Imposter syndrome is a real thing, here is how you can overcome your self-doubt and start to believe in yourself
Michelle Obama, former US first lady and one of the most influential female figures of the last decade, once said, “I still have a little imposter syndrome…it doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share that with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”
If Michelle Obama feels that way, then it is no surprise that a lot of successful people also feel the same . ‘Imposter syndrome’ is a term which describes those crippling, overbearing feelings of insecurity and self-doubt which aren’t rational. It makes people feel like they haven’t earned their success, and don’t truly deserve their accomplishments.
Imposter syndrome was first studied by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978. In a video from Ted-Ed the narrator, Elizabeth Cox, says, “People who are highly skilled or accomplished tend to think others are just as skilled. This can spiral into feelings that they don’t deserve accolades and opportunities over other people.
“Since it’s tough to really know how hard our peers work, how difficult they find certain tasks, or how much they doubt themselves,” she continues, “there’s no easy way to dismiss feeling that we’re less capable than the people around us.”
Valerie Young, who is an expert on the syndrome, says the only difference between someone who experiences imposter syndrome and someone who doesn’t is how they respond to challenges. “People who don’t feel like impostors are no more intelligent, or competent, or capable than the rest of us. It’s very good news, because it means we just have to learn to think like non-impostors.”
Cox suggests that there are three steps to overcoming imposter syndrome.
Start a conversation
While this may sound simple, Cox explains that many people hesitate to share how they feel as they fear the feedback they receive from others will only confirm their concerns.
However, often when people discuss their experience of feeling like they don’t belong, they learn that others around them have felt the same way in the past. According to Cox, learning a mentor or trusted friend who has also gone through the same thing can provide clarity and relief to those with imposter syndrome.
Collect your positive experiences
Many of us brush off the compliments we receive for our work and only remember the criticisms. The next time someone starts to sing your praises, allow yourself to truly appreciate what is being said. “Once you’re aware of the phenomenon, you can combat your own imposter syndrome by collecting and revisiting positive feedback,” Cox says.
Making a concentrated effort to listen to and reflect on words of encouragement can help sooth anxieties the next time self-doubt pops up.
Realise you’re not alone
Cox suggested that having open conversations about challenges is another way we can undercut feelings of imposterism — although these may never entirely fade — because these common experiences can help us realise we’re not as alone in our insecurities as we feel.
For instance, developing awareness around academic and professional challenges — where mistakes can come from equipment failure as opposed to competence — is essential for thriving and building confidence .
So, next time you start to feel like an imposter, remember that many of your peers and bosses feel the exact same way – and remind yourself that you do a great job and have earned your place at the table.