“Impostor!” You’d think that damning word belongs only in TVs, movies, and other entertainment media, uttered in response to the revelation that a character isn’t who s/he claims to be. You’d be wrong.
In fact, 70 percent of us hear it every day – from our own minds. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what is known as impostor syndrome.
Contrary to what its name may suggest, impostor syndrome is not a disease. It’s a response to an inability to internalize one’s own accomplishments and successes, and is characterized by feelings of fakery (“I’m not as good as they say I am.”), giving too much credit to luck (“Oh, that award? It was a fluke, really.”), and downplaying success (“What I accomplished isn’t a big deal; others have done it before.”).
It’s somewhat different from low self-esteem in that the person experiencing it actually does have something to be proud of, but is somehow having difficulty acknowledging the fact.
Does that sound like you so far? If your answer is “Yes”, here’s what you can do to cope better with those feelings of fakery.
Recommended Reading: 7 Insane Habits To Destroy Your Freelance Writing Career
Acknowledge That You Have It
The idea of having any kind of “syndrome” (whether it’s technically a disease or not) is terrifying. Who wants to go out and tell the world “Hey, I have impostor syndrome!” anyway?
Still, if your belief that you’re a fraud is severely inhibiting your potential as a person, there’s no denying it: You have a problem, and you need to deal with it a.s.a.p.
Understand Why You Have It
It may sound strange, but impostor syndrome happens most frequently to high achieving individuals. Many of these individuals grow up in an environment where there’s immense pressure to excel, where family members are highly critical and/or conflicted, and where appearances are everything. (Of course, there are high achievers who are also well-adjusted individuals, but that’s another story altogether.)
For example, if you had five siblings who were all valedictorians in school, and you’re not, you may have always felt the need to prove yourself. Even when you graduated from school, landed a well-paying job, and became an achiever in your own right, you still think you’re not good enough, because you’ve internalized the idea that you’ll always be inferior to your more “naturally talented” siblings.
Once you realize and accept that what’s holding you back are your deep-seated feelings of inadequacy, rather than your actual abilities (which, in all likelihood, are pretty good), that’s the time you can begin to come to terms with your impostor syndrome.
Reframe Your Views On Success
Do you believe that successful people achieved what they did because they’re “special” in a way that you can never be?
You’re right. They’re special in their own way.They’re well-aware of their ability to do something that no one else can do, and they took full advantage of that ability for their own benefit.
Surely, you can do the same?
Then again, you may be framing your success in terms of their success. As long as you keep doing that, you’ll never feel truly accomplished. To quote Max Ehrmann’s 1927 poem Desiderata, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.”
Instead, take a look at where you are today vis-à-vis where you were yesterday. If you’re one step closer to your idea of success, regardless of whether other people have already achieved what you want to achieve, that’s already a success in itself. It’s all a matter of keeping it up until the end.
Reframe Your Views On Failure
If you feel like even your tiniest mistakes sets the wheels of the apocalypse in motion, that’s another sign of impostor syndrome.
Think of your mistakes as stepping stones, rather than obstacles, to success. Mistakes are a sign that you’re trying to grow outside of your comfort zone. Even in the unfortunate event that you end up going several steps backwards because you did something wrong, you still have the choice to get up and move forward again.
If you decide to move forward, keep in mind that you don’t need to walk the same road you did before. What’s important is that you keep walking.
Don’t Equate Confidence With Arrogance
Let’s be clear on one thing: Overcoming impostor syndrome is not the same as becoming a more arrogant person.
Arrogance and impostor syndrome are both manifestations of the same problem: A distorted view of the self. Arrogant people exaggerate their best qualities and deny their worst ones, whereas people with impostor syndrome do the opposite.
What you want is to become a more confident person. Confident people have an accurate picture of both their strengths and weaknesses, aren’t afraid to put both of these on display, and have respect for themselves and others.
Keep Going At It
As much as we’d like to tell you that there’s a way to vanquish impostor syndrome instantly and forever, the truth is: There isn’t.
You’re trying to unlearn beliefs that took years to embed themselves in your psyche, so it’s probably going to take a while (read: a long time) before you finally stop calling yourself an “impostor”. Also, you’ll keep encountering people and situations that will constantly test your self-confidence. With all that in mind, we do hope that this post will help keep those “impostor” feelings in check, and enable you to reach your full potential.
Have you ever had a brush with impostor syndrome? If yes, how did you deal with it? Please do share in the comments section below.