- Melanie Lopes, MFT
How to Deal with Impostor Syndrome
Have you ever had times when you felt uncomfortable getting praise or recognition for your achievements because deep down you felt undeserving? Or times when you felt like a "fraud" who has somehow fooled everyone else into thinking you are more successful or qualified than you actually are?
Now if you really have misrepresented yourself or grossly over-exaggerated your abilities, that's one thing. But if you believe you are undeserving of your success, even though there is ample evidence of your achievements, chances are you are dealing with impostor syndrome.
What is impostor syndrome?
Impostor syndrome is basically a persistent feeling of self-doubt, unworthiness, or inadequacy that prevents you from enjoying any feelings of accomplishment or success, or prevents you from fully recognizing the actual evidence of your competence and achievement.
What's worth noting is that people who suffer from impostor syndrome often are actually quite skilled and competent at what they do and are also constantly striving to be better and achieve more. This drive is exactly what led them to the position they are in.
Yet when you are always striving for more and chasing high standards for success, you can become so fixated on your ideas of what success should look like, that you fail to recognize your own strengths and accomplishments and your attention turns toward how you aren’t measuring up.
This can lead you to place increased pressure on yourself which contributes to overwhelm, anxiety, and a fear of “being found out” or exposed as incompetent. It can also sometimes become a self-fulfilling prophecy - the more anxious and stressed that you become, the more likely it will start to negatively impact your performance, which then reinforces the belief that you aren’t measuring up and meeting expectations.
Fortunately, there are ways to deal with impostor syndrome so that it doesn’t get in the way of your success.
Here are some quick tips for dealing with impostor syndrome:
Name it. When you notice yourself feeling undeserving or feeling like a fraud, call it what it is - tell yourself that you're experiencing impostor syndrome. This can help you slow down, get perspective, and try to derail the train of thought that was telling you that you're not worthy.
Check your beliefs and expectations. When the impostor feelings arise, notice what you are telling yourself and what you believe about yourself. Are your expectations realistic? Are you telling yourself you’re not good enough or you are undeserving in some way? Step back and take a look at your situation or circumstances and then ask yourself: what’s actually true and realistic?
Practice self-compassion and be kind to yourself. Even if you believe that there is some truth to what you’re telling yourself, see if there’s another way you can look at it that is more supportive. For instance, instead of viewing your insecurity or lack of know-how as a sign of incompetence, remind yourself that it is a normal response to being new to something. Imagine what you might say to a friend in your shoes and then say it to yourself. Remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and missteps when they’re starting something new and that’s ok. Nobody is perfect. Each mistake is an opportunity for learning and improvement.
Acknowledge when you don't know. If you are being placed in a position as an "expert" and you don't know the answer or solution, rather than making something up or talking in circles hoping no one notices that you didn't give an answer, acknowledge that you don't know yet, but you'll find out. You can't know everything at all times but you can always keep learning. People tend to respect when you show that you're honest and eager to learn.
Review your strengths and accomplishments. Rather than focusing on mistakes or deficits, remind yourself of your strengths, successes, and any positive feedback you've received, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem. You can even list it all out and keep a log so you can see it and refer to it when you need a reminder.
Find support. Find people who you can turn to for support when you need it and don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you are incompetent or a fraud, it shows that you are interested in learning and getting the job done in the best way possible.
And remember, if you're dealing with impostor syndrome you most likely are a high achiever with high standards and you're not giving yourself enough credit. Continuing to doubt yourself or minimizing your abilities keeps you stuck, but if you can recognize that you are competent, set realistic expectations for yourself, keep your head up, and believe in your ability to move through potential challenges and mistakes, you can help relieve anxiety and stress and open up more opportunities for growth and success.
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