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Imposter syndrome: how seeking the support of friends and family could help you tackle feelings of self-doubt

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Lauren Geall
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Imposter syndrome: seeking support outside of your professional circle could help you to battle feelings of self-doubt.

Imposter syndrome can affect anyone at any time: here’s the best way to tackle those feelings of self-doubt.

Imposter syndrome may be a pretty common experience in today’s workforce, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

Characterised by feelings of self-doubt and fears of being discovered as a “fraud” (because sufferers believe the people around them aren’t aware of their ‘actual’ level of competence), imposter syndrome has been proven to disproportionately affect women. In fact, the most recent research has revealed that men are 18% less likely to experience this form of self-doubt than their female counterparts.

Of course, everyone experiences feelings of self-doubt and anxiety every once in a while, but when you’re feeling like a fraud – and doubting your abilities because of it – on a daily basis, it can have a significant impact on your career and emotional wellbeing. So what can we do about it?

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According to a new study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, the secret to fighting imposter syndrome could lie in our friends who lie outside of our professional or academic circles, because they can help us to reassess our values from a new perspective.

The study, which consisted of interviews with 20 people and a wider survey of 213 participants, looked at how professionals in training deal with feelings of imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome: seeking support from people outside of our professional circle could be more affective in fighting feelings of imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome: seeking support from people outside of our professional circle could be more affective in fighting feelings of imposter syndrome.

Out of all the coping mechanisms they reported, the study revealed seeking social support from individuals outside of the training program peer group (such as family, friends and significant others) was the most effective way for the participants to tackle their feelings of imposterism. Alternatively, seeking support from the people in the program only worsened the feelings of imposterism. 

The reason for these results? There are two suggestions. Firstly, the researchers suggested that receiving support from our friends and family may be beneficial simply because they care for us unconditionally, regardless of how we’re performing. The researchers also revealed that feelings of imposterism tended to be lower when there was “equality” in the relationship, even when that person was within the same professional peer group. This, they suggested, could be because imposterism is fed when we don’t know how much others are “struggling or succeeding”. 

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By giving us an outside perspective, it seems our friends and family could help us to feel more confident in our abilities just by reminding us of what we’re capable of away from the workplace atmosphere.

So next time you’re feeling down about your abilities, make sure to seek support from the people closest to you – after all, sometimes our best friends know us better than we know ourselves.

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Lauren Geall

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