You aced the exam, got the promotion or received an award. You should feel great, right? Accomplishing goals such as these are typically followed by feelings of confidence and pride. Then why don’t you feel that way? Instead of feeling joy you are questioning if you deserve the accolades you are receiving. You may be chalking it up to luck, completely ignoring the hard work and preparation you put into achieving your goal. If this describes how you feel, then you may be experiencing imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is when an individual lacks confidence in their own knowledge or skills. These individuals often possess a fear that they will one day be outed as a fraud and attribute any successes in life to “dumb luck” or being able to deceive others into believing they are more talented than they truly are. Those with imposter syndrome commonly disregard any evidence that speaks to their capabilities. Even with clear evidence of one’s skills, crippling self-doubt leaves some feeling like a phony who does not belong. Interestingly, further achievement of success does not alleviate the perceived feelings of phoniness; instead, it only fuels the fire of inadequacy and self-doubt. Imposter syndrome is strongly associated with perfectionism and can lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression. This can create a repetitive cycle of anxiety/worry, task completion, and self-doubt until the next task is presented. Then the cycle begins again.
If any of this rings true for you, know that not only are you not alone you are also in great company. Studies show that 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. It can affect anyone regardless of background, education, income level, social status or skill set. This phenomenon was first studied in the 1970s and is commonly associated with high achievers. Further research has shown that while men are susceptible, imposter syndrome more significantly impacts women – especially ethnic minorities. Notable people who have reported struggling with imposter syndrome are figures such as Maya Angelou, Albert Einstein, Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks and Lady Gaga to name a few. In our ever changing, fast-paced world, the pressure to achieve is something that impacts us all. For those with imposter syndrome, the constant worry of “being discovered” or failure after many successes can stifle individual growth. This can ultimately prevent one from reaching their full potential.
However, all is not lost. Imposter syndrome can be overcome. The following are tips for dealing with imposter syndrome and building self-confidence.
1. Acknowledge What You Do Well
While you might not be an expert at everything, chances are there are several things that you do fairly well. Taking the time to make an honest assessment of your abilities can be helpful in building confidence. Create a list of things that you are good at and keep it handy to remind yourself of all you are capable of. Also, don’t overthink it, keep it simple. Your list could include anything from the mouth watering chocolate cake you bake to running a successful business.
2. Examine Your Thoughts
At any given time, we all have a myriad of thoughts swirling around in our mind. Some of these thoughts are helpful, perhaps reminding us to pay a bill; others can be self-defeating feelings of fraudulency. Becoming aware of your thought patterns and evaluating them for validity is helpful in combating limiting beliefs. Ask yourself the questions, “Is this really true? What evidence is there that I am a fraud?” Once limiting beliefs are identified, replace them with positive self-talk. Think of how you would speak to a loved one and begin to speak that way to yourself.
3. Be Careful of Comparisons
President Theodore Roosevelt was once quoted as saying, “comparison is the thief of joy.” He could not be more right. It is very easy to feel like others are more successful than we are particularly in the age of social media. Try your best to stay focused on your own path and create the joy-filled life you desire. Also, realize that often reality is much different from how things appear on social media.
4. Talk to Someone
Those with imposter syndrome often suffer in silence, for fear of “being found out”. Individual therapy can be beneficial to someone dealing with this phenomenon. Consider speaking with a therapist who can work with you to help build self-esteem and confidence. Schedule an appointment with a Counseling Works therapist here.
Written By: Stacey Jones, LCPC, CDVP