Awards, recognition, pats on the back and praise of how well you you’re doing at your job or any “job” that needed to get done. That’s what most people would like to hear. It’s what helps you get through the day and gives you that extra boost of confidence that you need.
But in the back of your mind, there’s a voice that chatters louder than all of those accolades, praises and sincere congratulatory remarks. It’s a voice that’s always screaming “ I don’t deserve this. This won’t last long because now that i think about it, I made all of these other mistakes. I don’t think I can do this, I don’t think I belong here, and soon, everyone else is going to find out who I really am.”
That voice that continues to scream so loud has a name and maybe you’ve heard of it. It’s time to talk about Imposter Syndrome.
Imposter Syndrome, what is it?
According to Psychology Today, Imposter Syndrome is a psychological term that refers to a pattern of behavior where people doubt their accomplishments and have a consistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
Now that’s just the main course. There are some sides that go along with it, too. I’m sure you’ve picked some of them off the menu from time to time:
- A side of “calling one’s success luck”
- A side of “it was just good timing”
- A heaping side of minimized language (use this when your dish is lacking confidence)
- The “If I can do it, anyone can do it” side dish
- And last but not least, the most popular side dish, “I had a lot of help”
I know all of these too well. I have had my fair share of moments where my emotions have gone into overload while I let the thoughts of not being good enough constantly run through my mind. Imposter syndrome affects men and women and anyone who is not able to accept their success.
What is the root to Imposter Syndrome?
There is not one textbook answer that can answer that, but there are a lot of factors that help explain why many feel the overwhelming weight of imposter syndrome. It can stem from anxiety, the environment you’ve grown up in, your childhood experiences and more. For example, a familial cause can be when a relative of yours makes comments about how you could do something better or that the work you’ve done is never good enough.
This can leave a lasting effect on someone’s psyche, causing internalization and the proposition that much needs to be achieved in order to receive love. This ultimately creates a cycle of perfectionism, overworking oneself to be the best to be needed, and to be superwoman or superman; juggling many tasks at a time to prove that you are capable and that others can rely on you.
I’ve struggled with this, especially more in my adult life and dealing with a full-time job. I often have these moments where I find myself thinking negatively or engaging in inner dialogue that’s very unhealthy. I’ll make a mistake and it leads me down a rabbit hole.
I begin to wonder “Oh no, this person is going to think I am so dumb and wonder how I got this position.” And that then starts the cycle of not feeling good enough, invalidating the things I’ve done correctly and leaving me in a position afraid to keep going because I now have anxiety that I am not going to succeed.
Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
I often notice the times where I’ve had this familiar feeling of formidable angst. And each time, I am able to pinpoint back in my childhood when I felt that way, and what caused it.
Growing up, I went to a predominantly white schools. I had my close friends of color there who made me feel comfortable, but when I wasn’t around them, I always felt like I was the least intelligent person in the room.
I felt this way due to stereotypes, certain comments that people made, expectations that were put on me (even from my family always reminding me that I’d have to work twice as hard), and the reactions from my peers when i got something right or gave an articulate response. I remember feeling like my educated, correct answers were just a lucky guess. That I couldn’t possibly know the answer, nudging off other’s genuine accolades of me being smart because I just couldn’t believe I was.
Fast forward years later and i still do that. I have a seat at the table but I don’t always feel like I belong there. I drive myself crazy and to the point of exhaustion thinking that I have to work twice as hard and that I cannot make a mistake. If I make a mistake, it will give people power over me and proves their assumption about me were correct: I am inferior. I am a black woman who is neither smart nor confident enough to handle playing with the big boys. But after a long inner pep talk, I am reminded that I don’t have to think this way.
There is the ability for me to reframe the way I think. Yes, I have these thoughts, but I can also change my perspective and look at what else can be painted on the canvas. What my eye focus on the most of the painting doesn’t mean it’s the most important part.
Acknowledging your fears and doubts isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t make you weak.
Everyone has doubts and that’s normal, it’s just about how you respond to them, how you approach them. That could look different for everyone.
It might be responding with asking questions when you don’t understand something. Or it could be talking to a friend to help you think through your thoughts and gives you both constructive criticism and affirmation. In the moment it may seem daunting to even think about how you’re going to get through it, but if you have the ability to slow down and take a breath, you’re already making your way out of the hole that you unknowingly dug yourself in.
Here are two steps that i take when i find myself disengaging, letting the imposter syndrome add another W to their record:
- I have a time of reflection and think about all of the times where I was afraid of the unknown and didn’t know how I was going to make it through. But eventually, I figured it out, and it’s now something that i find myself not worried about. If I can get through that, I can get through this. Different obstacle but same strength.
- Writing out my small victories. It’s very easy to pinpoint what went wrong instead of went well. But if we take the time to count all of the small victories, we will see so much more to the picture and remind ourselves that we are doing much better than we think
Imposter Syndrome is real, but we have all of the necessary tools inside of us to overcome it. Let’s use our struggles as a place of reference, not residence. Doing this will help us see how we can improve in handling what comes next.