Impostor Syndrome

What is impostor syndrome? Here’s how you can deal with it

When you suffer from impostor syndrome, you feel like a fraud, a cheat who hides from everyone. You feel stressed that others will find you mediocre.
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“I am a failure.”

“I got lucky.”

“I feel like a fraud.”

If you get thoughts like this, chances are that you might have impostor syndrome. Anyone who thinks that they are not good enough or their accomplishments are just a stroke of luck suffers from this syndrome, or what psychologists call the impostor phenomenon. According to research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, around 70 percent of people suffer from impostor syndrome at some point in their lives.

Psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes were the first ones to publish a paper on impostor syndrome. At that time, they believed only women suffer from this condition. Later it was found that even men can experience impostor feelings.

When you suffer from impostor syndrome, you feel like a fraud, a cheat who hides from everyone. You feel stressed that others will find you mediocre. You question your abilities and your accomplishments. You believe you don’t deserve success because you haven’t earned it.

In her book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr Valerie Young, an internationally recognised expert on impostor syndrome has defined five groups for this condition.

The perfectionist – These are the people who believe in perfection and expect everything to be in top-notch quality. If the result doesn’t meet their standards, they beat themselves up for not achieving the goal instead of appreciating the hard work they have done.

The soloist – This group categorises those who prefer to work solo. They take pride in their individual ability to handle any task. Asking for help feels like committing a crime to them. The sheer idea of asking for support makes them feel inferior and inadequate.

The expert – This group is for those who work like experts. They gather all pertinent information and statistics for their tasks. They don’t answer a question or start a task before thoroughly researching the subject. If they fail to do so, they feel like an impostor who doesn’t know anything.

The natural genius – This group is reserved for child prodigies, for whom everything comes naturally. They don’t sweat over a task like others do because they are born geniuses. But when they face a challenge they can’t overcome, they feel worthless and depressed.

The superhero – This group comprises people, who work long, gruelling hours every week. They don’t want to fall behind in life, and so they work tirelessly, day in and day out. They believe if they don’t show diligence, they will be seen as incompetent.

If you fall into any one of the above categories, it’s an indication that you are dealing with impostor syndrome. Here’s how you can effectively deal with it.

Acknowledge your feelings

The first step is to recognise the syndrome. Know that what you are experiencing is not true but a figment of your imagination. This syndrome spurs due to various factors like your upbringing, conditioning, or your environment. None of them can accurately define your capabilities and competence. For example, if you have failed a task and feel like an impostor, acknowledge your feelings and tell yourself it’s just a phase that comes in almost everyone’s lives. Pick yourself up and start again. Failures are not eternal and success is not far behind if you have a positive affirmation.

Take feedback

If you feel like you haven’t done a good job on your project, don’t punish yourself. Instead, ask a trustworthy colleague or your manager to give you feedback on your work. Trust their words over your self-berating thoughts. Looking at your work from someone else’s eyes will give you a fresh perspective on things. It will enable you to understand the areas where you can improve and how you can create an effective strategy to achieve your target.

Stop comparisons

Comparison is the murderer of self-belief and self-esteem. The more you compare yourself with others, the deeper the pit of your sorrow becomes. The only person you should compare yourself to is you. That’s how you grow, one day at a time. Yes, growth takes time. So be patient and don’t feed your impostor feelings with intrusive thoughts that stem from needless comparisons.

Embrace failures

All successful people fail at one point or the other. But they don’t let their setbacks define who they are. Whenever you feel like an impostor because of the fear of losing, seek inspiration from all those people who failed but never gave up. From Albert Einstein to Bill Gates, many famous personalities who changed the world experienced failures in their lives but went on to carve their names in the annals of history. Your worth is not measured by the number of times you fail but by how many times you get up when life knocks you down.

Talk to a friend or a mentor

Showing your vulnerabilities to others is not easy but it can help you escape from the prison of impostor syndrome. Talk to a friend or a mentor about your impostor feelings that frequently consume you. Sharing your burden with your loved ones or someone you look up to will help you navigate your feelings and find clarity. Listen to what they have to say. Their objective opinions will enable you to recognise the negative pattern in your thinking and make rational decisions.

Be kind to yourself

At the end of a long, tiring day, never forget to be kind to yourself. And being kind means forgiving yourself for missing your deadlines or not finishing all the tasks when you felt sick or fatigued. Everyone makes mistakes, even those you admire and respect. As the saying goes, to err is human. So whenever negative thoughts began to stress you out, replace them with positive self-talk. Tell yourself that even if you couldn’t give your best today, you can always succeed some other day.

Seek help

If you have acknowledged your impostor feelings and have decided to overcome them, half of the battle is already won. The next step is to find a solution that can help you climb out of that dreadful pit. Sometimes, however, when you are late in recognising the issue, the pit can seem too deep to escape on your own. In such situations, seeking professional help could be your best solution. Try to talk to a qualified counsellor who works in the area of self-esteem and self-worth, as they can help you get past the impostor feelings by the power of individual therapy.

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