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Radim Šlechta
September 5, 2022, 11:00am
Reading time: 10:26

"At Work, I Make Excuses And Throw Up." Or How We Suffer From The Imposter Syndrome

Feelings of incompetence accompany the lives of even the most successful people. However, it is possible to defend yourself against the imposter syndrome.

Radim Šlechta
September 5, 2022, 11:00am
Reading time: 10:26
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"At Work, I Make Excuses And Throw Up." Or How We Suffer From The Imposter Syndrome
Zdroj: Pexels/Olya Kobruseva
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I can't do it. And today they will figure it out. I will lose my job and it will finally be revealed what an incompetent person I am. This is also how it can look in the head of a person suffering from imposter syndrome. No matter how impressive his achievements are at first glance or how perfect his life may seem, for him, all success is just a coincidence and all mistakes are fatal. He himself is absolute zero in his own thoughts.


We've probably all experienced some degree of imposter syndrome. Many of us felt that success somehow came to us on its own, that we only passed the exam due to luck or ended up in a better place than the competition due to the incompetence of our opponent. Some people do not let go of these emotions and in the long term, these thoughts strengthen their feeling of incompetence.


"At the heart of the impostor syndrome is a disturbance of self-esteem rather than a fear of detection. It's about the way we perceive and evaluate our work and personal successes," explains psychologist Tomáš Morávek. According to him, the imposter syndrome results in a so-called asymmetric evaluation, when a person sees himself differently (usually worse) than the way others see him.

Success as a happy coincidence

"Low self-esteem doesn't happen overnight. It is mostly formed during upbringing and education. It is influenced, for example, by how parents reacted to our failures or successes. Strict parents could, for example, inadvertently sow the seeds of inner doubts, because as children we were more often criticised and praised only for exceptionally great performance," explains Morávek.


"Because of this, the brain begins to perceive further partial successes as insufficient, our self-confidence is not adequately replenished and it will decrease. And it represents some profit after a well-executed performance," he adds.


Source: Unsplash/Anthony Tran

According to him, imposter syndrome is more often experienced by people who have a more prestigious profession or are considered by their surroundings to be objectively successful people. It is with successful people that the above-mentioned difference between reality and its perception occurs.


"If I simplify things a lot, without wanting to offend anyone, if I start as a supermarket clerk and do hard work for minimum wage, this syndrome probably won't break out in me," Morávek describes, adding that low self-esteem and poor self-esteem can show even in less prestigious jobs. "If I have a job with low respect and bad pay, I can reinforce the feeling that I'm not good for anything else. Regardless of whether it's true," says Morávek.


A whole series of doubts will begin to be associated with success. If a person is already accompanied by self-doubt on the way to success, they can become more intense with success. A person begins to trivialise achievements and has the feeling that he cheated someone on his way to the accomplishment.

Fear of failure

Imposter syndrome often goes hand in hand with procrastination and paralysis. People often put off tasks because they are afraid of failure. We probably all want to give the best possible performance, and the fear that our work will fall into gray mediocrity can often be paralyzing.


"When I don't have enough self-confidence, I may try to show that I'm good at something. At the same time, the fear of failure can paralyze me," explains Morávek. For example, when we want to write a great text, we may fear that it will be mediocre, and what's more, our brain perceives it that way from the beginning.

"Such paralysis can also be connected to the fact that I don't get the desired satisfaction. Some people really do a good job, but the response is low or non-existent, so our self-confidence does not get natural fuel," explains Morávek.

We all have doubts

All of us experience self-doubt to some extent. Most people may remember shades of imposter syndrome from sports or school settings, for example. A classic case can be a well-written test, but in which there were simple questions. We no longer see that the questions seemed easy to us due to our preparation and abilities. Stressful situations, anxiety or depression also affect the ability to enjoy success.


"This is manifested, for example, when I prepare for an exam and I am not able to enjoy it because I was under a lot of stress and I went energetically. If these feelings last for a limited time - for example, a month - they can be taken as a so-called run-in. But if it's a more permanent phenomenon and I have a tendency to interpret most of my successes negatively, I should get smarter," explains Morávek.

"I tend to apologise and put myself down."

Lawyer Eva moved from the position of an ordinary clerk to a more prestigious position, which also required far greater qualifications, approximately seven years ago. Since then, she has been accompanied by the feeling that she is not up to her job. "I constantly live with the feeling that even though I studied law and have been working in the field for over 23 years, I'm not really a lawyer," she confided to REFRESHER.


According to Eva, her upbringing and the opinions of her parents are to a large extent reflected in her poor self-evaluation. "My parents doubted me and I started to convince myself that I could do it, even though it was very difficult. Especially when I'm surrounded by highly educated colleagues," Eva describes.


It is said that feelings of inadequacy are also reflected in her work performance and evaluation of feedback at work. She says she tolerates criticism better than praise, and procrastination is common for her at work. "At work, I have a tendency to apologise and put myself down in front of my colleagues, which is definitely not ok," revealed Eva.

"My family is proud of me, even though they have no reason to be."

Filip works as a journalist. He says he has had feelings of inadequacy since the first day he started working in the field. He had already experienced an imaginary voice telling him that he was not up to the job during his first job interview. “I felt the demands were too low and that's what got me the job. The same was true for the second interview, which was significantly more challenging. Nevertheless, I had the prevailing feeling that it was just pure luck," Filip described for REFRESHER.


It is said that Filip's doubts often triggered praise from other people. According to him, if those around him saw what he really is like and how he works, they would certainly not praise him.

"I often compared myself to professionally much older colleagues and subsequently blamed myself for not being as good as them. It also often happened to me that whenever someone outside of work complimented me on what I was doing or expressed some kind of admiration, I would just wave my hand at it and chalk it up to just being lucky. Just like when I managed to write a good article. At that moment, I thought that it was actually just a coincidence," explains Filip.

Over time, his work days were permeated by a sense of dread that he would be "scolded" for his work. Moreover, this fear represented a way to get rid of the tendency to procrastinate. "When it comes to negative feedback, I've always taken it very poorly. I understood it as a confirmation of some primarily bad opinion about myself. Since the feedback came from more professional and experienced people, I took it as an irrefutable fact," explains Filip.

Shades of imposter syndrome from work gradually spilled over into personal life. He is said to be currently experiencing similar feelings in almost all interpersonal relationships. "I still have feelings that I'm not good enough for my friends or that my family is proud of me, even though there's no reason at all," he concludes.

"I usually don't deserve praise at all."

Monika is an administrative worker. Her working days are often accompanied by feelings that she does not understand her work at all and that she is constantly swimming in it. "There are better days, but then more work comes and I start to panic again. It seems to me that I would never have put anything together without my colleagues," Monika described her feelings for REFRESHER.


Criticism that comes at the workplace also confirms her feelings of incompetence. "Criticism makes me very sad and then I feel that I am useless again," describes Monika. She says that she often feels the need to show that he is not, in fact, a "bad" worker. Still, she gives a damn about other people's opinions, and when someone makes a negative comment about her performance, she takes the criticism too personally, according to her own words. On the other hand, it is a problem for her to take words of praise personally in this way.


"I can't accept praise very well, I feel that I usually don't deserve it and that I haven't done much. I found out that I can't enjoy any success for long, I constantly demand more from myself," says Monika.


Similar feelings also affect her personal life. She herself is said to be devastated by the fact that she, as a young and healthy person, is consumed by similar emotions. "Sometimes I don't really know what to do with life. Plus, I feel like the constant whining can turn off people around me. Moreover, they may start to think that I am really useless," Monika describes. Due to similar feelings of sadness and devastation, she is said to be attending therapy, where she tries to face her emotions.

"I was afraid to go to management with a problem."

Simona started working as a bartender until, thanks to her skills, she was able to work her way up to the head of two shifts that alternated in the company. "I was getting very tired and mentally exhausted. I didn't know if I was up to the job, because maybe I don't have an education in the field of gastronomy," explained Simona for REFRESHER.


Her feelings showed when she had to correct the team of bartenders below her in her leadership position. Experienced people often came to work, whom Simona said she had no right to lead. "I kept telling myself that I wasn't up to the job and that maybe I wasn't the type of leader at all. At the same time, my brain tried to convince me that I had to show that I was good enough. It was difficult for me to find a balance between being an extremely strict leader and making the employees have a good day," Simona confided.


The doubts that Simona had in herself were helped by the comments of some employees, who allegedly sometimes undermined her authority, quite often because of the fact that she is a woman. But at that time, Simona lived in the belief that she herself was to blame for the lack of respect. "I told myself that the irritation of authority comes from the fact that I am not good enough. I was afraid to go to the management because I thought I was doing something wrong," she describes.


Especially in the beginning, she did not manage to tolerate praise well. Her achievements were more a result of chance and luck than effort and ability. However, according to Simona's own words, over time she began to realize her worth. Practicing yoga, meditation and acquiring knowledge in the field of psychology also helped her in this, she said. As she says, it was a very long journey, but she managed to get rid of her doubts to a large extent.

We are successful because of objective qualities

Although the voices in our head may say otherwise, most of the time we achieve success because of our qualities. Regardless of whether one of those qualities is diligence, cleverness or talent. We will have these qualities within us regardless of whether we think otherwise. According to Tomáš Morávek, this will help us to carry out our work at a high quality level in the long term. "It is good to realize that the problem is not our inability. We often have good qualities and abilities, and it is good to know that the problem is that we cannot appreciate them," explains Morávek. According to him, this realisation could be one of the first steps on the way to better self-confidence.


Source: Unsplash/Magnet.me

According to him, these small and conscious steps are a way to unlearn self-doubt. This is because certain patterns are formed in the brain, according to which we evaluate ourselves without realizing it. If we can see these patterns, it is easier to work with them.


"The guideline is to pay attention to feedback. To see what feedback I get and how it differs from what I think about myself. Then it is useful to look at some objective measures. For example, finding out where I am in the ping pong rankings, what my grades are, or what the average salary of people my age is compared to my salary. Then I can start to think about myself and find out that I there is a difference between my self-evaluation and reality," explains Morávek.


According to him, a change in thinking is not only a great start, but also an effective tool. A lot of people make great progress just by consciously trying to think about things differently and trying to see the things they've accomplished in a more realistic light.


"It is important, even if it is very profane, to receive praise even in small forms. For example, if someone smiles at me or says something nice to me, I will try not to let it go in my head. There are people who interpret praise as meaning that the other person wants to manipulate them or that they are similarly nice to everyone," explains Morávek.

Therapy is not always necessary

Similar feelings can be dealt with to some extent by self-help. Similarly, we can deal with procrastination and paralysis that can accompany imposter syndrome. According to Morávek, it is useful to start with monitoring and find out if other people are experiencing similar conditions. Subsequently, it will help us to find out where negative feelings are most manifested in our lives.


"It is up to each individual how he manages to work with his doubts. But if he sees that the roots of his problem are deeper and difficult to work with, it is a good idea to seek professional help," explains Morávek. It does not have to be a years-long therapy. It is often said that it is enough to name the problem and clarify it.


Until then, you can work on specific manifestations of imposter syndrome. Whether it is a conscious effort to accept praise and perceive situations in which negative emotions control us, or procrastination. For example, it helps to divide work into smaller units and certainly "renaming the activity".


“That means I'm not going to write a five thousand word article, but I'm going to write a paragraph and then I can go do something else. Most of the time, it also works as a start to the whole activity, because we don't create such resistance in the brain," says Morávek. The main advantage of this principle is that it helps us get started. When we are already sitting at work, we often stay at it. The beginning is, as is well known, the hardest. Either in overcoming procrastination or doubts.

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Thumbnail: Pexels/Olya Kobruseva
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