Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks struggles with it. So do Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, tennis superstar Serena Williams, and Nobel Prize-winning poet Maya Angelou. We are talking about imposter syndrome, defined as an internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be.
“Imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a fraud despite your successes,” says psychologist Riyan Portuguez. “You think you only got to where you are because of luck, and that any moment someone will expose you for being inadequate or incompetent.”
While imposter syndrome usually appears in high achievers, it can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise.
Some of the common signs of imposter syndrome include:
- Attributing your success to external factors like good luck or good timing
- Fear of failure or committing mistakes
- Fear that you won’t live up to expectations
- Fear of being judged by others
“Imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a fraud despite your successes.You think you only got to where you are because of luck, and that any moment someone will expose you for being inadequate or incompetent.”Psychologist Riyan Portuguez
Certain factors can contribute to the experience of impostor syndrome. These include:
- Family dynamics: Family expectations and the value of success and perfection in childhood can stay with an individual throughout their life.
- Cultural expectations: Different cultures put different values on education, career, and different definitions of success.
- Individual personality traits: Perfectionism can lead to imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome vs. humility
Imposter syndrome is oftentimes mistaken for excessive humility. But being humble does not mean having a poor opinion of yourself. Instead, you accept yourself and your many good qualities, as well as your limitations.
People with imposter syndrome, on the other hand, will beat themselves up for committing mistakes and constantly ruminate on what they did wrong or how they could have done better. “Imposter syndrome results in impairment and missed opportunities,” Riyan points out. “When a promotion is offered, for example, a humble person will accept it graciously, acknowledge that they will encounter challenges, and ask for help when needed. On the other hand, someone with imposter syndrome will reject the promotion just because they feel they do not deserve it.”
How to overcome it
While imposter syndrome is not a recognized mental disorder, it can contribute to mental health challenges like anxiety and depression. So if you see yourself exhibiting characteristics of imposter syndrome, you need to do something about it right away:
- Own your successes. “Credit yourself for your achievements and always remind yourself that you deserve the recognition you get,” says Riyan.
- Temper your perfectionist tendencies. Instead, learn how to set goals that are challenging but at the same time realistic and achievable.
- Accept that mistakes are a part of life. “No one is perfect; there is always room for growth,” reminds Riyan. “Treat mistakes as opportunities for you to become a better version of who you are.”
- Be comfortable with discomfort. Navigate your feelings, even the uncomfortable ones. Whenever you experience feelings of self-doubt or inadequacy, ask yourself why you are feeling this way and what made you feel this way. “By doing this, you will eventually identify your triggers and find ways to control them,” Riyan explains.
- Repeat after yourself: “Feelings are not facts.” Just because you feel unqualified does not mean you are unqualified. Be aware of the automatic defeatist thoughts and feelings you have, and work on countering those with reality-based statements, such as, “I am qualified for this task because….”
- Stop comparing yourself to others. “You are unique in your own way, you move at your own pace,” says Riyan. “If there is something that you need to compare yourself to, it’s to who you were before.”
- Use social media moderately. Spending too much time on social media can cause feelings of inferiority and will only make your feelings of being a fraud worse.
- Talk to your trusted friends and loved ones. Irrational beliefs tend to fester when they are hidden and not talked about, so the more you talk about it with someone, the more you realize what the problem is and that you are not the only one struggling. Loved ones can also give you the confidence boost you need to overcome your self-doubt.
While experiencing imposter syndrome is normal, you don’t have to let it control your life and stop you from achieving your goals. Overcome your perfectionist tendencies by setting realistic goals for yourself, and accept that mistakes and failures are a part of life. Whenever you start to doubt your own skills, talk to others so that you realize your fears are unfounded. Finally, take ownership of your successes. Learn how to accept compliments, and draw strength from it.
MindNation psychologists and WellBeing Coaches are available for 24/7 teletherapy sessions if you need someone to talk to about your fears and insecurities. Book a slot through FB Messenger http://mn-chat or email [email protected].