Everyone has bursts of insecurity. These feelings can hit when starting a new job, school, after a large weight loss or gain, maybe even after a haircut that you aren’t sure that you should have gotten. People can even feel insecure about their background, financial status, marital status or other things in their lives. In some cases, this can lead to impostor syndrome.
What Is “Impostor Syndrome?”
Also known as “feeling like a fraud”, this syndrome is not well-known but can interfere with success if not recognized. The main defining factor is feeling like you have become successful because of luck, not because of talent and/or qualifications. Impostor syndrome is not listed in the DSM-V but is seen as a (mainly) intellectual self-doubt by many psychologists and other clinicians. It is estimated that up to 70% of adults suffer from this at some point, according to Time Inc It is also accompanied by feelings of depression and/or anxiety. Many sufferers don’t talk about it, because it’s hard to explain. They’re afraid of being found out. They don’t want to lose the “face” they have learned to put on. It’s hard to lose the work they have put into looking like they know what they are doing when they may not.
The biggest factor in impostor syndrome is the pressure to achieve. This can begin as early as childhood- many parents want their kids to do better than they did. For example, neither of my parents went to college. Out of three daughters, I am the only one that has a Bachelor’s Degree. My oldest sister is a Certified Pharmacy Technician, but that does not require a BA. I’m encouraging my kids to go further than that, but I’ll just have to wait to see where they go. My daughter wants to be a paleontologist, and that requires quite a bit more than a BA.
There is a lot of pressure in today’s society to be successful. There is a message that if you aren’t successful, your self-worth crumbles. This can be very detrimental to mental health. Thanks to social media, it’s easy to see how success can make people look really happy- nice cars, homes, going out to fancy places with friends, gorgeous clothes. This can’t happen if you aren’t making a lot of money. It can become a draining cycle. It becomes harder if you are a minority because it’s ingrained to be successful, to rise up from where your ancestors came from.
Many immigrant families, including both sides of my family, came from very little. My mother’s family came from Poland and Russia in the 1930s due to World War II. It’s important to many that we go further, do more and better than they were able to. In 2018, we have more opportunities that they ever had, so many of us were taught to take advantage of that. It does create more pressure, however, to push aside any doubts we have in ourselves to make those who love us proud and keep going. This may mean pretending to have faith in ourselves that we might not necessarily have. Trying to fit in can also cause these impostor-like feelings. This can be difficult when you look or seem different from others around you. Anyone in the LGBTQI+ community can understand this issue- some do not feel okay with discussing their sexuality in professional settings, even though it may show in their interests. Their interests may set them apart from others.
Perfectionism can also become a factor in impostor syndrome. This can be in the form of procrastination, over-compensation, and other behaviors. It can be a way of controlling the workload and how it is viewed by others. Any small mistakes can make a perfectionist question their work and abilities. This can be crushing.
When people see you as a “natural” in a certain area, it can be easy to feel like you have to live up to that at all times. If there seems to be a struggle at all in that area, and you have to put in any effort to keep that “natural” look going, it can seem like your brain can tell you “I told you so, this isn’t your thing. You’re just acting like it.”
How Can You Face The Feelings?
Find a mentor. A grad school advisor or work supervisor can be very helpful to let you know that your work is better than you think it may be. This may help stop the comparison with others and help shift the focus back to yourself.
Realize your talents. Everyone has their own talents, and your talents can shine if you find a way to let them. Offer to help others where you can.
Remember that nobody’s perfect. Reward yourself for the things you do well. Everyone deserves that. Celebrate the good things.
Change your thoughts. This may not be easy but will be worth it. Slowly chip away at the time you spend on a project. Let someone else read over something you have written. Don’t expect change to happen overnight, but a little over time. Be easier on yourself and remember that the change is good.
See a therapist if needed. There is no shame in seeing someone to help reframe your thoughts or work on other issues. There is nothing wrong with asking for help in either this area or any other way.
Be Kind To Yourself
The main way to break out of this mindset is to be kinder to yourself. I know that sounds a lot easier said than done. It can be very difficult to change years’ worth of thoughts, which is why I recommend a slow change. I also recommend working on self-confidence, and self-worth. Those are two different and very important concepts. Once those thoughts change, you may feel a lot better about yourself and accomplishments. You may believe that luck helped you get where you are, but your hard work and qualifications are the main fuel.