“I feel like a fraud.”
“I'm not good at this.”
“Who am I to deserve this?”
“I just got lucky.”
“I can't do this.”
Most of us have experienced at some point in our lives the feeling of self-doubt and unworthiness. But when you still feel incapable even though your accomplishments are a result of your own knowledge, hard work, and preparation — then you're probably suffering from impostor syndrome.
What is impostor syndrome?
In 1978, female American psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes identified Impostor/imposter syndrome as the idea that you’ve only succeeded due to luck, and not because of your talent or qualifications. According to their paper entitled “The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention”, they theorized that women were “uniquely affected” by impostor syndrome.
In their study, they found out that self-declared impostors fear that eventually some significant person will discover that they are indeed intellectual impostors.
One women stated, “I was convinced that I would be discovered as a phony when I took my comprehensive doctoral examination. I thought the final test had come. In one way, I was somewhat relieved at this prospect because the pretense would finally be over. I was shocked when my chairman told me that my answers were excellent and that my paper was one of the best he had seen in his entire career.”
While in a research conducted by psychologist Debbara J. Dingman called “The impostor phenomenon and social mobility: You can't go home again,” it has shown that both men and women experience impostor feelings, and Clance also published a paper later on acknowledging that impostor syndrome is not limited to women.
Today, impostor syndrome can now be applied to anyone “who isn’t able to internalize and own their successes,” says psychologist Audrey Ervin.
Why do people experience impostor syndrome?
Some experts actually believe that it has no single answer.
According to Audrey Ervin, “it has to do with personality traits—like anxiety or neuroticism—while others focus on family or behavioral causes.”
“Sometimes childhood memories, such as feeling that your grades were never good enough for your parents or that your siblings outshone you in certain areas, can leave a lasting impact,” explains Ervin. “People often internalize these ideas: that in order to be loved or be lovable, ‘I need to achieve,’”
How to overcome impostor syndrome?
According to Ervin, one of the first steps to overcome impostor syndrome is to “acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective.”
One factor that also can be helpful to overcome the impostor syndrome is by “simply observing that thought as opposed to engaging it”, says Ervin. “We can help teach people to let go and more critically question those thoughts. I encourage clients to ask ‘Does that thought help or hinder me?”
According to impostor syndrome expert Valerie Young during her interview with Times, it’s normal that most people experience moments of doubt and unworthiness. “The important part is not to let that doubt control your actions,” says Young.
“The goal is not to never feel like an impostor. The goal for me is to give [people] the tools and the insight and information to talk themselves down faster,” she says. “They can still have an impostor moment, but not an impostor life.”