Impostor Syndrome: Our Worst Enemy

Despite having garnered fame and recognition, a lot of people we still look up to these days—like the famous singer David Bowie and the late scientist Albert Einstein—always felt like their work was not worthy of praise and that, therefore, they were not deserving of the attention they received. This phenomenon is what we nowadays call  “impostor syndrome”. Before new research on impostor syndrome was published by the International Journal of Behavioral Sciences in 2011, it was thought to only affect women. This implied that only women could feel inadequate in a setting where they were being appreciated. But the truth of the matter is, anyone can suffer from this condition, given that at any point in our lives, we can feel insecure about our accomplishments and skills.  

blonde woman with ponytail with her head in her hands leaning over a laptop Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Impostor syndrome is described as the feeling of not being able to internalize your accomplishments and, as a result, you feel like a fraud whenever you receive praise or compliments for your achievements. There are different ways in which this “syndrome” can take place in the human mind. 

For example, a person can convey this syndrome by being an extreme perfectionist, to the point in which they beat themselves up whenever things don’t end up like they hoped they would. According to Arlin Cuncic―author of The Anxiety Workbook―other ways in which impostor syndrome can show up are: 

  • Having the need to go to great lengths to achieve something even if your mental and/or physical health are on the line

  • Wanting to know absolutely everything about anything and feeling stupid if you don’t

  • Constantly setting unrealistic expectations and being disappointed when they aren’t met

  • Never asking for help because you see it as a sign of weakness

This sensation often goes hand-in-hand with the act of comparing yourself to others, and with the misconception of what “success” is supposed to look like. Most people that have impostor syndrome probably lacked recognition or validation throughout their childhood or were raised to meet extremely high expectations—oftentimes getting grounded if they came home with a grade that was not “good enough” (Kirsten Weir, 2013). 

If you suffer from impostor syndrome, you’re probably prone to comparing yourself to other people’s achievements and experiences without really knowing these people more in-depth. Remember that you only get a superficial glimpse of what their life is like and you really don’t have a clue as to how they got there or what obstacles they went through to be where they are now. Those people are just like you and they deal with their own insecurities.

Constantly wishing you had it as “good” as another person and failing to realize how you have achieved just as many things or have the capacity to, only keeps you from going after the things you want. Also, this would be a good moment to check your social media accounts. 

Woman on instagram Photo by Kate Torline from Unsplash

A study that was published in 2017 linked social media usage to a notable decrease in self-esteem. So, take a moment to see if you compare yourself to the people you see on your feed on a daily basis. If you notice a negative pattern in the feelings you experience while scrolling through the posts, taking a step back from consuming social media might be a good option for you.

As with any other mental health issue, the best way to cope with it is by talking to someone you trust. It’s important to let those feelings out. Don’t bottle them up. By talking to someone you trust, odds are you’ll realize you’re not alone in this feeling. Receiving advice is also a plus! If the feelings start to become too overwhelming though, do not be afraid to seek professional help; it is completely okay and normal to do so.

If you still don’t feel comfortable sharing your feelings with someone else, you can try out journaling. Take a moment to just think about all the things you’ve done. Everything you’ve gone through to be where you are today. Write it down and really take it all in. If it’s hard to recall past events, just write down what you’ve accomplished today so far. And yes—getting out of bed is an accomplishment in itself. 

Woman journaling Photo by Alexandra Fuller from Unsplash In life, we all go through phases where we feel like we aren’t good enough or like we’re not really advancing in any way as opposed to other people. In these moments we’ll look up to others and their ability to “effortlessly” flow through life... just a little heads up, they’re also looking up to someone else and feeling inferior to them. In other words, feelings that come with impostor syndrome are totally normal. Something to keep in mind though, is that you shouldn’t let these feelings take a hold of you. Assess them, talk about them, fact-check them, and try your best to let them go. 

To better understand this feeling you are going through, I highly recommend reading up on it or even watching some educational videos. Some good books on understanding and combating impostor syndrome are Why Do I Feel Like an Impostor? by Dr. Sandi Mann, The Middle Finger Project by Ash Ambirge, and The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young. 

Seeking out resources that talk about this issue will help you learn more about the possible reasons as to why you feel like this and you may come up with ways to cope with it. The more you learn about it, the less scary it will seem to you!