Interview with Coline Monsarrat, author of “You Are Not an Imposter: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Unlock Your True Potential So You Can Thrive”.
What is “You Are Not an Imposter” about and why did you write it?
In 2020, life unexpectedly drove me towards confronting a monumental challenge: my imposter syndrome. This awakening was triggered by a near-death experience. I narrowly survived sepsis and lost an organ in the process. Yes, the consequences were high, but what can I say? I’m a stubborn person. Like many, I clung to detrimental habits, including imposter syndrome, as a shield for deeper wounds. I firmly believe life presents increasingly difficult challenges until we decide to confront our wounds and heal.
This brush with death was my catalyst for making significant changes. It prompted me to delve into the depths of my psyche. It led me to study Psychology and immerse myself in literature for answers. My exploration, spanning two years, enabled me to peel away the layers of imposter syndrome that had become a second skin to me. Upon closing this transformative chapter of my life, I felt a strong urge to share my insights.
Thus, “You Are Not an Imposter: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: Unlock Your True Potential So You Can Thrive in Life”, was born. It’s a reflection of my journey and a guide intended to help others shed their masks and embrace authenticity. The essence of the book, and my belief, is encapsulated in the idea that only by removing the masks we’ve fashioned throughout our lives to conceal our scars can we truly live in peace and harmony with our souls. This book is my contribution to that journey for others, inspired by my own.
What are the roots of imposter syndrome and how does it develop?
When I began researching this syndrome for my book, I was very surprised by its high prevalence. Researchers found different roots, but the most common ones are a combination of personality traits — such as perfectionism, and/or external factors, including societal and familial expectations.
It typically develops when individuals can’t internalize and accept their success. Instead of recognizing their competence, they attribute their achievements to luck or external factors. This mindset is often reinforced in high-pressure environments where there’s constant comparisons with peers, leading to feelings of inadequacy and fear of being exposed as a fraud. It can also occur when a child receives praise focused on innate qualities like “intelligence” rather than efforts and behaviors, such as being told, “You did well because you studied hard for this test.” As they grow older, educational and professional settings — especially those emphasizing achievement and competition — can exacerbate these feelings.
Additionally, underrepresented groups in certain fields or environments may experience imposter syndrome more acutely due to systemic biases and lack of representation.
How does imposter syndrome manifest for both men and women in professional settings?
Imposter syndrome manifests for men and women in professional settings with differing expressions and impacts. Women are more likely to internalize their perceived inadequacies, leading to self-doubt. Theirs manifests in ways that may include a reluctance to apply for promotions or new opportunities unless they meet all qualifications. They may also overprepare or work excessively to prove their worth. Men, on the other hand, might exhibit imposter syndrome through reluctance to admit knowledge gaps, overcompensating with assertiveness, or avoiding risk-taking for fear of failure or exposure.
Despite these gendered tendencies, both men and women with imposter syndrome typically experience chronic stress, a constant need to perform at high levels, and difficulty accepting praise or recognizing their own achievements. This can lead to burnout and delayed career progression in both genders.
How does this syndrome insidiously sabotage personal success?
Imposter syndrome can sabotage success by instilling a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud despite evident success and competence. This fear can lead to a cycle of overworking and perfectionism as individuals feel they must constantly prove their worth. Also, their low self-esteem and lack of confidence as a result of imposter syndrome often cause burnout and diminished mental health, which can undermine long-term professional growth and personal well-being.
Imposter syndrome also hampers risk-taking and opportunity-seeking as individuals doubt their abilities and avoid situations where they might fail or receive criticism. Therefore, they miss opportunities for advancement or innovation. The syndrome can also impair decision-making and stifle leadership qualities, as the constant self-doubt makes it challenging to feel confident in one’s judgments or to assert oneself in collaborative or managerial roles. Overall, imposter syndrome creates a barrier to recognizing and embracing one’s own achievements, limiting personal and professional fulfillment.
What role does confirmation bias play in allowing imposter syndrome to become entrenched?
Confirmation bias plays a significant role because it causes individuals to focus on and give more weight to experiences and information that confirm their feelings of inadequacy, while discounting or ignoring evidence of their competence and success. When someone with imposter syndrome experiences success, they might attribute it to external factors like luck, or perceive it as a fluke. In contrast, mistakes or criticisms are often internalized and seen as proof of their perceived fraudulence. This selective interpretation of experiences reinforces their belief that they’re not truly qualified or deserving of their position.
Moreover, confirmation bias can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, fearing exposure as a fraud may cause an individual to act hesitantly or defensively, which can inadvertently lead to less effective performance and further confirm their belief in their own inadequacy. Additionally, in seeking validation for their doubts, individuals with imposter syndrome may unconsciously gravitate towards feedback or environments that reinforce their negative self-view, thus perpetuating the cycle of self-doubt and fear of exposure.
This cognitive distortion makes it challenging for individuals to objectively assess their skills and achievements. Confirmation bias creates a mental barrier that can be difficult to overcome without conscious effort or external support. As a result, imposter syndrome becomes a deeply entrenched part of one’s self-perception, affecting career progression, personal development, and overall well-being.
What urgent actions must one take to invalidate beliefs around being an imposter?
First and foremost, one must recognize the presence of imposter syndrome in their self-perception. Often, after living with it for years, it can subtly weave into one’s identity, deeply influencing one’s life. Gaining self-awareness is the initial, vital step.
Subsequent moves involve confronting and deconstructing these imposter beliefs. This task can be challenging given the influence of confirmation bias, as one might unconsciously seek out examples confirming their feelings of being a fraud. A practical approach is to write down these beliefs without judgment. Let these thoughts sit for a few days, then revisit them with fresh eyes, as if evaluating a friend’s situation. This perspective shift is often enlightening as we tend to be more objective and positive about others than ourselves.
Next, actively rewrite your internal narrative whenever imposter feelings emerge. Remember, the more you dwell on a fear, the more life seems to echo it back. Hence, it’s essential to face these fears and reshape your story. While consuming books and content on this topic is beneficial, real change stems from action — like embracing controlled risks, suggesting innovative ideas, or stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s about altering the mental script and complementing it with tangible actions.
When addressing ingrained behaviors, the most challenging aspect is actually to take action. Unfortunately, some coping mechanisms, such as people pleasing, can be hard to change because actions are the only way to get rid of them. Unlike self-doubt or confidence issues, which can be managed in part with internal dialogue and reframing thoughts, changing behaviors like people-pleasing demands direct action. There’s no workaround — to stop people-pleasing, one must start saying “no,” which inevitably leads to uncomfortable situations. The real test lies here, as your brain naturally gravitates towards comfort and familiarity.
However challenging it may be, it’s crucial to remember not to be too hard on yourself during this process. Your brain’s resistance to discomfort, even if it’s counterproductive, is a normal response. Persisting through the discomfort is key, and with time and repeated practice, these new behaviors become more natural and less daunting. Each act of saying “no” is a step away from the imposter syndrome and a step towards authentic self-expression and personal growth.
How can one reframe negative self-talk and create new neural pathways?
Reframing negative self-talk and creating new neural pathways involves a deliberate and mindful approach. Here’s how one can do it:
1. Heighten awareness: As mentioned before, the first step is recognizing negative self-talk as it happens. This requires mindfulness and self-awareness. By becoming an observer of your thoughts, you can identify patterns of negativity or self-doubt.
2. Challenge and replace: Once you’re aware of negative thoughts, challenge their validity. Ask yourself questions like, “Is this thought based on facts or assumptions?” and “Is there a more positive or realistic way to view this situation?” Then, actively replace these thoughts with more positive or realistic ones. This doesn’t mean denying difficulties but rather approaching them with a more balanced perspective. If you have difficulty doing so, seek external feedback. Others’ perspectives can oftentimes help reveal our negative thoughts. Constructive feedback from trusted friends, mentors, or therapists can provide a reality check and aid in reframing thoughts.
3. Use positive affirmations: Regular use of positive affirmations can aid in rewiring the brain. Affirmations should be positive, phrased in the present tense, and believable. Repeating them lets you shift your focus from negative to positive thinking patterns. However, it’s important also to change your behaviors accordingly. If you keep telling yourself that you’re full of confidence but act contrary to this in challenging situations, developing actual self-confidence will be difficult.
4. Practice consistency: Neural pathways are strengthened by repetition. Consistently practicing these techniques makes them more effective and eventually creates more positive, automatic thought patterns.
5. Cultivate a learning and growth mindset: Embrace a mindset that perceives challenges as opportunities for growth rather than threats. Welcome mistakes as learning experiences, acknowledging that ability and intelligence are honed with time and effort. Always remember that you control your life. While you may not have control over external events or people, you can manage how you respond to them.
6. Engage in physical exercise: Regular exercise benefits not only physical health but also mental well-being. Engaging in physical activity can enhance brain plasticity and assist in developing new neural pathways. I find walking to be one of the best exercises for improving both brain neuroplasticity and overall physical health.
7. Seek professional help: If negative self-talk is deeply ingrained or linked to issues like anxiety or depression, seeking help from a mental health professional can be beneficial. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is specifically designed to change thought patterns.
Remember, changing thought patterns is a process that takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and acknowledge small victories along the way.
How did you deal with your own imposter syndrome?
The roots of my imposter syndrome can be traced back to my childhood, though I didn’t realize it for some time. After much introspection, I recognized that the seeds of my imposter syndrome were planted in the corridors of the medical world. As I battled an undiagnosed genetic disease, I faced constant invalidation that left me feeling like an imposter in my own skin.
In adulthood, this feeling spread to work. Despite earning promotions, I felt like a fraud and my self-esteem and confidence were almost non-existent. I constantly doubted myself. Unknowingly, I was sabotaging my career progression and salary. Deep down I was content with earning less because it felt safer — a higher salary would mean greater disappointment for others upon realizing my perceived inadequacy. I also indulged in people-pleasing, hoping to make myself less “disposable” when my “fraud” was discovered.
Ironically, my health — the very origin of these issues — eventually became my savior. Enduring such medical hardships forced me to acknowledge my own resilience and gradually build confidence.
The cost of living with imposter syndrome was significant for me, and it’s my hope that others recognize and confront it much sooner than I did. We often caution others about the dangers of poor dietary habits and their impact on physical health, yet we overlook equally harmful mental habits. Imposter syndrome, though less tangible, can be just as damaging to our well-being.
To learn more, visit youarenotanimposter.com.