Impostor Syndrome: What To Do When You Don’t Beleive In Yourself

Impostor syndrome is a mental state in which a person believes that he/she is not as competent as people think. The concept of competency here isn’t only applied to achievement and intelligence but also in social context and perfectionism. The person is likely to feel like a fraud. He/she may think that they don’t deserve what they’ve got and it is only their luck or fate bringing them everything. The situation, in severe cases, affects an individual’s social and work life, degree of skills and expertise, etc. 

What is Impostor Syndrome?

Impostor Syndrome can make you feel like you aren't qualified or don't have the right skills.  Photo by Amina Filkins from Pexels
Impostor Syndrome can make you feel like you aren’t qualified or don’t have the right skills. Photo by Amina Filkins from Pexels

The term imposter syndrome was first used in the 1970s by two psychologists named Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanna Imes. It was first thought to be applied to women who were high-achievers. By the time, when the condition became popular, a wide range of people from both sexes reported experiencing it. The common characteristics of imposter syndrome include;

  • Feelings of self-doubt
  • Accrediting your success to others and external factors
  • Inability to recognize your competence
  • Inability to acknowledge your skills
  • Scolding your performance
  • Fear of not being able to meet other’s expectations
  • Disrupting your success
  • Setting extraordinary challenges and feeling disappointed  

This is what people with imposter syndrome commonly experience. However, there are some cases where people feel over-motivated to achieve something. They experience feelings of anxiety and consequently start over-preparing to make sure that nobody finds out their shortcomings. It sets up a vicious cycle, where you believe that you won’t get through something if you don’t work real hard! You don’t trust your abilities and skills and keep pushing yourself to work and overwork.

The problem even continues after you’ve done well at something. For instance, let’s take an example that you have been assigned a presentation at work. You start thinking that what you did that the boss has trusted you with the project.

You do whatever it takes to prepare well but with a feeling that nobody finds out that you’re an incompetent fraud. You rehearse the presentation all night and bang the meeting tomorrow. You’ll start accrediting your success to your hard work and your all-night rehearsals. You won’t think, for even a second, that you might be a good speaker so that the boss has entrusted you the presentation. You won’t tell yourself to relax and that you would manage to perform well. And when you’ve finally done it, you won’t praise yourself and your capabilities.

Now that you’d done so well, you’ll be offered lunch with the officials. At this moment, a stream of thoughts will start nagging your head like what you did to be here or it’s just your luck that you’ve got this chance, etc.     

How Impostor Syndrome affects your mental health?

The mental health effects of impostor syndrome are somewhat similar to that of social anxiety disorder. You constantly experience feelings of self-doubt and develop a staunch belief that you’re not good enough. You start feeling like you don’t belong to where you are and you don’t deserve what you have. You consider yourself socially incompetent and start avoiding talking much and sharing your feelings. You don’t let people know what you are going through and suffer in silence. You feel anxious all the time and this anxiety may lead to depression as well.   

Moreover, you are likely to agonize over small mistakes and flaws. The condition may render you over-sensitive to even constructive criticism. You downplay your skills and expertise and consider others much better than you. When comparing yourself with others, you might experience an inferiority complex and negative thoughts like self-sabotage and low self-confidence. 

What are the types of Impostor Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome appears in different ways. Some of the popular types of impostor syndrome are;

  • The perfectionist
  • The superman/woman
  • The natural genius
  • The soloist
  • The expert

Perfectionism and impostor syndrome are two parallel conditions. Perfectionists set incredibly high goals and when fall short, they experience major self-doubt and fear about measuring up. The perfectionists’ group of impostor syndrome are control freaks as well. They want to do things perfectly and take no external help. They have great difficulty in delegating and feel disappointed with the results of teamwork. For 100% perfection and 100% timeliness, the perfectionists do everything themselves. However, when they succeed at achieving something, they start thinking that they could have done better.

The supermen/women work harder and harder because they are convinced that they’re phonies. They think that if they won’t work hard, they’ll end up making mistakes and people will find out their ground incompetent reality. They put in super-extra effort to turn the tables but are never happy with the results. Their constant stress and hectic working may hit them with burn out.     

These types of imposters, like perfectionists, set the bar exceptionally high. However, they don’t judge their expertise as per other’s expectations. They believe in doing things right on the first try and if they fail to do so, their self-doubt alarm starts ringing. Taking a long time to do something perfectly makes them feel ashamed.

The soloist imposters are the ones who suffer alone. They think that if they’ll ask for help, people will get to know about their phoniness. They refuse assistance to prove their worth. And finally, the expert impostors judge their competence based on what they know and how much can they do. They are afraid of being exposed as unknowledgeable and inexperienced. They constantly seek training and certifications because they think they aren’t experts yet. They won’t apply for a job until they meet the entire criteria, etc.

What can be done to overcome Impostor Syndrome?

What can we do to overcome Impostor Syndrome?  Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels
What can we do to overcome Impostor Syndrome? Photo by Moose Photos from Pexels

Impostor syndrome is a mental state, not a medical illness. It can be overcome by simple changes in your lifestyle, work style, and attitude. To get over the situation, you need to ask yourself the following questions;

  • What do you believe/think of yourself?
  • Do you consider yourself worthy of love and success?
  • Do you need to be perfect for others’ approval?
  • Why do you trouble to ask for help?
  • Why are mistakes a nightmare to you?

Impostor syndrome is often linked with perfectionism. People think that they have to be perfect in order to survive throughout the world. They don’t ask for help because they think it will make them look incompetent. They might delay working but will work it on their own. To move past such feelings, the first thing you need to do is to revive your core beliefs of competency and worth. This can be very hard but you need to tell yourself that you are good enough to have all that you’ve. Plus, you have the potential to achieve more. Work hard but trust your expertise as well.

Secondly, start talking about your feelings without any fear. Whenever a feeling is hidden or ignored, it becomes an irrational belief. To avoid that start talking to people you trust. If there isn’t anyone, start building your confidence in your close friends and family. Tell them how do you feel and ask for possible solutions.

You need to start shifting your focus from yourself to others. See what people in the same situation as you. Try to lend them a helping hand. You’ll start seeing that even the most experienced experts make mistakes sometimes and they’re ok with it. Start normalizing mistakes, don’t fear them at all. Try to learn lessons from your and people’s mistake and try your best not to repeat them.    

Assess your abilities realistically. Evaluate your personal and social performance. Write down the things you’re good at and the ones you lack. Compare both; improve the good ones and work hard on your shortcomings. Take baby steps; you need not learn it overnight and do it perfectly on the first try. Don’t focus on perfection but improvement.  

Question your irrational thoughts like, “I am a fraud” and “I got here all by luck.” Given everything that you know, does it make sense to think so? Stop comparing yourself with others. Take them as an inspiration and learn from them but don’t downplay yourself if they’re performing better.

Fix your lifestyle. Adopt a healthy one. Eat healthy food to boost your brain’s functioning. Exercise daily to keep your body and mind active and stay away from all the negativity around you. Don’t use social media excessively, it is the biggest cause of inferiority among the present-day population.

Conclusion

When a person feels like an impostor, it means that they are somewhat successful and are attributing their success to luck and fate. If you’re feeling the same, try to turn it into gratitude. Look at what you’ve achieved and be thankful. Don’t consume your brain over some irrational thoughts. Try to follow all the tips mentioned above and if you still feel the same, talk to a doctor. A mental healthcare provider can help you with some medical advice and medicines (probably) to overcome the situation. However, before seeking medical advice, make a sincere effort to fix your mental state yourself.