The feeling of not being good enough plagues almost everyone from time to time. Whether it’s in reference to work, relationships or extracurriculars, most of us have moments of insecurity in our abilities. However, Imposter Syndrome refers to an ongoing feeling of incompetence. This internal syndrome convinces people that they are not good enough for their job, partner, etc. It often stems from different factors, for example, anxiety and perfectionism, which can go hand in hand. Today, we will take a deeper look at imposter syndrome and different ways to ease its effects.
According to the American Psychological Association, “Many people who feel like impostors grew up in families that placed a big emphasis on achievement, says Imes. In particular, parents who send mixed messages — alternating between over-praise and criticism — can increase the risk of future fraudulent feelings.” Our upbringings play an integral part in who we become. Yet, even individuals who grew up with encouraging and supportive caregivers still face Imposter Syndrome. One theory for this is the glorification of busy work and the societal pressure to constantly achieve. According to Exude Inc., “Americans are having a hard time finding opportunity for taking time away from work, especially given the uncertainty of COVID-19. 33% of Americans are living with extreme stress daily, and nearly 50% of Americans say they regularly lie awake at night because of stress.”
In a culture that already prioritizes busyness and constant “productivity,” it only makes sense that feelings of inadequacy and failure will linger. “I can cross everything off of my to-do list on any given day and still feel like I could have done more,” says Joshua, a sales representative. “It’s an internal pressure to prove that I am capable of achieving more and worthy of my job.” Joshua is not alone in this feeling, and while achieving goals offers a sense of accomplishment, this feeling can be diminished when we focus on everything we haven’t accomplished. Ivy, a talk therapist says that she likes to remind her clients that there will always be more to do in every area of life. “There will always be more cleaning, more work, more everything to do,” she says. And as much as many of us would like to believe that one day everything will be “perfect,” it simply won’t.
This might be the crux of Imposter Syndrome: the idea that when everything is perfect, we will finally be worthy and deserving. Notably, Imposter Syndrome most affects women, especially women of color as well as members of the LGTBQ+ community. “Women, women of color, especially black women, as well as the LGBTQ community are most at risk,’” says Brian Daniel Norton, a psychotherapist and executive coach in New York. “When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or underserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur (BBC).”
If you’re a person who experiences Imposter Syndrome, or even insecurity regarding your value and skillsets, know you are not alone. Let’s explore some different strategies to ease the consequences of Imposter Syndrome.
First, explore your internal dialogue. According to Success Consciousness, “Experts estimate that the mind thinks between 60,000 – 80,000 thoughts a day. That’s an average of 2500 – 3,300 thoughts per hour.” It can be easy for thoughts to slip by without us ever noticing. A good practice to implement is trying to catch some of your thoughts. When feelings of inadequacy arise, try to remember your thought process leading up to the feeling. With time, you might start to notice a pattern. As soon as you can catch these thoughts in action, you can start to correct them by talking back to them. “I realized that whenever I started feeling anxious at my job there was a thought in my head saying, you’re not talented enough to be here, and you’ll probably get fired any time. With time, I started writing this thought down and evidence that supported or dismissed the thought. What I found was that I had a whole list of evidence to prove that the thought was not true.” Talking back and reframing your inner thoughts is immensely helpful. For instance, if you have a thought telling you that you’re untalented, you can simply think back “That’s not true. I have many talents and contribute to my team.” Furthermore, you can use this method to be realistic about your fears and insecurities. It could be that you’re putting a project off because it stresses you out, which causes you to feel like you’re unproductive. Paying attention to those thoughts, which cause your feelings is a key step in reframing your point of view.
Next, remind yourself that if there was an issue with your performance and work output, your manager would more than likely tell you. It can be easy to sit in anxiety, conjuring all the ways you’ve failed and nitpicking your own performance. Ultimately though, if your manager(s) are dissatisfied with your work, they have the responsibility to let you know. Most managers want to see their team and business flourish, so remember that they would talk to you if there was an issue. Also, if you want reassurance, it’s okay to reach out to your boss as well. “Occasionally, I’ll check in with my manager, ask questions, receive some clarity on my projects,” says Angela, a financial planner. It is a simple way to relieve my mind.
Next, challenge yourself to accept, even leave imperfections as they are. This is a tool used by therapists to help people suffering from certain forms of fear and anxiety. It is not intended for carelessness, but it is a practice in letting go. If you see a small typo in your email, challenge yourself to leave it be. If you could stay an hour late at work, starting a new project, challenge yourself to only stay half an hour, or just go home on time. Change only occurs when we take the steps to do so. No matter what, mistakes are bound to me made, and that is allowed. We are often our own toughest critics, not allowing grace into our lives. If you can, start small and challenge yourself to let some imperfections be. There will always be more to do, and at the end of the day, you can only do your best. Our best looks different every day, and the least we can do is be kind to ourselves in the process.