The term “imposter syndrome” has gained some popularity recently, but what is it exactly and why do some people seem to identify with it? Imposter syndrome refers to the belief that one is incompetent in their field, that others have more knowledge or skills than they do in a certain area, or that their accomplishments are due to luck, chance, or even their appearance, and has little to do with their own efforts or hard work. These individuals are typically high-achievers and feel this way despite having previous experiences of success and are unable to internalize their accomplishments, causing feelings of persistent self-doubt.
Some key features of imposter syndrome include:
- Being worried that you may appear like a fraud or “imposter” and fear that you will be called out for being “incompetent”
- Thinking that everyone around you is smarter or works harder than you do
- You do not believe that you are capable of doing things, even if there is evidence that you have succeeded/done well in the past
- You are self-critical of your work and compare yourself to others
- You may feel inadequate, do not trust you self, feel anxious, or lack confidence
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, it is okay. Research has shown that imposter syndrome is experienced by up to 82% of individuals at some point in their life (Brevata et al., 2020).
With imposter syndrome, there is a cognitive dissonance between past accomplishments or actual evidence of your capabilities, and the belief that you are competent, capable, and successful. There are a number of reasons we may feel this way, whether it be childhood experiences where we were held to high (and sometimes unobtainable) standards set by caregivers, or if we only received validation or praise when we accomplished things. Maybe it has nothing to do with childhood and other experiences made us feel inadequate and now there is the constant drive to prove our worth and abilities. What ever the reason may be, there are ways to work through this limited belief.
Working through imposter syndrome does not involve changing ourselves on the outside. It involves reframing our negative thought patterns and self-doubt, and learning to accept and internalize our accomplishments. Some tips include:
- Acknowledging and calling out limiting/self-sabotaging beliefs. When these come up for you, try to reframe it or ask yourself where these thoughts are coming from and if there is any evidence for them (usually there is not, and instead you will identify evidence of the opposite instead).
- Learn to separate feelings from fact. You may feel like you failed, but you are NOT a failure.
- Learn to accept feedback and grow from past mistakes without identifying with them. Try to reframe mistakes are opportunities to grow and learn which will allow you to come back stronger.
- Work on improving confidence. Start by noticing any negative self-talk and consciously trying to identify your strengths instead. Take risks that will benefit you in the long-run, even if there is the potential for failure- overcoming challenges helps build confidence.
- Identify your support system. Friends and family are usually honest with us, and are also able to identify our strengths and accomplishments more easily than we are. Having supportive individuals in your life helps to build confidence, and can help you in identifying your strengths.
- Seek outside help from a professional. If you feel like this negative belief pattern is keeping you stuck or causing self-sabotaging behaviors, it could be helpful to work through the underlying thought processes with a therapist. Therapy can be helpful for expressing emotions surrounding this pattern and developing new goals and skills to accomplish them.
Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., … & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, predictors, and treatment of impostor syndrome: a systematic review. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(4), 1252-1275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1