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Imposter Syndrome and How to Handle It

There are many times in our life where we decide that we are just not good enough. These feelings can come after being rejected from a job or internship, after being dumped by someone you thought you were devoted for, or after failing a test you studied particularly hard to pass. It can be hard to cope with situations like this. However, what happens when you receive a huge promotion, suddenly get to oversee your dream team, or are finally earning money you have only dreamed of, and you feel the exact same way? Don’t worry, you’re not being ungrateful or emotional – you might just have Imposter Syndrome.

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Imposter Syndrome is being heavily discussed in recent years. According to a study done by career development agency Amazing If, around 70% of millennials suffer from Imposter Syndrome. Many women, especially working within a professional setting, admit that they struggle with feelings of incompetence compared to their coworkers. This raises the questions – what exactly is Imposter Syndrome, why do we experience it, and how can we overcome it?

Imposter Syndrome, originally known as Imposter Phenomenon, was coined in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanne Imes, PhD, and Pauline Rose Clance, PhD. It was a term that described high-achieving people who not only did not seem to recognize their achievements but berated themselves for not doing enough. The researchers first thought this applied to women, but over the years, the definition was broadened to include anyone who experienced this phenomenon.

How does Imposter Syndrome affect women specifically, then? While there is no official DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) psychological definition, the condition has been proven to be connected to a very intense form of self-doubt. This self-doubt ends up being so perverse that it heavily effects an individual on an intellectual level, causing them to doubt whether they deserve anything in their lives. This can, of course, lead to feeling unworthy when you are recognized for awards and achievements; from an Imposter Syndrome standpoint, it feels like you haven’t worked hard enough for it.

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Many women feel that they must work harder and be better than their male coworkers to get the same attention and respect, which can lead to this condition and, in turn, to anxiety and depression. Instead of looking at the broad picture of how life is going (an award, a significant other, financially stable), Imposter Syndrome forces women to look at whatever is generated by their crippling self-doubt – doubt that makes women believe that they will fail eventually, that everyone will figure out they actually do not know what they are doing, and that they will eventually be miserable.

Does this sound familiar? Probably. Can it be coped with? That’s a harder question.

It is hard to cope with Imposter Syndrome, especially because it is linked so deeply to how our society is set up. Individuals with Imposter Syndrome are often found to come from competitive, achievement-based families. You didn’t have a competitive, achievement-based family or a soccer mom? Too bad – the world is your family. You are just an innocent person who happened to be born into a society where you must constantly be the best of the best to succeed, and it can be terrifying to fail in the face of what can seem to be flaming, devastating doom as an alternative. The important first step is not blaming yourself.

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It might be beneficial to take advantage of on-campus counseling or a personal therapist to address intense issues in self-doubt, anxiety, and depression; a professional can provide advice on the best way to handle the situation. This next step can be hard: try to separate your self-worth from your job. Your worth as a person does not equal how well you can perform your job or work duties. It is so much more than that – how you treat other living beings, for example, or the things that you sincerely love to do. You don’t have to truly compete with everyone – and even if you want to, it doesn’t have to be the center of your life. You can try and set healthy boundaries between whatever is causing you anxiety and your personal life, so that you can have some breathing room to meditate and contemplate without judging yourself unfairly.

Imposter Syndrome is a problem, and quite frankly one that can be difficult to get under control. Honestly speaking, it can be hard to rid yourself of that much self-doubt all at once. Remember to work towards improvement, not perfection. Remember to breathe. Most importantly, remember that you’re not alone – around two-thirds of millennials deal with this problem daily. Focus on taking baby steps and you’ll conquer Imposter Syndrome in no time! 

Sumayyah Uddin is a transfer student to Hofstra University in Long Island, NY. She is (currently) pursuing a major in Psychology and a minor in Creative Writing. When not working on schoolwork, worrying about what important assignment she's forgotten, or running back and forth between classes, Sumayyah enjoys drawing, reading comics, finding cool animated films, and daydreaming about pursuing a career in the arts.
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