Ever sat in a classroom and felt that everyone around you is much smarter than you? Ever thought that your skills and abilities were weaker and lacking in comparison to others? I have good news for you because you are not alone! What you are experiencing is commonly referred to as the imposter syndrome.
What is imposter syndrome?
Modern day psychology has named this feeling as the imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is defined by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes as the ‘idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications’. It was initially thought that only women suffered from this syndrome, but newer research has shown that this syndrome is existent in men as well.
Why might you experience imposter syndrome?
There are many reasons as to why one may experience imposter syndrome, but the underlying reason is due to one’s inability to internalize their success. This is essentially that someone is unable to accept the fact that they accomplished something or achieved something through their own hard work and skills. Furthermore, people who experience imposter syndrome may internalize certain narratives about themselves or stereotypes, changing the way they view themselves. For example, if someone internalizes someone telling them that they only achieved their goal because of luck or that they are not very smart, it will be difficult to see that they are equally talented as those around them. Being put in a brand new environment/situation where everyone seems very different than you can cause you to doubt your skills. “A sense of belonging fosters confidence,” says Valerie Young, an expert on imposter syndrome. “The more people who look or sound like you, the more confident you feel. And conversely, the fewer people who look or sound like you, it can and does for many people impact their confidence.” This is commonly represented in media culture as a person of colour feeling alone and unconfident as they look different than those around him/her.
Who are people who commonly experience imposter syndrome?
Many types of people experience this syndrome, but an article by Abigail Abrams eloquently described the types of people who are more likely to experience imposter syndrome:
- Perfectionists – perfectionists are the type of people who have very high expectations for themselves in terms of their quality of work, abilities and skills. They will set many high achieving goals for themselves. If they do not manage to achieve them all, or if they make even a small mistake, they begin to question their abilities. While it is important to aim for the stars, constantly belittling yourself over small mistakes creates a harmful mentality.
- Experts – Experts can be people who feel obliged to know every piece of information about a certain topic/subject. They only feel as though they are living up to expectations when they meet all the required criteria. A good example that was given in an article is that experts will not apply to jobs in which they do not meet 100% of the criteria as being in a scenario where they know less than others can cause anxiety.
- Geniuses – Some people naturally are gifted with certain skills coming easily to them. For some people, math comes very easily to them and from a young age they did not have to put in much effort towards understanding the concept. But as soon as a skill does not come so easily to them, they feel as though they are not as good as those around them. They begin to doubt their intelligence and talent when more effort is required to reach the level of proficiency that they want.
- Soloists – These are the kind of people who feel as though they need to do everything on their own. Asking for help brings them a feeling of failure as success can be linked to complete independence.
How to tackle Imposter Syndrome:
- Observe your thoughts – It is easy to spiral into a negative mentality as one mistake can trigger a wave of harmful thoughts. We are usually hard on ourselves starting from the kind of things we tell ourselves. Take some time at the end of the day to reflect on the words you used to talk to yourself. Observe how many of the words we used were words we would use when talking to a friend. Oftentimes, we don’t speak to ourselves as someone we care and love about, so consciously making an effort to change yourself-dialogue can promote a positive mentality.
- Speak to people you trust – keeping your emotions and feelings to yourself is difficult, even more so when we have a hard time accepting our gains and losses. Take some time to express your feelings to a friend or family. Articulating your feelings can help you find the root cause of your emotions and can alleviate the pressure of seemingly being inferior to others.
- Do something that makes you feel happy and good. It could simply be singing by yourself, reading a book, dancing or playing an instrument – anything that gives you happiness! Yes, you deserve your wins! It’s okay to celebrate your victories and to enjoy the fruits of your hard work!