“What if I’m just lucky?” Are you suffering from impostor syndrome?
Continuous self-doubt? Guilt for taking up space? Low confidence and self-esteem? I’ve been there, and perhaps you have too.
As a first-generation college student, I always felt the pressure to succeed. I had everything my parents didn’t: higher education and opportunities. There was no room for fear, but I was still fearful of not living up to people’s expectations. After working hard to earn amazing opportunities, I still didn’t feel I deserve them.
This feeling has a name. It’s called “impostor syndrome,” and it can impair your professional performance and prevent you from confidently owning your journey. Although it’s often associated with negative experiences, it could also be your wake-up call.
Impostor syndrome is very common. It describes individuals who, despite achieving a certain level of “success,” commonly in professional environments, continue to lack confidence.1
This syndrome is particularly common in women, specifically in those who are underrepresented. Their self-perception is relatively inconsistent with their accomplishments. Some research studies have demonstrated this is attributed to different factors such as culture, gender roles, and stereotypes.2
While impostor syndrome can correlate with depression and anxiety, it is not listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual as a disorder (DSM-5).2 There are no treatments that address this syndrome specifically, but it is often recommended to see a behavioral health professional and discuss helpful coping methods.
Here’s how you might recognize impostor syndrome in yourself:
- Feeling out of place or that you’re very good at masking
- Attributing your success to outside sources (not your own competence)
- Inability to accept positive feedback in the workplace
- Perceiving yourself as unworthy
- Fear of new opportunities
The key to defeating all these negative emotions is to embrace them. Feelings, either positive or negative, are completely normal, and they are a reminder that we are human. “Impostors” often try to compensate for their assumed lack of knowledge or experience, which is what makes them extremally high achievers. If you can recognize it is normal to have self-doubts–and that your self-perception is not necessarily true–you are on the right track.
If you notice you’re feeling this way, here are some tips to cope:
- Request feedback from coworkers and supervisors – You might be surprised!
- Sharing is caring – You never know who else is experiencing the same. You are NOT alone.
- Question yourself: What facts support that I don’t deserve to be here? One of the most common and effective treatments for depression and anxiety is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which unfolds the reasons behind a negative thought by modifying our thinking processes.3
Sometimes, we need motivation for change. Think about impostor syndrome as a survival instinct, but do not rely on it to measure your greatness.
1] 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
2] Clance, P. R., & Imes, S. A. (1978). The imposter phenomenon in high achieving women: Dynamics and therapeutic intervention. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice, 15(3), 241–247. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0086006