Men experience imposter syndrome too – here’s how to overcome it

Anyone can potentially battle self-doubt (Alamy/PA)
Anyone can potentially battle self-doubt (Alamy/PA)

Imposter syndrome isn’t a disease, but it can do real damage to our confidence and self-esteem if it’s goes unchecked. And while it’s often associated with women, men can experience it too – as recently highlighted.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Last Word recently, Mike Parkinson revealed that his father, Sir Michael Parkinson – who died aged 88 earlier this month – dealt with “imposter syndrome” and “was wracked with self-doubt”.

He went on to say that the well loved late chat show host, who interviewed the likes of Victoria and David Beckham and Muhammad Ali during his career, “didn’t have as much self-confidence as he appeared to have on TV”.

The director also said that despite his father’s obvious success, he was “still very class ridden” and “very insecure”.

These words will no doubt strike a chord with many. Here’s a closer look and imposter syndrome and what men can do to help manage it.

What is imposter syndrome?

“Impostor syndrome is not a mental illness. It is rather a term applied to the internal psychological experience of feeling like a fraud in a particular area in your life, despite evidence of success or external validation,” says Dr Jon van Niekerk, group clinical director at Cygnet Health Care.

“It might come as a surprise to some, but it is fairly common experience, with 70% of people having at least one episode at some point,” he adds.

“It is also a myth that men do not suffer from impostor syndrome. In fact, research has shown that if surveys are anonymous, there are similar levels of these symptoms between men and women. The difference is that men can find it more difficult to talk about these feelings.”

What signs might they experience?

Dr Elena Touroni, consultant psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic, believes at its core, imposter syndrome is associated with “feelings of self-doubt sparking fears of being ‘exposed’ as a fraud, or diminishing genuine achievements and attributing them to luck rather than skill”.

She adds: “On the surface, these internal battles might manifest as overworking to prove one’s worth, delaying tasks due to fear of imperfection, or an unending quest for validation.”

As a result, van Niekerk says men could “compensate by overworking to achieve impossible standards they set themselves. Many people that have impostor syndrome are ‘overachievers’ and their personal and family life suffers.

“Some people also self-sabotage their relationships, as they do not believe the deserve affection from others,” he adds. “If not managed well, it can ultimately lead to burnout and more severe mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.”

What are the possible causes?

There are various factors that play a role in imposter syndrome, especially as people may have different triggers for these feelings, and in different areas of their lives.

“These feelings and beliefs can often be traced back to schemas – mental blueprints formed by our early experiences,” says Touroni. “These schemas shape our perception of ourselves, the world, and our place in it. When early experiences involve neglect, abandonment or overly critical parents/caregivers, it can lead to a lasting belief of not being ‘good enough’.”

How can men overcome imposter syndrome?

Reflecting on your strengths and positive past experiences is often a great place to start. “It is important to not just accept self-defeating thoughts. If you experience these thoughts, it is important to note them and remind yourself of why you are in a particular position, and what past accomplishments you have had,” says van Niekerk.

“Once you open up, you will be surprised how many people struggle with similar thoughts. Usually, these settle down once you have been in a particular role for some time, but if they impact on you pursuing your goals or your relationships, it might be helpful to speak to a therapist.”

Touroni adds: “Imposter feelings tend to run deep. But, with dedication and the right support, they can be challenged and changed. A therapist can help you unearth the origins of these beliefs, challenge their accuracy, and cultivate healthier, more empowering perspectives and coping mechanisms.”