In life, we all experience what it feels like to start something new. We might start a new job, begin school or a class, or experience a significant life transition (e.g., becoming a parent). For some of us, starting something new can lead to intense anxieties and fear-based distress, and we can worry that somehow we might be exposed as unworthy, incompetent, or fraudulent people. This phenomenon is aptly referred to as the “imposter syndrome” and can have powerful psychological impacts and consequences to us. While imposter syndrome is not recognized as a formal psychiatric disorder, it can result in long-lasting anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and self-handicapping.
Imposter syndrome can manifest differently in different individuals, but many commonalities exist that indicate its presence. Some indications you may be experiencing imposter syndrome include the following:
- You have chronic feelings of self-doubt;
- You avoid or procrastinate on tasks that involve evaluation of your efforts;
- You tend to attribute your successes to external factors (e.g., luck) while blaming yourself for perceived failures;
- You have difficulty accepting compliments or praise about your accomplishments;
- You recall your failures more quickly than your achievements; and/or,
- You often compare yourself to others and believe they are more competent than you without much evidence.
If this sounds like something you might be struggling with, don’t despair! There are ways you can cope with imposter syndrome and start to feel better about yourself and your abilities over time. Here are some tips to get started:
Name it: Recognize that what you are feeling is real and valid.
Reach out: Connect with others to normalize your experience. Most people have felt similarly at one point or another in their lives. Through sharing our experiences, we can reduce feeling isolated and alone.
Ask for help when needed: Don’t suffer in silence. Ask for help when you need it from a teacher, mentor, manager, parent, partner, or friend. If you have trouble asking for support, start by asking someone who is the least intimidating to approach and feels trustworthy or safe.
Practice self-compassion: Suffering is a natural part of life, and it is okay to feel low at times. Pay attention to your negative self-talk and judgments. Offer yourself the same kindness and understanding you would a loved one. Write yourself a “love” letter or try a loving-kindness meditation.
Give yourself credit for your successes: If you are biased towards remembering your failures over your accomplishments, keep a credit list. However small they might seem, track your achievements to shift your mindset from noticing what went wrong to what went right!
Bring awareness to your beliefs: Acknowledge and challenge distorted beliefs like “I should know everything” or “It’s bad to ask for help.” These beliefs perpetuate the impossible task you lay on yourself to have all the answers. Permit yourself to be human and have off days.
Samantha Szirmak, B.A., provides therapy to adults experiencing a wide range of concerns, including anxiety, depression, shame/guilt, stress, grief, low self-esteem, identity struggles, body image concerns, chronic pain, and relationship difficulties. She also supports clients coping with traumatic life experiences or difficult life transitions. She provides psychological services under the supervision of Dr. Jean Kim, C. Psych., at Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR).
Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2020). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of general internal medicine, 35(4), 1252–1275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1
Clance, P. R. (n.d.) Imposter Phenomenon. Retrieved December 10, 2020, from https://www.paulineroseclance.com/impostor_phenomenon.html
Craddock, S., Birnbaum, M., Rodriguez, K., Cobb, C., & Zeeh, S. (2011). Doctoral Students and the Impostor Phenomenon: Am I Smart Enough to Be Here? Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 48(4), 429–442. https://doi.org/10.2202/1949-6605.6321