Facing Impostor Syndrome using ACT

Facing Impostor Syndrome with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)


Impostor syndrome is like that nagging voice inside your head telling you you're a fraud, that you don't deserve your achievements, and that you'll be exposed at any moment. It's a surprisingly common experience, especially among successful individuals. Therapy approaches often focus on challenging these negative and unhelpful thoughts, looking at the evidence for and against them, but Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) offers a different way of approaching the problem focusing on acceptance, defusion and values-driven action.

An ACT View of Impostor Syndrome

A Battle You Can't Win: ACT views the struggle against impostor thoughts as a losing battle. The more you try to fight them, the stronger they seem to become. It can leave you feeling exhausted and even more convinced that you're a fraud.

It's Normal: These thoughts and feelings are seen as normal, they are a part of life, a part of growth and stepping out of your comfort zone. Anytime you try to accomplish something you can feel inadequate, like you don't know what you're doing. Most people will experience this from time to time, especially in high-pressure situations, or in situations that really matter to them. Recognising that impostor syndrome is a common human experience, not a sign of personal failure, can be a powerful first step.

Focus on Control: In ACT we shift the focus onto what you can control, namely your actions and how you choose to respond to these thoughts and feelings.

ACT Strategies To Manage Impostor Syndrome

Mindful Observation: Getting better at noticing and recognising these impostor thoughts and feelings, learning to step back and observe them with a sense of curiosity rather than getting swept up in them. Notice the sensations you experience in your body, the specific wording of the thoughts, and the emotions they trigger, creating a space between you and the thoughts. This helps reduce the impact and influence they are having over you.
Acceptance: Accept that these thoughts may always pop up - they are learned, automatic reactions that you do not choose nor control. Acceptance does not mean giving in to them or agreeing with them, taking them as fact, but rather acknowledging their presence as thought and feelings without engaging in a struggle.
Defusion: Learning to see these negative thoughts for what they are – just thoughts, not facts. Learning to label the thoughts, naming them, for example "Here's my impostor thought again" or thanking your mind for the thoughts.
Connecting with Your Values: Remind yourself of what's important to you, your personal values – what truly matters to you in work and life. What do you want to stand for as a person? What kind of person do you want to be?
Committed Action: Focus on taking actions aligned with your values, even in the face of those impostor thoughts. This could involve speaking up in a meeting, applying for a promotion, or connecting with a mentor. Engaging in meaningful and purposeful actions can help to build your confidence and reinforces your competence.

ACT doesn't try to eliminate your impostor fears, instead it teaches you to live alongside them. By developing and practicing acceptance and mindfulness, and aligning your actions with your values, you can build the resilience to move forward despite the nagging voice of self-doubt.

If you're struggling with impostor syndrome, working with an ACT therapist can help you learn these strategies and cultivate greater self-compassion.

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