Imposter Syndrome – Can You Relate?

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).

References

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

How Can Our Personality Traits Create Difficulties for Us?

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

We all have a personality. Our personality is shaped by a wide range of factors, including genetic, psychological, and environmental. Some individuals develop personalities that will allow them to have a good sense of self and have healthy relationships with others. These individuals experience an overall positive sense of self (i.e., healthy self-esteem, positive sense of lovability, worth and competence, and the capacity for healthy self-reliance and autonomy) and are able to create healthy interpersonal relationships at home and work. A solid and overall positive sense of self and others allows us to tolerate uncertainties, ambiguity, and aloneness in relationships and in life in general. It makes us more confident to direct our lives in a meaningful, purposeful, and authentic manner. 

These individuals also tend to be flexible in how they think and emotionally react to themselves and others. This allows for adaptation particularly in difficult and stressful life moments. These individuals may also have greater capacities to self-soothe when emotionally distressed, yet also be comfortable reaching for others when efforts to assuage his or her distress fail. They will also be able to identify, label, and assert authentic feelings, emotions, and needs in relationships while empathizing and connecting to the feelings, emotions, and needs of others. The capacity to reflect on and empathize with one’s self and others (e.g., intentions, motivations, feelings, emotions, needs and desires) is also essential to develop a healthy sense of self and others, and essential to create healthy interpersonal relationships. These capacities allow us to appropriately adapt our self to others and our environment as opposed to acting too hastily on our own thoughts, feelings, and needs. These capacities also allow us to assert our authentic selves and respond to others’ authentic selves. Maintaining an open, present, curious stance about one’s own and others’ intentions and motivations also allows for greater reflection and more time to observe reality, as opposed to jumping to conclusions about our selves or others. Being present-focused and non-defensive is most important in developing healthy interpersonal relationships.

Due to complex factors, including such circumstances as emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse, and experiences of neglect, some individuals will develop an overall negative sense of self and overall negative sense of others. They will further experience a wide range of problems, including rigid, inflexible negative thinking or beliefs about themselves or others. Rigid, negative thinking about our self and others can create serious emotional distress and challenges in managing our emotions (e.g., intense emotional outbursts, moments of deep hopelessness and despair, depression and anxiety, chronic emptiness, withdrawal or detachment from others). These individuals further struggle with maintaining a sense of their own and others’ boundaries. Some individuals will engage in self-sabotaging and self-injurious behaviours, and express suicidal tendencies to deal with intense feelings and impulses.

Individuals experiencing personality and interpersonal difficulties also report an unstable sense of self and others in relationships. They may experience over-sensitivity to rejection, abandonment, and punishment. An overly negative or overly inflated sense of self and others may also be evident. An unclear or altering sense of self, identity, values, and principles may further contribute to emotional distress. Relationships may be difficult as a result of an inability to tolerate aloneness, an over-dependency on others or hyper-self reliance, or ongoing emotional chaos, conflict, or avoidance in interpersonal relationships. These relationship difficulties create interpersonal chaos and create difficulties sustaining long-term relationships. Finally, these individuals may also experience other mental health issues, including eating disorders, mood and anxiety disorders, and substance use issues. 

The Personality Treatment Service at CFIR offers clients comprehensive psychological assessment and treatment of difficulties associated with personality and interpersonal functioning that create long-term challenges in their everyday functioning at school, work, or home. A comprehensive and lengthy assessment procedure is required to diagnose a personality disorder to ensure appropriate treatment planning. When personality issues are present, treatment is typically required for a lengthy period of time (i.e., up to 2 years). Clients must be motivated to change and be committed to attend regularly scheduled sessions.

Read more about our Personality Treatment Service.

CFIR OTTAWA is moving to its new home JULY 4TH, 2022. Click here for more details.