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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Can imposter syndrome be overcome? Yes. With communication excellence.


woman sits at computer desk with head in hands

Have you ever felt like a fraud? Doubting your knowledge or abilities? Anxious your shortcomings would be discovered?


If so, you may suffer from a common condition known as Imposter Syndrome.


What is imposter syndrome?

The term was first described in 1978 by two clinical psychologists, Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes. It is a feeling of inadequacy regardless of a person’s true level of expertise or success. It is also known as imposter phenomenon.


Imposter syndrome is a cognitive distortion, which is a negative thought pattern not based on reality that leads to feeling bad about oneself.


It affects people of all genders, ages, professions, races, and ethnicities. Even accomplished and well-known people such as Neil Armstrong and Maya Angelou have been attributed to experiencing imposter syndrome. It is common among those in healthcare professions and academia.


Imposter syndrome expresses itself in a variety of ways including self-doubt, a lack of self-worth and confidence, denial of competence or skill, giving credit to external factors for achievements, creating unrealistic expectations, and exhibiting atychiphobia (fear of failure). It can ultimately lead to burnout.


Imposter syndrome has a variety of potential antecedents including a family history of over-achievement or strong criticism, societal pressures to achieve, perfectionism, super-heroism, fear of being excluded, fear of inadequacy, shame in asking for help, and a highly introverted personality.


Can imposter syndrome be overcome?

Imposter syndrome that is not severe may be overcome with a gentle dose of reality. How? By honestly recognizing one’s abilities, areas of expertise, and unique skills. Remembering that no one knows everything. Acknowledging that we all have limitations and yet all have something to contribute.


Add to that... Creating realistic expectations. Striving for excellence over perfection. Acknowledging mistakes as opportunities for learning and growth. Accepting personal recognition for achievements.


Credentialled nutrition professionals such as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) are the food and nutrition experts. When RDNs suffer from imposter syndrome it prevents them from fulfilling that role.


To be an expert without imposter syndrome requires being an expert with authority. Here’s how…


True authorities overcome imposter syndrome with communication excellence.

In a recent post, we described that experts become authorities by acquiring and honing their communication skills. When we communicate with excellence we are viewed as credible, trustworthy, relatable authorities.


Let’s face it, there are non-experts with strong communication skills posing as nutrition authorities spreading misinformation. They are imposters and frauds yet do not suffer from imposter syndrome.


RDNs need to be the true experts spreading accurate and actionable food and nutrition information. RDNs need to practice communication excellence.


When we communicate with excellence, we demonstrate both competence and confidence. Our audiences gain understanding and are equipped to take action. We are perceived as authorities.


A true authority is not a fraud, they are not an imposter. They don’t know everything, but what they do know is communicated with excellence.


Severe imposter syndrome may require a stronger approach to overcome.

When imposter syndrome results in a debilitating lack of confidence and borders on burnout, working on one’s communication skills is not enough. Seek help from a credentialled mental health professional to root out negative beliefs and thought patterns.


Remember… everyone doubts themselves at times.

Doubt can be based on truth and can motivate taking action to learn and develop competence in an area. Or doubt can be self-imposed and not reality-based.


When self-doubt occurs, become the expert with authority and communicate with excellence. When audiences perceive you as the authority you truly are, feelings of imposter syndrome vanish.


“I still have a little imposter syndrome… It doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.” ~ Michelle Obama


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