The day was over. I checked and then checked again to make sure I have completed all the tasks on my to-do list for the day. Yes, I had completed them all. In fact, I was able to do more than I had planned. So, I turned off all my devices.
As I was getting ready for bed, the thought came back to me. I could have done better. I could have done more. I’m incapable. I don’t belong, I don’t fit in.
Sooner or later, people will find out how undeserving I am of all that I have achieved. They’ll find out I’m merely a fake. Just a fraud.
Have you ever felt something similar to this too? If yes, then welcome to the imposter syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome: Feeling like a Fraud
Originally termed the “imposter phenomenon”, Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes developed the concept to describe high-achieving women who believed that they are not qualified for their high standing and have instead fooled everyone into believing that they do. Their study kick-started debates, programs, and initiatives to address what later came to be known as imposter syndrome.
Although the concept was originally introduced to describe high-achieving women, imposter syndrome is now identified as a wider phenomenon, not restricted to gender, social standing, work background, or skill. Research suggests that around 70% of adults experience imposter syndrome at least once in their lifetime.
If you are experiencing imposter syndrome, you might feel as if your success is a lie; and you have accomplished something, not because of your abilities, but either through dumb luck or by making a fool of others.
While reading this, you might think, “Oh, but I have accomplished so little, so it’s fair to doubt anything that I have.” Many high-achievers, like businessmen, such as Sheryl Sandberg, to Hollywood superstars, the likes of Charlize Theron, share the same thoughts as you.
To fight these feelings of self-doubt, people sometimes develop a coping mechanism of setting high, unrealistic standards and working harder than before. While it can be productive in the start, eventually, this pressure can build up and exhaust you mentally and emotionally, and might even affect your performance.
Why Do We Distrust Our Abilities?
While there is a hue and cry on how to ‘cure’ imposter syndrome, there is little exploration into what causes it. Many factors such as gender, social background, and upbringing might play into pronouncing the feeling of being a fraud.
Gender, Social Background, And Workplace Systems
Since people with imposter syndrome distrust their achievements, abilities, and success, workplace environments have a huge hand in fostering or exacerbating it in some cases.
People with imposter syndrome feel like they have to somehow fix themselves, hence gender and other biases might play into pronouncing it. For example, women of color are more likely to feel unsure in workplaces than white men.
If you grew up in a competitive household or work in a place where you received negative feedback on your performance in the past, you might develop a strong feeling of self-doubt.
Humans tend to internalize others’ opinions about their performance. These narratives take strong roots and don’t change even after having ample evidence of success and competence later in life.
How to Cope with Imposter Syndrome
First of all, it is important to believe that the answer might lie outside. Workplace systems must cultivate a diverse environment with people from varying gender, ethnic, racial, and social identities.
Systemic bias and racism must be addressed, and women and people of color must be given opportunities to be in leadership positions. These steps might turn self-doubt into motivation, and also reduce the experiences that foster imposter syndrome among marginalized communities.
It’s okay to Feel Anxious or Unsure!
Unfortunately, like every other mental health phenomenon, imposter syndrome also has some stigma attached to it. It is considered an inherent problem without referring to the external causes and is mainly associated with women.
Unlike the name suggests, imposter syndrome is not a disease, and you are not a fraudulent criminal. It’s okay to have doubts or feel unsure about your performance. If it helps, according to Valerie Young, only truly capable people experience imposter syndrome.
What Can I Do To Overcome This?
If you feel unsure of your success and attribute it to external factors, here is what you can do to overcome it.
- Talk to others about what you are going through
- Develop healthy self-talk where you interrogate assumptions and negative thoughts
- Do not compare yourself to others
We want you to know…
The feelings of being an imposter attest to some degree of success and competence. Instead of attributing your performance to outside factors, be grateful for what you have accomplished. Moreover, don’t try to cover up your fears of being found out and let others see the real you.
If you have done these things but still feel like you are being held back by doubts, you might find it helpful to talk to a therapist, as imposter syndrome can result in sabotaging your success through negative self-talk and doubts.