Calling all folks battling bouts of persistent imposter syndrome:
- We see you for exactly who you are: human beings.
- We accept your humanity and hope that you’ll do the same.
Imposter syndrome. Many of us have likely heard about it in passing or become too familiar with what it entails—a swarm of symptoms that gnaw away at one’s conviction and self-efficacy, transforming them into piles of allergy-triggering, suffocating sawdust. Imposter syndrome consumes and distorts cognition—leaving individuals riddled with self-doubt and assured that they are incompetent, inadequate, and unworthy of the success that they’ve achieved in life. Affiliated symptoms can become so severe that victims may completely underestimate their strengths, discredit their efforts, or even anticipate being exposed as a complete fraud in the classroom or workplace. Imposter syndrome is a monstrous machine that is often fueled by unhealthy comparisons and can morph into an incapacitating case of generalized performance anxiety. There are also several risk factors for developing these challenges. For example, many risk developing imposter syndrome as a result of marginalized experiences shaped by identity positionality and intersectionality. Battling internalized, racist stereotypes and ethnocentric perspectives can definitely leave someone prone to never feeling good enough; it makes sense, especially if society thinks and expects less—or nothing—of you as a woman and/or someone who has been racially minoritized, for instance.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s expert syndrome; this type of bias plagues the person who is frequently labeled a know-it-all—that person who overestimates their capabilities, refuses to admit shortcomings, and even presents with a narcissistic, immensely inflated sense of self. Although it’s exasperating to deal with imposter syndrome, know that reframing is a powerful, effective way to cope. When you compare the two—imposter versus expert syndrome—and pit them against one another, you could argue that imposter syndrome is a problem but not nearly as problematic as expert syndrome. In fact, imposter syndrome actually has an advantage since those who grapple with it may be more likely to demonstrate healthy humility and come to terms with their humanity. Striving for humility means to openly acknowledge that you may not know everything but are willing and committed to developing via education, which is extremely commendable and realistic compared to aiming for complete competence. When you recognize your humanity, you realize that you are a part of the human race and, thus, no longer pressure yourself to try to achieve unattainable perfection.
Here are some ways to navigate and cope with imposter syndrome:
- Check your expectations. Rationalize, be realistic, and attempt to challenge your internal and external expectations about where you ‘should’ rank in terms of competence, for example. Try to steer clear of the comparisons trap as well. Even the most refined, esteemed professionals who have navigated your field for decades struggle with self-doubt behind the scenes. Others may look like they are composed. However, looks can be deceiving.
- Turn lemons into lemonade. Feeling inadequate is one thing, but actually making several errors is probably guaranteed to make you feel very sour. Sweeten the situation by viewing errors as learning opportunities—opportunities to become even better.
- Never forget where you came from. Activate your rational brain via labeling. Take time, during high and low moments, to review your accomplishments—and experience a quick dopamine mood boost with a cognitive shift. Compare your past with your present self by looking back to see how far you’ve come.
- Share in safety. Seek support from a safe other who resonates with your imposter syndrome experience and isn’t afraid to admit that they’re struggling as well. Take comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.
- Practice self-compassion, self-compassion, and more self-compassion. Remember that you’re a human being living with an abundance of beautiful limitations and imperfections. Since this is easier said than done, consider working with a licensed therapist who will offer a variety of cognitive-behavioral and other interventions to help you transition from being your own worst critic to becoming your biggest cheerleader.