Why do I feel like an imposter?

by | Feb 24, 2022 | Psychology, Thinking | 0 comments

“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.
Eleanor Roosevelt