Have you ever experienced that nagging feeling that if people really knew what you were like, they wouldn’t like you? Or how about thinking that someday people will find out you are a fraud because you aren’t really as talented as everyone thinks?
Those feelings and the symptoms that accompany them have a name, imposter syndrome.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Also known as the imposter phenomenon, imposter syndrome is a psychological pattern of thinking where an individual doubts their accomplishments or talents. These folks internalize their fear of gaining exposure as a fraud.
People with imposter syndrome have feelings of severe inadequacy and usually occur concerning a person’s work life, although it can and does change everyday life as well. Interestingly, imposter syndrome affects some people regardless of how successful they are in their lives and work.
Although imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon, it is not in and of itself a mental health disorder but often compliments one.
Many survivors, especially those living with dissociative identity disorder, experience imposter syndrome for two reasons. One, there are many mental health and physical health providers who do not believe the condition exists. Two, no one wants to believe they have such a tragic past and such a hard to live with the diagnosis.
The Symptoms of Imposter Syndrome
There is no cookie-cutter clear list of symptoms for the syndrome as various people are affected differently. The list below is of consistent red flags that point to the existence of imposter phenomenon.
Symptoms one might feel about home or work life:
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Constantly comparing oneself to others
- Extreme lack of self-confidence
- Negative self-talk
- Ruminating on the past
- Distrust of one’s own abilities and capabilities
- Irrational fear about the future
Symptoms one might feel in a professional setting:
- Brushing off accolades
- Taking on extra work to make sure you are doing your work correctly
- Not applying to job postings
The lists, as mentioned above, are only partial and show how self-esteem and self-regard play into imposter syndrome.
Living with Imposter Syndrome
Living with imposter syndrome is exceedingly tricky. One never knows if how they are feeling about their performance is real or just another artifact of maltreatment from the past.
As a writer, I often feel that I am an imposter and that, one day, people will discover that I am not an excellent author but have been pretending all these years.
Imposter syndrome flies in the face of logic, making even the best survivor feel as though they and their entire lives are lies. The syndrome is insidious, self-defeating, and harmful to one’s sense of self.
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
There are some simple methods to help take the sting out of imposter syndrome, including the following.
Remember, all success is subject to interpretation. Perhaps I’m not as good of a writer as Robert Frost or a Pulitzer prize-winning writer. That, however, does not mean I am a fraud. One should not try to themselves up to others and decide if they are good enough. Instead, we should turn inward and dwell on how well we do something based on our own merits.
Set firm boundaries to stop others from detracting from your personal growth and wellness. Stop others from causing you to doubt your abilities. Build up solid walls of protection around your self-esteem and maintain them no matter what. If a person or employer does not believe in your skills, move on. Find a different friend or job where you will be appreciated.
Take ownership of your successes. It is okay to acknowledge to yourself that you have a talent. It is also alright to admit to yourself that you are damn good at your job. The truth is the truth, and it is not bragging or vane to recognize your abilities.
Imposter syndrome is a painful condition because people feel uncomfortable with acknowledging their role in their own success. The syndrome is fed by negative cognitive distortions (irrational thought patterns) that are based on anxiety rather than facts.
If you cannot help yourself and pull yourself out of the self-doubt that can plague folks experiencing imposter syndrome, you will want to speak to a therapist. If you already have one or plan to see one, remember to be totally honest with them about how you think about yourself. They will be able to help you know that you are not a fraud but rather a talented and valuable human being.