Hey, Psych2Goers! Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? This phenomenon manifests itself differently in each person, but some common signs are: perfectionism, self-doubt, a feeling of not belonging, comparing yourself to others, over-working yourself, and most noticeably, the fear of being found out as an imposter because you believe your achievements are insignificant or are a result of luck.
It’s the feeling that everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing, but you feel lost. You have this fear that the people around you are going to figure out that you don’t know what you’re talking about and expose you as a fraud.Susan Albers, PsyD
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With that in mind, below we’ll discuss several ways of coping with imposter syndrome and how they work.
1. Recognize and acknowledge your feelings
The first step to overcome imposter syndrome is to recognize that you are feeling this way. Journaling may be a useful way to pinpoint exactly what you’re experiencing, and why, especially when you might not understand the cause of these feelings. Acknowledging emotions, even negatives ones, is vital to improvement, and better than trying to ignore them or being completely overwhelmed. By understanding your own mental health, you can put a healthy distance between yourself and the negative thoughts which perpetuate imposter syndrome.
2. Separate feeling from fact
Oftentimes, people experiencing imposter syndrome will view the world in absolutes, where everything is either a success or a failure, and their standards for success are very high. Even the smallest of mistakes and flaws, when viewed through this lens, become magnified and can plant seeds of self-doubt into your mind. After acknowledging your feelings, also recognize that much of this stems from your mind’s exaggeration, and isn’t completely true in real life. However, the causes of these feelings are real and should be acknowledged as such. Perhaps you’re the youngest, oldest, or the only woman or minority in your workplace. It’s natural to feel out-of-place in these situations, but even when you feel inexperienced, it is important to know that you deserve to be there and your thoughts deserve to be heard.
3. Talk to others
Try and find someone who you trust, whether a family member, friend, or mental health professional, to talk to about these feelings. This helps in several ways. First of all, you’ll be acknowledging your feelings again, reinforcing the distance between them and yourself. Secondly, chances are, you’ll find that you are not alone in experiencing this. It is estimated that 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at least once in their life. Third, others can help you separate unrealistic feelings from facts (number 2). By reframing your thoughts as normal, but irrational, you’ll be one step closer to overcoming them.
4. Write a list of positives about yourself
Even though it may feel strange or difficult to do this, try writing out a list of your achievements and positive traits, no matter how small they seem. Whether you’ve received an award or simply a compliment from someone else, both are tangible ways in which you can focus on what people have said to you, rather than what you fear they might think. Repeated praise and success are very unlikely to be a result of luck, and by challenging your negative mindset, you are also separating feelings from facts again. Take time to be proud of how far you’ve come, rather than worry about how far you have to go.
5. Do activities you enjoy
Listening to music. Drawing. Reading. Meditation. Working out. Hanging out with friends. These are a few ways that people report using to cope with their imposter syndrome. By taking the time to nurture your hobbies and practice self-care, you can break the cycle of overworking yourself, and instead focus on your personal happiness. Doing activities you enjoy or being with the people you love releases dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and/or endorphins, also known as the “happy hormones”, which help regulate your physical and mental health and boost feelings of satisfaction and motivation.
6. Avoid comparing yourself to others
By comparing yourself to others and holding yourself to unrealistic standards, you are only setting yourself up for greater disappointment when you don’t meet those expectations. Especially on social media, people and their lives are often portrayed in the most positive, perfect way they can be. Success can be measured in many different ways, and others’ achievements do not diminish the value of your own. Whilst listening to and learning from others can be beneficial, there’s an important distinction between trying to improve yourself and trying to make yourself someone that you’re not.
7. Develop a healthy response to making mistakes
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.Winston Churchill
Dealing with setbacks, mistakes, and failure is understandably difficult and uncomfortable. People experiencing imposter syndrome often let a fear of failure or being imperfect hold them back from trying something new or offering their thoughts to others. When taking new opportunities, carefully measure the realistic pros and cons, and prepare yourself as best you can. When you focus on what you can control, you can become more confident in your abilities. At the same time, know that it is okay to make mistakes, as long as you can use them as a point of learning and growth.
8. Set realistic, self-motivated goals
Through reflection (number 1-4), nurturing your interests (number 5), and setting realistic standards for yourself (number 6-7), you’ll be able to find what you want to do with your life, rather than trying to please others. When you plan for the future, set mini-goals within your larger objective, and take small, manageable steps towards each of these. While having a strong support system is beneficial, believing in yourself and your passion is the most important. Real success takes time, hard work, and setbacks along the way, and self-motivation is key to taking these in stride and feeling pride and joy when you reach your goal.
If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by imposter syndrome, we recommend reaching out to a mental health professional for further guidance. Even though it is natural to feel pangs of imposter syndrome from time to time, by taking the steps above, you’ll be able to recognize the signs and diminish the damaging effect of these thoughts. Focusing on your happiness and taking care of your mental health is important for a greater quality of life. If you found this article helpful, please consider sharing it with others!
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