What is Imposter Syndrome?
Have you ever wondered how you got into your current job or how did you end up with such an amazing family? Have you ever thought that if people knew your “real” you, they wouldn’t like you? Have you ever found yourself worried about being “discovered” even though you’re not deceiving?
If so, you may have a common mental health problem called imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is when a person doubts their abilities, feels like an impostor, and believes their achievements are due to luck rather than their own abilities, says Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and faculty member of Columbia University in New York. York City.
While it’s not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the gold standard for diagnosable psychiatric conditions, experts recognize it as a deep-seated insecurity that can have a major impact not only on a person’s career, but also their personal life. and relationships.
They may fear being unworthy of good things and constantly worry about being “discovered” or exposed and then losing everything, says AJ Marsden, PhD, an assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida. .
All of this fear can lead to long-term conditions, such as depression and anxiety.
The anxiety associated with imposter syndrome can cause a person to overcompensate or develop obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Chronic anxiety also takes its toll on physical health.
There’s a chance you’ll think, “Hey, that sounds like me.” Impostor syndrome happens to the best of us.
“It’s not uncommon to experience occasional moments of imposter syndrome,” Marsden says. “In fact, about 70 percent of people experience it at some point in their lives.”
Sometimes these feelings are triggered by an overly critical boss or loved one, but imposter syndrome can also occur naturally in people who are already insecure about themselves.
(Sound familiar? Try these 30 Easy Ways to Boost Your Confidence.)
Your own worst enemy
At its core, imposter syndrome is a form of self-sabotage, says Christine BL Adams, MD, psychiatrist and author of Live on automatic.
It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy: Believing that you don’t deserve what you have can cause you to worry about losing it, which in turn can make it harder to function and achieve your goals.
For example, people with this syndrome may turn down a promising promotion or turn down a date with a potential love because they think they won’t be good enough.
It’s a sneaky syndrome and can start with subtle self-doubts that then turn into obsessive thoughts and deeply painful feelings.
It can be difficult to recognize this condition in yourself, which is why it is so important to learn about it. That way, you can take steps to control it before sabotaging your own happiness, Hafeez says.
“People need to be aware of imposter syndrome to be aware of its common symptoms and develop strategies to manage their feelings and minimize their impact,” she says.
Who is most at risk?
Anyone can develop imposter syndrome; but people with a strong desire to perform are most at risk, Hafeez says.
Add to that the pressures of a society that values performance, often equated with one’s worth, and you have the perfect recipe for impostor syndrome.
A big factor in whether you’re susceptible to this kind of pressure is how you grew up, Dr. Adams says.
“Kids who were pushed to perform but not praised and taught that accepting praise was wrong often carry those feelings into adulthood, Dr. Adams says.
People who belong to groups that experience heightened societal pressures, experience microaggressions in the workplace, or have deep-seated self-doubt are also at higher risk. These can be people in the LGBTQ community, women and people of color.
“Factors such as stereotypes, discrimination, and oppression amplify the impostor syndrome phenomenon in these individuals,” Hafeez says.
Anyone going through a major change, such as a divorce or career switch, is also at risk, as their self-esteem can already be unstable from those events, Marsden says.
(Read these self-love quotes to remind you of your worth.)
Signs of Impostor Syndrome
Feeling like a cheater or a fake in your career, relationship or in general in your life is the main symptom of this syndrome, but you may not realize this is what you are feeling.
These questions from our experts can help you identify and name what you’re feeling. Ask yourself:
Do you believe that you do not deserve success or happiness?
Do you have trouble accepting compliments?
Does getting an award or public praise ever make you terrified or angry?
Do you constantly doubt your own skills and abilities?
Are you worried that you succeeded in something only because others felt sorry for you?
Do you set high standards for yourself?
Are you very sensitive to criticism?
Do you have low self-esteem or confidence?
Do you often find yourself worrying about negative thoughts about yourself, your relationships, your job or your life?
Are you afraid that if people really knew you, they wouldn’t like you?
If someone asks you to list five things you are good at, is it difficult for you to list your skills?
Have you ever lashed out furiously at someone who was trying to compliment you?
Do you generally ignore compliments?
Do you give others more credit for the success of group efforts?
It’s normal to doubt yourself sometimes, but if you’ve answered yes to many of those questions and they’re ubiquitous, not just occasional, then you may have impostor syndrome, Hafeez says.
(This is why it doesn’t work to tell someone, “Just be more confident!”)
Overcoming the Impostor Syndrome
These thought patterns may feel entrenched, but you can short-circuit them and stop the cycle before it drags you down. Here are some steps for healing:
Talk to a professional
If overcoming impostor syndrome was as simple as just telling yourself to get rid of the negative thoughts, it wouldn’t be a problem. These patterns can run deep, often traced back to childhood, Dr. Adams says.
Talking to a psychologist or mental health professional is a great first step to help you identify the source of your thoughts and teach you how to reframe them.
Set realistic goals
Overachievers want to shoot for the moon, but that can end in frustration and hurt their confidence. Instead, practice setting realistic goals that develop into your grand plan.
Remove toxic people
Imposter syndrome can live in your mind, but it can be caused or exacerbated by others around you who criticize, belittle or undermine you.
You won’t be able to heal yourself until you remove yourself from that toxic environment or people, Hafeez says.
Write a list of your achievements
Seeing it in black and white can help you recognize how much you’ve really done and learn to feel a sense of pride in the happiness of your achievements.
If you’re having a hard time writing the list, ask a trusted friend or mentor to help you, Hafeez says.
Stop comparing yourself to others
People with this syndrome often fall into the trap of comparing their weaknesses to the strengths of others, which can intensify their thoughts about a fraudster, Marsden says.
“Comparisons are counterproductive,” she says. “Instead of focusing on others, take responsibility for your success and recognize that you didn’t get there by accident.”
Keep a “positivity diary”
Receive a nice compliment from a friend? Want to win an award at work? Receive an award from a colleague? Pick up a journal and write down every positive comment, no matter how small.
“If you start to feel like a cheater, grab the positivity journal and remind yourself of your accomplishments,” Marsden says.
Practice accepting compliments
If accepting praise or praise makes you feel intensely uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even angry, try playing out a few scenarios with a friend. This allows you to say thank you gracefully and avoid self-deprecating or angry responses, Dr. Adams says.
Pretend you’re an outsider looking at your life. What would you think of yourself in that situation? Or try to imagine a friend doing what you have accomplished and then ask what you would say to him. Trying to see yourself and your achievements from an outside perspective can help you see things more objectively and kindly, says Dr. Adams.
Get treatment for mental illness
Imposter syndrome can contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. And those diseases, in turn, can make imposter syndrome worse.
Sometimes professional help, such as therapy and/or medication, is needed to break the cycle. Treating these underlying conditions first can be an essential first step, Dr. Adams says.