What is Imposter Syndrome and how you can overcome it?

What is Imposter Syndrome and how you can overcome it?

Do you feel sometimes that you don’t deserve the place where you are in right now, or feel whatever you do is not worth other’s time and efforts. Imposter syndrome is a common phenomenon, where almost 70% have felt the same way at least once in their lives. Maya Angelou, who wrote eleven exceptional books and won several prestigious awards couldn’t help but to think that she hadn’t earned her achievements. Similarly, Albert Einstein described himself as an involuntary swindler who thought that his work didn’t deserve the attention or praise that it had received. Accomplishments like Einstein's and Angelou’s is incredible and isn’t something to disregard but what they were feeling was extremely common. Imposter syndrome, experience or phenomenon refers to when a person starts believing that a person is fraud and whatever he/she might’ve achieved till now is just a result of pure luck or external forces. The person feels like they don’t belong where they are and discredit their own hard work and efforts. This syndrome can affect absolutely everyone regardless of their social status, work background or degree of expertise. Psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose were the first ones to coin this term in the 1970s. Initially the concept of imposter syndrome was thought to be applicable to mostly high achieving women but after several years and research on the phenomenon, it was found out it is not just limited to the women but can be found in almost every other person nowadays. People suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that overshadows their feeling for success, competence or satisfaction regarding their work. High achievers and successful people are more prone to imposter syndrome as some researchers have linked it with perfectionism rather than low self-esteem or lack of self-confidence. They often call their accomplishments and achievements good timing or luck and refuse to believe that they are better, more intelligent or competent than others. The most common drawback apart from losing self-esteem and confidence and incline towards self-doubt is that it limits our courage to go after new and different opportunities. We unconsciously step back from exploring various potential areas of interest and we tend to lose options that could benefit us in our lives. Some researchers believe the reason behind this syndrome to be the labels that parents attack to a particular member or child in the family. It might come as a surprise when we see or witness a child of a family being labelled as genius or intelligent or another one as sensitive. This labelling by the family members or people in general cultivates a feeling that you can’t disappoint or dispel the label you’ve got and if you do that you’ll be worthless. 

Some common thoughts that people with this syndrome have are:

“I must not fail”: Wherein a person constantly has pressure to not fail in order to be found out as a fraud. It results in the person to not enjoy his/her success but to make it a burden on himself or herself.

“I feel like a fake”: Imposters believe that they don’t deserve success and praise they have received till now. They feel every person that believes in them or in their success has been deceived in a way into thinking otherwise. They think that they give off an impression that they have knowledge and skills and appear to be more competent than others when in reality they believe they lack these skills further thinking that their present position in life is just a stroke of luck or someone made a mistake putting them there.

It’s all down to luck”: The tendency to link success to luck or any external reasons rather than their own capabilities is a clear indication for imposter syndrome. Saying “it was just a fluke” or “it was luck” masking their true fear which is that they won’t be able to succeed next time.

Success is no big deal”: Downplaying your own success by saying that anyone could have done that or the task was way too simple and having a hard time to accept compliments from other people. Again they firmly believe that whatever they have achieved comes down to people being fooled or a good timing.

So what are the ways by which we can overcome the effects of Imposter Syndrome?

Recognise imposter feelings: A person needs to be aware of his/her triggers and feelings that could lead them to the unpleasant thoughts. Awareness is the key so when one needs to keep a track on these feelings and thoughts and take note when they appear and why they appear.

Talking about one’s feelings: Opening about your problems and struggles with people who feel the same things as you can be therapeutic for a person. They can understand each other in a better way and suggest some of their own coping ways from which they feel better when they feel overwhelmed. It’s better to have open discussion with others rather than have negative thoughts and feelings bottled up.

Seek Support: Everyone needs a support system to live happily and thrive in almost every aspect of their lives. Believe in the fact that you can share and avail assistance from various people varying from your family members to friends to professionals. You don’t have to do everything alone, it'll give you a reality check and help you open up.

Rewriting mental programmes: Instead of feeling that you’ll be found out as a fraud or you don't deserve the position you are in right now, remind yourself that it is normal to not know everything, you are in a process of learning and defining your path and it won’t be the end. Thrive to do your better the next time. Changing the negative thoughts to the positive ones will have a huge impact on your mind and thoughts.

Being kind to yourself: Being too harsh and critical on yourself won’t solve any of your problems. You are entitled to make mistakes in life, you need to own up that fact and forgive yourself for the same. Rewarding yourself for success can be pleasing in a way and will help you to change the outlook towards your life.

Learning opportunities in failures: Taking constructive criticism from your past mistakes and working on them for better results in future can facilitate in overcoming this syndrome. This is a general and critical lesson for everyone.

At the end of the day you need to realise that wherever you are in your life right now is because of YOU, YOUR hard work, YOUR patience, YOUR intellect and YOUR skills. You are here for a reason, at your position, at your job, in your life. You are much more than you give yourself credit for. You know more than you think, you can do much more than you think you can. Overcoming these thoughts and feelings might be difficult but if you believe in yourself, anything is possible in life. Remind this every day, every hour and every second that you are worth all of this.

About the Author

Fiza Abbas

I recently completed my honours degree in Social Sciences and Humanities from Ambedkar University Delhi. Here, an o

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