivate Self-Compassion

The voice of imposter syndrome is often fueled by negative self-talk, a constant stream of self-criticism that undermines your confidence and self-worth.

man dealing with his imposter syndrome

Recent research of imposter syndrome reveals the tendency to attribute success to external factors, the fear of not living up to expectations, and setting unrealistic goals and standards.

Imposter Syndrome can manifest in many 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.

To break free from this cycle, it’s crucial to become aware of these thoughts and actively challenge them.

When you find yourself spiraling into self-doubt, take a step back and ask yourself: “Would I speak to a friend or loved one in this way?”

Chances are, you would never subject others to the harsh critique you reserve for yourself. Extend that same compassion and understanding to yourself.

“…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 have been worthy.”

Common unconscious belief from those with imposter syndrome

Practice reframing negative thoughts into positive affirmations. Instead of dwelling on perceived failures, focus on the lessons learned and the growth that comes from facing challenges head-on. Remind yourself that setbacks are a natural part of the journey.

Cultivate a practice of self-compassion, treating yourself with kindness and understanding, just as you would a dear friend.

Recognize that imposter syndrome is a common experience and that seeking support and guidance is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Strategy 3: Embrace Challenges as Opportunities for Growth

There is evidence to support that imposter syndrome often thrives in the face of new challenges.

A study conducted by Brigham Young University found that 20% of college students experience impostor syndrome. This condition leads individuals to doubt their accomplishments and feel like a “fraud,” despite external evidence of their competence.

It may be that approximately 20% to 70% of adults are consciously aware of experiencing imposter syndrome in their work lives. However, a systematic review suggests that this number climbs even more among women, people of color [investigation], 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.

When you are presented with an opportunity or a challenge, this is when your mind can whisper fears of failure and exposure. However, it’s precisely these moments that hold the greatest potential for growth and self-discovery.

Instead of shying away from challenges, embrace them as opportunities to stretch your abilities and expand your comfort zone.

Reframe fear as excitement, knowing that each new experience brings with it the chance to learn, grow, and prove to yourself just how capable you truly are.

Celebrate your successes, big and small, and give yourself credit for the hard work and dedication that brought you to this point.

Surround yourself with a supportive network of individuals who believe in your abilities and encourage you to pursue your dreams. Seek out mentors and role models who have navigated similar challenges and can offer guidance and perspective.

Remember, imposter syndrome affects individuals of all ages and stages of life. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just starting out, it’s never too late to confront these feelings and reclaim your sense of self-worth.

Imposter Syndrome Affects Mature Adults, Too

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:

  • According to a report by the Federal Reserve, the median net worth of households headed by individuals aged 65-74 in the United States is likely to increase significantly [survey].
  • Similarly, a report by the UK Office for National Statistics [data trends] found that senior adults often have higher (if not the highest) median income of all age groups.

So, data suggests that older individuals are accumulating more wealth, and when someone reaches a new financial level or level of recognition, it can sometimes activate imposter syndrome within that person’s mind and affect their sense of well-being.

According to a recent report by the US Bureau of Labor, the employment rate [statistics] for individuals aged 55 and over in the United States is likely rising. 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 [referenced], 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.

Boosting Success and Beating Imposter Syndrome in Midlife

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.

“The only way to stop feeling like an impostor is to stop thinking like an impostor.”

–Valerie Young, Doctorate in Education (Ed.D.)

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.

Conclusion on Overcoming Self-Doubt and Conquering Imposter Syndrome

In conclusion, beating imposter syndrome is a journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and growth.

By embracing imperfection, challenging negative self-talk, and viewing challenges as opportunities, you can quiet your inner critic and step into your authentic power.

Know that you are not alone in this struggle and that seeking support and guidance is a sign of strength and resilience. Celebrate your unique talents, your hard-earned accomplishments, and the courage it takes to face your fears head-on.

As you navigate this path, remember that imposter syndrome does not define you. It is merely a temporary visitor, a shadow that can be illuminated by the light of self-awareness and self-compassion.

So, take a deep breath, quiet your inner critic, and step confidently into the world, knowing that you have everything you need to thrive. Your journey is valid, your voice matters, and your authentic self is ready to shine.

Additional Resources:

In addition to the scholarly resources linked from within this article, here are resources that provide more science-based insights on the phenomenon of people secretly feeling like a fraud:

Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0086006

Sakulku, J., & Alexander, J. (2011). The imposter phenomenon. International Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 73–92. https://so06.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/IJBS/article/view/521

Cokley, K., McClain, S., Enciso, A., & Martinez, M. (2013). An examination of the impact of minority status stress and imposter feelings on the mental health of diverse ethnic minority college students. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 41(2), 82–95. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2013.00029.x