Maya Angelou, a famous American poet, once admitted, “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.” Many other successful people like her (Tom Hanks, Michelle Obama, Neil Gaiman, etc) have often talked about this feeling that makes them feel like their achievements cannot be attributed to any of their merits.
The name “imposter syndrome” comes from the meaning of the term which means a condition wherein a person tends to feel like an imposter or fraud. This could be in terms of the person’s capabilities, intelligence and achievements.
It points at the immense self-doubt that sometimes people tend to carry, to an extent where they feel like whatever they have been able to achieve is due to a chance or luck factor and not a reflection of their own true skills. They keep on feeling like they might get exposed and their true identity might get revealed someday.
The research on Imposter syndrome started as understanding how successful women view themselves. Later research found that it can impact anyone. It is a difference in how others perceive you and how you tend to perceive yourself. There is an attribution to external factors for success rather than something inside the person.
People experiencing such feelings may tend to compensate by working harder to not get noticed for their “shortcomings.” There is selective attention driven by a bias against self and hence minor errors can get magnified which reinforces the belief that it is happening due to lack of abilities. This can lead to burn out or getting overwhelmed by constant efforts.
Imposter syndrome can be difficult to manage as it can demotivate someone and lower their confidence. There are many ways one can deal with it.
Being aware of these feelings and acknowledging them
Opening up about difficult emotions not only helps us correctly label and identify them but also induces a sense of relief. Identification of our thoughts around self-doubt and criticism is undoubtedly the first step.
Countering negative thoughts
Once you are aware that you contain these feelings, you have better clarity and can finally be in a position to also challenge them. It is a good practice to also try and find the evidence behind negative thoughts related to self and initiate a rational counter thought in its place.
Making authentic connections and taking feedback.
One of the best ways to counter negative self-talk is actively seeking some feedback to gain more perspective. Making connections can aid in understanding the shortcomings that other people feel too and hence can make the person feel less alone.
Being aware of social comparison
It is a very normal process for people to engage in social comparison to gauge themselves. To an extent it is also required, and provides us with feedback. motivation and inspiration to do more. However, it is also equally important to be cognizant of one’s own unique context, talents and abilities.
Seeking professional help
The feelings of self-doubt and feeling like a fraud can get extreme as well. In such cases, there is no harm in seeking support with counselling or therapy. Therapy helps us understand not only how we can manage these feelings but also the underlying causes which can be linked with our childhood experiences.
In the words of Benjamin Spock – “Trust yourself—you know more than you think you do.”
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