“I attribute my achievements to luck and external factors. I fear I might not live up to my expectations. I get stuck in spirals of self-doubt. I always write off my success. I have thoughts such as, ‘My accomplishments and ideas aren’t worthy of others’attention.’ ‘What gives me the right to be here?’ and ‘I will be found out as a phony.’”
If all of this sounds eerily familiar, you might find solace in knowing that you’re not alone. The literary legend Maya Angelou, whose career culminated in numerous books, awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, once admitted, “Uh-oh, I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out”. Even Einstein called himself ‘an involuntary swindler’ and Potter fans might recollect how Harry confesses that he’s always gotten lucky, had help from Dumbledore and his friends, and that he is not special.
This feeling of fraudulence is far more common than we think and is usually termed imposter syndrome. Although it might be accompanied by anxiety and depression, it isn’t necessarily tied to a mental illness. Contributing factors might include one’s personality, taking up a new role, family upbringing, perfectionism, early experiences, and social anxiety.
Okay, that’s great, now I know what it is called. But what can I do about it?
- Recognize your expertise – Understand what you do well and learn to assess yourself objectively (easy to say, harder to do). Focus on your efforts, reward and validate yourself when you accomplish something.
- Differentiate feeling and fact – Feeling incompetent does not equal being incompetent, and we often tend to engage in this sort of emotional reasoning while evaluating ourselves.
- Develop a new narrative – Being aware of and modifying our ‘internal script’ goes a long way. Instead of thinking, “They’re going to see right through my inadequacy”, reframe it to “I might not know it all, but everyone starts somewhere. I am smart enough to figure it out.” Remind yourself that nobody is perfect.
- Revise your self-expectations – Unrealistically high self-standards burdens us with enormous pressure to perform, as our self worth becomes inexplicably contingent on our achievements.
- Voice your feelings – Confiding in someone you trust can add new perspective. If you are overwhelmed and feel like this is affecting your functioning, reach out to a psychologist who can help you navigate your way through these difficult emotions.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Monica Jacob (MPhil Clin Psych, MSc Clin Psych, BSc Psych) is a psychologist who values trust, empathy, respect, warmth, and creativity in the therapy room and seeks to collaboratively help her clients lead more meaningful, enriched lives. Monica is passionate about understanding each individual’s unique journey and walking alongside them. She previously worked in hospital settings as part of a multidisciplinary team and provided psychotherapy to clients with various mental health needs in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Her clinical experience includes working with individuals experiencing mood disorders, anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and adjustment difficulties. Monica is dedicated to improving her expertise and knowledge by receiving regular supervision and reviewing research to provide the best possible support to her clients.