by: E.B. Johnson
When we suffer from imposter syndrome, we often come to believe that success — in any shape — is beyond our reach, and we often come to form negative opinions of our self that ultimately undermines our overall happiness. Overcoming our imposter syndrome is a critical part not only of healing, but of establishing and creating lives we want and lives we can be proud of. If you believe you’re suffering from imposter syndrome, read on. You can learn to get past your insecurities, but it’s going to take time, understanding and a lot of honest self-reflection.
How imposter syndrome manifests.
Imposter syndrome is a psychological phenomenon that causes us to invest in the belief that we are inadequate or incompetent — despite any evidence that proves otherwise. It’s a corrosive and toxic state, and one that can cause us to deny ourselves a number of poignant and beneficial opportunities. Thinking you aren’t good enough leads to actions that reinforce that insecurity. And imposter syndrome can manifest in a many different styles, too.
If you feel as though you have a constant need to prove “what” and “how much” you know, you might be battlingimposter syndrome or a feeling of not measuring up. Those who suffer from this type of imposter syndrome can find themselves shying away from opportunities that they feel as though they aren’t “smart enough” for, or they might find themselves in a paralyzing cycle of self-education that keeps them from making any moves forward. While there’s always more to learn, there’s always a point of action from which we have to move too.
A need for perfection
Those who lean toward a need for perfection often find themselves suffering from imposter syndrome, and it’s easy to see why. Perfectionism and imposter syndrome blend well, with perfectionists having excessively high goals and the major self-doubt that comes with their astounding and inevitable failures. They are usually control freaks, who also worry constantly about how they measure up compared to those around them. They’re obsessive, and this obsession leads to a tunnel vision that leads them wholly unprepared for the unavoidable letdowns life throws their way.
Some who suffer with imposter syndrome find themselves with an almost obsessive need to do everything by themselves. While this initially seems like a noble pursuit, it doesn’t take much digging to reveal that this need to fly solo is more from a fear that working with others (or asking questions) will reveal some deep-rooted and inherent flaw or unforgivable ignorance. These beliefs, of course, are untrue and based more in insecurity than reality.
Knowing it all
The brainiac is the imposter syndrome sufferer who feels as though they have to be a natural genius. In other words, they are the type of person who sees their competence being based upon the ease with which they master things. They are the people who get things right on the first try, or they give up all together. Braniancs insist on excelling quickly and without much effort, and they base their personal ideals on ridiculous expectations.
Doing it all
When you feel as though you can’t live up to those around you, it can often cause you to push yourself even harder in an effort to measure up. This “superhero complex” can drive us to over-exert ourselves, but it’s a shallow cover-up of insecurities that aren’t always based in the reality of the situation. Superhero complexes often manifest their imposter syndrome in the form of becoming “workaholics” and their personal relationships are often strained as a result of their belief that they can “save” their partners.
How to take charge of your imposter syndrome.
It’s possible to overcome our imposter syndrome, but it does take some self-reflection and digging deep into the issues and insecurities that continue to undermine our unhappiness. If you truly want to find your way back to self-assured confidence, you’ve got to learn how to open up and accept the journey for the process that it is. By chipping away at your insecurities every day you can overcome them, and the following techniques can help you do it.
1. Find a way to open up
Reach out to someone who wants the best for you. Let them know that you need to get something off your chest, and that you need their honest and unflinching opinion. If you’re not ready to open up about the behavior or experience that causes you to feel like an imposter, open up about the emotions you’re currently experiencing. Often, just sharing how we’re feeling is a relief, and a major stepping stone when it comes toresolving our shame.
2. Look at failure differently
Stop beating yourself up and take a step back to consider all the things you have managed to accomplish in your life. Leave the negative things on the sideline and accept that we all make mistakes. Focus on the things you did well in your life, and clarify the decisions, skills and outlooks that allowed you to get in that headspace of achievement or success. Another great way to rethink our definition of failure is to clarify the things that really matter in our lives and interrupt the obsessing by asking oourselves some probing questions based in reality.
3. Know that it happens
Look around and consider some of the most powerful, wealthy, successful or otherwise “worthwhile” people you know (or can imagine). Every single one of them has felt inadequate at some point in their life. The real secret to their success was getting out of their own way enough to take a stand and go after what they wanted. There’s an incredible power in realizing you’re not alone, so reach out, and realize that we’ve all felt as though we don’t belong at some point in our lives. Use that belonging to overcome your fear.
4. Separate actions from self
Find the gap or psychological distance between your shame and who you identify as, as a person. Let that space engulf the overwhelming emotions that threaten to drag you under, and see your reactions as a reflection of struggles, rather than a reflection of who you are at your core. Though we often forget it, our actions and our experiences are not — definitively — who we are. Rather, they are a part of a puzzle that comes together to form a stylized picture of who we are and who we can become.
5. Make a plan even if you're scared
Take it easy on yourself and don’t feel guilty or ashamed of feeling fearful. We all experience fear, it’s how we deal with it that truly defines us. Start small, and branch out into the waters of the unknown by shifting your routines ever-so-slightly. Little-by-little, branch out into other waters, and experiment with other things you might not normally do, like wearing something outlandish or showing up five minutes late on purpose. These tiny little acts of rebellion will empower you to feel not only as though you can break the mould, but that you can stand up for yourself as well
Putting it all together…
Imposter syndrome is a very real and a very debilitating psychological phenomenon that can prevent us from pursuing a number of opportunities that might otherwise bring us success or happiness. Open up to a loved one or someone that you trust about how you’re feeling, and let them know why you see yourself as an imposter in whatever situation you’re experiencing.
Reshape your perceptions of failure and get real about what really matters to you and the future that you’re trying to create. Learn how to separate what you do from who you are. We aren’t just the sum of our actions, we’re also the sum of our beliefs, our reactions and the experiences that contribute to our overall presence here. Drop the comparisons and start being mindfully courageous when it really matters. Imposter syndrome isn’t forever, it’s just for right now. Understand that everyone experiences these feelings from time to time — you’re not alone. Take a stand and start going after the things that you want from this life. You’re the only one that dream was made for.
- Feenstra, S., Begeny, C., Ryan, M., Rink, F., Stoker, J., & Jordan, J. (2020). Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome”. Frontiers In Psychology, 11. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575024