Do you suffer from imposter syndrome?
“Why am I here? I don’t belong here.” “I’m a total fraud, and sooner or later everyone’s gonna find out." "I'm not qualified to be in this role." Seattle therapists like us here our clients admit these concerns quite often in individual therapy, and sometimes even couples therapy with their partner present.
If any of these statements resonate with you, you’re not alone. Most of us refer to this as “Imposter Syndrome”, which is often defined as experiencing feelings of self-doubt and personal incompetence that persist despite your education, experience, and accomplishments. A 2019 review of 62 studies on imposter syndrome suggested that anywhere from 9 to 82 percent of people report having thoughts of self-doubt at some point. We battle ourselves based on our own self-criticism. When others praise us for our talents, we account of our successes as timing or good luck. We can struggle to believe that we’ve actually earned this praise based on our own skills, and we fear that others will someday realize this.
To combat this, we often put ourselves into a cycle and pressure ourselves to work harder in hopes that we can:
- keep others from recognizing our shortcomings
- become worthy of roles we believe we don’t deserve
- make up for lack of intelligence
- ease feelings of guilt over “tricking” people
As we reach accomplishments, we often keep from receiving reassurance from ourselves, instead seeing our successes as an “illusion” of success. Recognition we earn is processed as sympathy or pity. Despite linking our accomplishments to chance, we take it as blame for any mistakes we make. The smallest of errors will reinforce the belief of lack of intelligence and ability. Over time this can result in anxiety, depression, and guilt.
Why does this happen, and how can we cope?
There is actually no clear distinction of why someone might suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Studies have shown that it might stem from a parenting and childhood environment, personality traits, existing mental health symptoms, or new responsibilities. Despite it’s often ambiguous origins, in both individual therapy and relationship therapy, we often help clients to understand the many strategies they can practice to cope and help resolve this experience. Here are some of them:
Acknowledge your feelings. Try talking to a friend or mentor about your distress so that they may help with an outside perspective. Sharing imposter feelings can help them feel less overwhelming and help you to analyze why you might be feeling this way. In addition, opening up to close friends about how you think encourages them to do the same, helping you realize you aren’t the only one who feels like an imposter. *Every therapist knows full well that each person has their own version of imposture syndrome. The people in your life may not share that with you, but they do tell us! :)
Build connections with others. You don’t have to do everything yourself to feel reassured by your skillset. You likely have a network of support around you at your job, or within your organization…whatever environment in which you tend to feel like you don’t fully deserve to be there. Remember that you can’t achieve everything alone. Your network can give a new perspective, validate your strengths, and encourage your efforts to grow.
Challenge the devil on your shoulder. When you start having imposter thoughts, stop and think if there are facts to support your beliefs. Then find evidence to support the facts. You likely are getting outside praise – clearly you’re doing something right!
Stop comparing yourself to others. Everyone is unique in their own way. The way the person next to you does something doesn’t at all mean you have to do it the same. There’s a phrase I love: “Someone else’s successes aren’t your failures.” You are where you are because someone saw the potential in you. It’s okay not to succeed at everything you try; you’re allowed to fail and learn and grow. Highlighting your mistakes or flaws allows you to explore new opportunities to strengthen your abilities.
We are our biggest critic. Practice being nicer to yourself, as only you know how much hard work and care you put into your life experiences. Applaud your efforts, despite the outcome. Success not showing up in the ways, or the amounts, that you’d hoped doesn’t mean you’re a fraud.
Want some help working through this experience? Talking to a therapist in Seattle can really make a difference, so please reach out if you’d like to talk.