Imposter syndrome: Identify and defy
If you feel like a fraud and question whether you’re prepared to do the work you do, be it as a student or a professional, you’re not alone. In many situations, it might be a case of what we know as the imposter phenomenon (also called ‘imposter syndrome’). While it was initially thought for this to be unique to women, extensive research has revealed that men can also experience this.
There are different possible causes of feeling like a phony, such as growing up in a family that placed a big emphasis on achievement, experiences from being part of a minority, and if you’re facing new challenges. Whatever the cause, though, in order to address and rectify the feeling one needs to be aware of how to recognize and acknowledge it. Here are a few words of advice collated by the British Psychological Society and the American Psychological Association.
Dr Carole Lieberman, an American psychiatrist and author, says that while most people experience self-doubt when embarking on a new challenge, “… someone with [imposter phenomenon] has an all-encompassing fear of being found out to not have what it takes." Even if they show signs of success (for example, getting excellent results on a test or being promoted to more senior positions at work), those with imposter syndrome may have trouble believing that they are worthy thereof.
Furthermore, the imposter phenomenon can become a cycle. As those who are experiencing this feeling are afraid of being discovered as a fraud (even though in reality they are not a fraud), they constantly jump through hoops to do every project perfectly. When the project is a success, they start to believe that the anxiety and effort have paid off and that their success must be a result of that self-torture.
The American Psychological Association provides a few ways to overcome the belief that you don’t ‘measure up’:
- Talk to your mentors: Speak with someone that provides supportive and encouraging supervision, who can help you to recognize that imposter feelings are both normal and irrational.
- Recognize your expertise: It isn’t just speaking with supervisor that can help. If you tutor younger students or speak to those who are in positions that are junior to your current role, you can help yourself to realize how much you know and how far you’ve come.
- Remember what you do well: Make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Try to do this by writing down what you’re good at, and the areas that you think need work. This way, you can recognize what you’re doing well and where you need improvement.
- Realize that no one is perfect: It is advised that you stop focusing on perfection. If you do your best, that is good enough. Also take time to appreciate the fruits of your labour. Learn to develop and implement rewards for your successes- celebrate yourself!
- Change your thinking: If you’re having imposter feelings, you need to reframe the way that you think about your achievements. You should gradually ‘chip away’ at the superstitious thinking that fuels the imposter cycle.
For those who are experience imposter feelings, be it as a student or a professional, it is important to first recognize the thought patterns that indicate the imposter phenomenon, than acknowledge that you need to change your ways before it consumes you.
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