Everyone has moments where they feel like a fraud. They worry that at any moment someone will find out that they are not as smart or talented as everyone thinks. This is known as impostor syndrome and it can be a major roadblock to success.
What Is Impostor Syndrome?
When I think about highly valued careers, it’s hard for me to fathom the type of people who succeed in joining them. If I were to meet an astronaut, I’d assume he’s on another level of intelligence that I could never understand.
However, if my friend told me he just become an astronaut, my first thought would likely be something along the lines of “so they’ll take anyone then.”, or “my friend? Must be a fluke”.
It’s hard to imagine that someone just like me could become something as advanced as an astronaut. But the truth is, most high-achieving people aren’t geniuses. They’re just average people who worked really hard for something.
That could be me! If I wanted to work really hard I’m very capable of becoming an astronaut, just like most people.
It’s almost a natural instinct to doubt what I’m capable of. If you feel this way too, you’re not alone.
This is called impostor syndrome. In this blog, we’ll discuss what impostor syndrome is, what causes it, and how to overcome impostor feelings.
Do You Feel Like An Impostor?
Maybe you’ve been promoted to a bigger level in your career, and can’t help but feel like a fraud.
You might feel like they made a mistake putting you in this position, or that you lied about being capable. The truth of the matter is you probably worked very hard to get there and could be more capable than anyone else for the job.
We All Want To Protect Ourselves From Failure
It makes sense that our minds would put mechanisms in place to prevent failure. Self-doubt can sometimes be a good thing. We don’t want to have big egos and think we are capable of more than we are, but if we never do something new and uncomfortable – will we ever learn or grow?
I suppose a better word for this would be self-reflection. It’s important for us to take the time to be aware of ourselves, our knowledge, and our experience. Where some people may wrongfully feel like a fraud, this impostor syndrome may work to stop us from lying to ourselves in order to – for example – take on a job we are completely under qualified for.
Imagine if a medical student thought they were an expert in medicine and truly believed they were capable of doing an extremely complicated procedure on someone who has collapsed in a train station.
While we do need a sense of pride, especially in a career so cutthroat and competitive as medicine, we don’t want that pride to cloud our judgment.
What Does Impostor Syndrome Feel Like?
Impostor syndrome can feel different for people. Generally, it could be described as not feeling worthy of your achievements. If we’re doing something we’ve never done before, we are likely to fall susceptible to impostor syndrome. Even if we’ve been in a certain job for a while, we may regularly feel impostors.
Since chances are you aren’t a natural genius, rather had to work very hard for your achievements, you may feel unworthy or feel shame when trying to accept praise. It’s important to remember that natural geniuses are rare and most high-achieving people simply worked hard for their success, they weren’t born with the natural abilities to thrive.
You may also notice regular anxiety in life. This could be caused by feeling unqualified. You don’t want to find yourself in a vicious cycle of never growing or reaching your achievements due to these feelings, so it’s important to intervene early to not cause significant damage to your mental health.
If you feel like this, just know you’re not alone. There is a lot of support out there. You can speak to one of our therapists to help conquer those impostor feelings.
What Is Impostor Syndrome Caused By?
Impostor syndrome can be caused by quite a few things, such as anxiety, family and societal pressures, as well as low self-confidence.
Anxiety can cause us to overthink and really hinder our ability to get things done or be able to relax. Anxiety may bring out many thoughts of self-doubt and place you in constant fear by making you feel inadequate.
The good thing to remember is that anxiety is a very common condition, so our therapists are highly trained in these areas. It’s important to stop negative self-talk and find a way to cope with your anxiety in a healthy way.
The way our family brought us up can hinder our ability to enjoy our success in the future. A controlling family likely made all your decisions for you and told you when to be proud or when they’re disappointed.
These children likely got used to looking for validation from their parents. When we never learned how to fend for ourselves, and are suddenly in control of our own lives and decisions, we might never feel good enough because we don’t have our parents making those choices and giving us the same praises.
#In those situations, we as adults need to learn how to find a way to reassure ourselves and find our own validation.
Social Pressure to Perform
No matter what profession you’re in, we’re all susceptible to social pressure. There’s almost a constant pressure to be on the same level, or better than our peers. We often look at social media and compare ourselves to people we used to go to school with, or even celebrities.
Comparing ourselves to one picture into someones lives is very unrealistic, because one little picture doesn’t show you the reality of somebodies situation. Most people use social media to show off their best moments and highlights, they aren’t going to be posting about the struggle and hard times.
This can be especially damaging when we’re going through a hard time, then we look on our phones to see our peers seeming to do be doing so much better than us all the time. It’s so important to keep in mind that social media isn’t real, it’s just a showcase.
Even outside of social media, when we bump into people and they start to tell us about all the amazing things in their lives, don’t instantly assume you’re getting the full picture. People enjoy bragging, and portraying the best sides of themselves.
The pressure to brag about your own success will happen at one point. There’s nothing wrong with talking about something you’re proud of, in fact you deserve to showcase your achievements!
Try to avoid the competitive nature of some people, and if you feel that need to be better than somebody, try to pull away so you can focus on yourself. Competition can help boost productivity, however we don’t want to get distracted from our goals. It’s easy to get side tracked and realize too late that you’ve been chasing achievements simply to please others or one-up somebody. Especially if those weren’t even achievements you ever wanted in the first place.
Put your own well being first, don’t let judgement or social pressure get to you, and focus on yourself and your goals.
You may be suffering from perfectionism if for example, you receive the positive feedback you’ve been waiting for, yet still don’t feel like you’re good enough. Or if one small mistake seems to ruin your entire outlook on something you’ve been working on.
Perfectionists can have trouble looking at the bigger picture, and focus way too hard on all the little things. It can be hard to grow your confidence if you’re always critizing yourself for never being good enough.
Perfectionists usually focus so hard on getting somewhere in the perfect order, where each step much go perfectly according to plan. This attitude can make us lose sight of the present moment. Will we ever enjoy our lives if we’re always waiting for future outcomes?
It’s very important to prioritise the present moment as well as reaching our goals. Lets be honest, our goal list will likely never change. If you spend you’re whole life waiting for perfection, you’ll never be happy.
Discriminated Groups Experience Impostor Syndrome to a Greater Degree
It’s no secret that certain groups of people are discriminated against more than others in today’s society. What may be a surprise, however, is that these same groups often experience impostor syndrome to a greater degree. This may be because they are constantly told that they don’t belong in their chosen field, or because they internalize the messages they receive about their group from society at large.
In a world where racism is still very much present, BIPOCs are very susceptible to impostor syndrome. Discrimination is something that many people are fighting on a daily basis, which creates additional mental and physical barriers for BIPOCs.
Many of the older men who are running big companies may still have outdated views about how women shouldn’t work. It isn’t uncommon in some offices for men to simply be favoured over women. There are many male dominated careers, where it is extremely hard for females to earn respect in, simply for their gender. Every workplace is different, but sexism is very much alive and most women are likely to experience it in their lifetime.
The LGBTQ+ community faces many struggles on a daily basis. The hate received can easily affect the mental health of members. It takes a lot of strength and self-worth to not let negative comments get to us, and when they are received so often, or just knowing there are people out there that don’t want you to succeed because you’re different can be a lot to deal with.
Overcoming Impostor Feelings: Can Impostor Syndrome Be Cured?
Cured is a strong word, but we can certainly learn to recognize impostor feelings, and create ways to deal with those feelings in the moment, and in the long run. You’re already taking a great first step by reading and learning about impostor syndrome.
Now that you have a bit of knowledge about impostor syndrome, you can learn to recognise when those feelings arise, and tell yourself it’s just impostor syndrome. If you know you’ve done your very best, take a moment to tell yourself how great you did.
Instead of entertaining every scary thought that comes into your mind, focus on the positives. If you’re a student and you know you went to class, studied hard, and even reviewed many times, there is nothing further for your to do at that point. We all reach a point where further effort is not helping us, it could even set us back.
When you’re trying to achieve something, like studying for a big test, start by writing down your action plan. This way once your action plan is completely, you know you’re done. Did you score a high grade on your mock test? Then you’re all set!
Reward yourself for each step taken towards reaching your achievement. It can be something small like going out to grab your favourite coffee after you finished reviewing lecture slides. You might feel silly at first, but the more we get into our heads that we worked hard and are worthy of reward, the more it will help to grow your confidence and teach you how to reassure yourself in times of doubt.
Remember, You’re Not Alone
Some studies have reported a great deal of people experience impostor syndrome (higher than 50% depending on the specific screenings tools used). And around 70 percent of adults may experience impostor syndrome at least once in their lifetime, research suggests.”
That is a lot of people! Impostor syndrome doesn’t just affect “high achievers”, everyone can have suffer from impostor feelings.
You may have heard the term “fake it till you make it”. You’d be surprised at how many people live by this motto. Sometimes we might not feel like we belong, but the only thing making you not belong is a low self-esteem and lack of confidence.
If you walk into a room beaming with confidence, even if it feels fake, it will help reduce self-doubt and even the people around you will notice that confidence.