Have you ever felt like a fraud? Have you ever asked yourself: “What am I doing here?”, “I don’t belong”, or maybe “Everyone is going to find out I’m a fraud and that I don’t actually deserve my job or accomplishments?” If you answered yes to my question, then you have probably experienced Imposter syndrome.
Plot twist: You are not alone.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon, is an internal experience in which individuals may think they are not good enough despite their achievements, experience or education. It is a cognitive distortion that prevents you from internalizing any form of success and is usually overcompensated by working extra hard and holding yourself to a higher standard. Despite being a “syndrome”, this condition is not a part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and therefore is not a mental illness.
The psychologists who first came up with this term proposed a model to describe “the imposter cycle”. In the model, when an individual encounters an achievement-related task, they might feel anxious, worried or doubt themselves. These feelings can lead to over-preparation, procrastination or both. After the task is accomplished, they often feel relieved and are likely to receive positive feedback. However, that feedback is often discounted, and that contributes to their self-doubt, and perceived fraudulence and triggers feelings of anxiety or depression.
Who can experience Imposter syndrome?
The condition was first coined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who initially thought this condition was unique to high-achieving women. Fast forward to today, it can affect anyone regardless of gender, social status or work background.
Most common symptoms of someone experiencing Imposter syndrome
People who are affected by this syndrome feel like a phony in certain areas of their lives. Here are some common features of this syndrome:
- Inability to realistically evaluate their skills
- Inability to internalize their own success
- Attribution of their success to external factors
- Fear of being seen as a failure or fraud
- Holding back from achieving attainable goals
Examples of Imposter syndrome on your day-to-day life
If you are still not sure if you have ever experienced this syndrome, here are 3 simple scenarios that might help you understand it better:
- At work: Your boss trusted you with a task you feel unprepared for, despite your incredible work ethic and previous accomplishments.
- At university: You exceed in everything you set yourself to do, but still attribute your achievements to luck. Or maybe, you avoid asking questions because you fear your professor might think you have no clue what you’re doing.
- In romantic relationships: You are constantly worried your partner will realize you’re not as good as they think you are and end things.
How can you overcome Impostor syndrome?
Now that you know what Impostor syndrome is and what are the main symptoms of this condition, you might be wondering what you can do to overcome this. Presented below are some strategies for overcoming the imposter syndrome:
- Seek help: Feel comfortable getting uncomfortable. I know challenging ingrained beliefs about yourself is hard, but it is much easier to do so surrounded by a community that has experienced what you are going through. Remember: You are not alone.
- Change the way you think about achievement-related tasks: Whenever you face a task, make sure you think of it as an opportunity to learn and better yourself, as opposed to a chance to prove yourself to others.
- Challenge the way you deal about how you are feeling: Anxiety, self-doubt and worry can cause you to over-prepare or procrastinate. In order to avoid procrastination, set small realistic goals that you know you can achieve. Or maybe, reach out to a friend and schedule time to work together. This way you can hold each other accountable for working on the designated task. If you usually find yourself over-preparing, try challenging ingrained beliefs about your intelligence and not being good enough. Don’t believe in the negative self-talk
- Take ownership of your success: Whether you have just gotten promoted or you passed that difficult test, allow yourself to feel proud. Make sure you are not attributing your achievements to external factors such as luck. You deserve everything you have achieved.