We all know what it’s like to fail. It’s not a good feeling. It’s discouraging and upsetting and if we let it, it can often drag us down. Success, for the most part, is the complete opposite of failure. It makes us feel good about ourselves. The feeling that our efforts, time and determination is rewarded makes us realize or remember our value. It’s, therefore, no surprise that we all want to be successful. But there are those of us that can’t truly enjoy our successes. There are those of us that, no matter how hard they’ve worked will feel as if they don’t deserve their own success. This feeling is known as the Impostor Syndrome for the very simple reason that most of us that feel that way see an imposter when we look in the mirror. But why is that? Why do we sometimes feel undeserving of the successes we’ve worked so hard to achieve? And how can we stop feeling this way?
At its core, Impostor Syndrome is a kind of insecurity. It’s the feeling that we don’t deserve whatever it is we’ve achieved and that we’re a fraud. This achievement might be a promotion, a good grade or the publication of one of our works. At times, we may even feel like we don’t deserve the kind of life that we’re living: A good home, a loving family, a stable job that we love, valuable friends…
The term was coined and officially studied in 1978 by Pauline Rose Clance. Clance first defined the syndrome as highly skilled or accomplished people thinking that others are just as skilled or deserving as they are or feeling that they don’t deserve their own accomplishments. Though a lot of research still needs to be done about Impostor Syndrome and the psychology behind it, over the years we’ve gained a better understanding of what it is and how we might be able to resolve it. Here are just a few ways we can start doing that:
No matter how confident or successful we may be, we all second guess ourselves. We all have doubts and worries that eat at our minds and can stall us.
“Should I ask for a raise? Do I really deserve a raise?”
“Why would a guy/girl like that want to be with someone like me?”
“Am I really the right person the give this speech? Aren’t there more qualified people?”
The problem isn’t that we have doubts. The problem is that we don’t talk about them. When we have doubts and insecurities about ourselves and our achievements, we tend to keep them to ourselves. We don’t share them with our partners, families, and friends because part of us is worried that they will confirm our fears. But in fact, we only hurt ourselves more by not sharing.
When we choose not to share our doubts and insecurities with others we not only isolate ourselves, we make it much harder for our close peers and loved ones to share their same self-doubts. The more we have insecure thoughts about whatever it is we feel we don’t deserve, the more we begin to believe that we are the only ones that doubt ourselves. This belief reinforces the idea that we are not worthy. How could we be? Other people, worthy people don’t think and feel as we do, after all. This way of thinking quickly traps us in a loop. The more we doubt ourselves, the more isolated we become and the more isolated we become, the more we doubt ourselves.
However, if we were to share our doubts, insecurities, and thoughts with other people, we would achieve two things. First, we would get honest feedback from the people around us and these people that we love and trust would remind us as to why we are, in fact, deserving of our accomplishments. Sometimes it’s harder for us to see our positive qualities over our negative qualities. So sharing our thoughts in this way will give the people we trust the opportunity to become mirrors that show us the positive qualities that we do have. In doing so, our friends and families can help us to see and evaluate more clearly. This way we can re-learn to see the value we have and stop ourselves from spiraling down the drain of negative self-critical thoughts.
The second way that sharing our doubts with others helps us is that it invites our friends and families to share their own doubts with us as well. When a friend that we trust and respect responds to our worries with “You know, I feel like that sometimes too,” we suddenly realize that we’re not alone. We see that everyone, even the people that we respect, admire, and see as deserving, feel the same we do sometimes. This helps us to see that not all thoughts we have define us, which in turn can lend us a hand in stepping away from the kinds of thoughts fueled by Impostor Syndrome.
Impostor Syndrome isn’t solely caused by our insecurities. It may also be a result of not practicing self-compassion. It’s no surprise that most of us are much harsher critics of ourselves than we are of others. Because of this, we are likely to dismiss our efforts and hard work as “not good enough”, even if we achieve things that others consider to be great or remarkable.
Here’s a good way to gauge if you need a boost in the self-compassion department: Are you good at taking and accepting compliments? Many of us are quick to dismiss whatever compliments we receive. We do, however, cling to the criticism we get from other people. When was the last time somebody paid you a compliment? When was the last time somebody criticized you? How long did you carry that compliment with you? Did you remember it or did you dismiss it? Do you ever think about compliments that have been paid to you?
Now go back to the last time someone criticized you. How long did you hold onto that criticism? How long did you carry it with you? Do you occasionally find yourself thinking about it? Has your mind gone back to it again and again?
Odds are you held onto the criticism that was made of you much longer than the compliment that was paid you. Hanging on to criticism may have been easier than being compassionate enough to yourself to accept and embrace compliments. This situation doesn’t help thoughts such as “I don’t think I deserve this internship” or “I’m not good enough for this relationship”. In fact, it only helps to reinforce them and therefore strengthen your impostor syndrome. This is why doing self-compassion meditations can be incredibly helpful to you. Next time you sit down to meditate or find yourself in front of the mirror, focus and meditate on the qualities you possess that you think are deserving of praise. List everything that you like about yourself and everything that you value. Think and meditate on these qualities and reflect on how you have made other peoples’ lives better. Doing so will not only help you to be kinder towards yourself but also make you see that it is because of these qualities that you deserve everything you’ve worked towards.
Learning to be more self-compassionate is an important step towards overcoming Imposter Syndrome. Because overcoming Impostor Syndrome means accepting yourself as who you are with both your good qualities and your faults. By practicing self-compassion and mindfulness, we can catch ourselves the next time we start to feel like an impostor. We can learn to truly hear the compliments other people pay us. We can learn to see our praiseworthy qualities for ourselves. Then the next time we start to feel like an imposter we can pause that train of thought to actively remind ourselves of these praises and qualities. In doing so, we can remind ourselves of our own worth, directly countermanding the effects of Imposter Syndrome.
Of course, neither self-compassion nor having open conversations with other people can fix our problem in a single night. Both practices require repetition, patience and time. It might not be the easiest thing to do but with dedication and the support of our loved ones we can learn to see ourselves as the unique, beautiful and deserving people that we are.
These are only a couple of ways that we can work to overcome Impostor Syndrome. However there are many more. Have you ever felt like an impostor or as if you were undeserving of something? What has helped you in these times? We’d love to hear your experiences, so please feel free to share with us in the comment section below!