Self-doubt is part of being human, but when the feelings nag you constantly, you might be in the clutches of something more.
Impostor syndrome is that non-stop worry that that someone is going to find you out. That you’re not as good as everyone else. That you are undeserving and unworthy.
Impostor syndrome is ramping up in today’s never-enough world. We think we have to do everything in order to be valuable. The overemphasis on achievement at younger ages than ever before are compromising mental health and baiting us into thinking we have to be perfect.
Impostor syndrome feeds off of social comparison. Here’s how to unhook from its vices:
1. Know the difference between being an achiever and over-achiever. In my clinical work, I’ve seen the tendency of driven people to drive themselves a bit crazy with over-the-top expectations. Striving for excellence and living our best life is a good thing; but never stopping to enjoy the moments, internalize accomplishments and recognize the progress we’re making is a form of self-cruelty.
2. Stop comparing. Don’t base your views of someone on the image they are portraying. As humans, we all start somewhere, we don’t arrive fully equipped for the situations that life delivers. We evolve through mistakes, awkward moments and redo’s. Even when you see someone else with a lot of finesse, they are likely to have their own insecurities behind the scenes. Be proud of how far you’ve come–and believe in your ability to keep growing.
3. Pace yourself. You don’t have to sprint through a marathon. Small steps each day add up towards your big-picture goals. Life is a constant learning process. Give yourself time and space to develop without straining yourself to the point of burnout and exhaustion. It’s not success if you’re too sick or wiped out to enjoy it.
4. Stop undermining your strengths. Humility is a great attribute, but it’s important to identify and own your strengths. When we focus our energies on building on our strengths, it builds positive emotions and momentum. When we learn to develop a healthy confidence, we are less likely to ruminate over our perceived or actual weaknesses and shortcomings.
5. Don’t fake it ‘til you make it. There are too many people putting up fronts. Our social media feeds are full of facades. When we reveal our true selves to people we can trust, it can create spaces for authentic conversations that bond us in our shared humanity and vulnerabilities. You will likely find that you are not alone and to feel better than if you hid your insecurities.
6. Recognize and reframe. When your mind begins to shout at you that you’re a phony, catch yourself in the act. Call it out for what it is. Notice when your strivings are getting the best of you. Work to see the bigger picture and be more generous with yourself, rather than stewing in self-criticism. The inner critic shrinks when we practice self-compassion.
The inner critic shrinks when we practice self-compassion.
7. Look at its deeper causes. Research shows that impostor syndrome disproportionately affects persons of color, women, “straddlers” — those from middle-class backgrounds working their way towards upward mobility, and other marginalized and underrepresented groups. Society has a long way to go to dismantle power-over and dominant group structures. Impostor syndrome feeds off of “in” and “out” group norms. We must all work to create more inclusive spaces where everyone can show up, be seen, and prosper without fear, marginalization or discrimination.