How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome
“I don’t belong here.”
“If I don’t show up at that party, everyone’s gonna think I’m a fraud.”
“They’re only accepting me because they don’t really know me.”
“Why am I trying to compete with people who are stronger, smarter, and faster than I am?”
“Everyone secretly finds me annoying.”
“I may get decent grades, but I’m not actually smart.”
“What if they find out that I have no idea what I’m doing?”
“Why are they posting about hanging out without me?”
“Even when I do my best, I’m not as good as she is.”
Ever found yourself thinking this way? Like nothing you do is ever good enough or that somehow, if people only knew “the real you,” they’d never be your friend, work with you, let you into that advanced class, etc. Like you don’t deserve the respect people give you, even after you’ve worked hard to be where you are?
If so, here are a few things you should know:
1. Me too! I have been “making it,” as in paying my bills, as a full-time writer for a WHILE now, and I still wake up almost every morning afraid that today’s the day everyone will discover I’m actually quite bad at this, fire me, and ban me from being hired to write ever again. You’re not alone when it comes to fearing that you’re not good enough.
2. In fact, you’re SO not alone that I guarantee you whoever you feel inferior to ALSO feels inferior in one way or another. Everyone, and I do mean everyone, struggles with feeling like they deserve to be where they are. Anyone who seems like they have it all figured out is either a very good actor or is just lying
3. The name for this feeling of fearing that everyone is going to “find out” that you don’t really belong is “Imposter Syndrome.” It plagues a lot of people, and while it’s not a “real” syndrome, it is such a common manifestation of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem that it’s had experts talking about it for years. Let’s look at what they have to say.
What Exactly Is Imposter Syndrome?
The term comes from a time when women were first starting to get into workplace and academic fields that had previously only been for men. For example, a woman who started at a university in the first years after it began accepting female students might have felt extreme pressure to perform perfectly, lest she be discovered as a “phony” and kicked out, regardless of the fact that she’d already achieved the same level of excellence as the male students who were also accepted.
Now, though, we know that ANYONE can experience this kind of self-doubt, and it doesn’t have to be about school or work achievements. It can also impact how you feel about your social life. It’s so widespread that about 70% of people will experience an “episode” of it in their lifetime, but like I said above, I believe it’s much higher than that.
Where Does Imposter Syndrome Come From?
Anyone can struggle with it, but there are a number of factors that can predispose you to experience Imposter Syndrome. For instance, your childhood can set you up for it. If your parents prioritize achievements or are supercritical when you don't get perfect grades, you might internalize the idea that you’re not “good enough” unless you prove it by going above and beyond, without fail. Mistakes become unacceptable.
Simply being “the new kid” can also trigger an episode. If you’ve just started at a new school, a new job, a new team, or are trying to make new friends, you might feel pressure to be “perfect” or risk losing the right to keep your spot. Being new can make you feel inexperienced, even if you’ve done just as much to earn your place as those around you.
Having other mental health issues also opens the door for Imposter Syndrome. If you’re already an anxious person or struggling with depression, self-doubt can easily creep in and make it difficult for you to recognize your own worth and successes. Those with ADHD can also struggle with it, especially if you are trying to hide how much harder you feel you have to work because you don’t want others to think you aren’t as smart or capable as they are.
And of course, many instances of imposter syndrome are a direct result of social media. We spend so much time curating how others are able to perceive us through Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok, dating apps, and more. No wonder we’re constantly worried someone will “discover” that we aren’t actually that cool. Their profiles make them look like movie stars who volunteer for charity on the weekends in between winning sports championships! 5 minutes on social media, and you’re almost guaranteed to contract a mild to severe case of FOMO and a to-do list of things you’ve got to do to fit in.
Confronting Self-Doubt Head On
Wherever your imposter syndrome comes from, the question is now: how do we deal with it? I’ve been wrestling with mine for years, and while I haven’t uncovered a magical switch that turns it off, I can recommend a few things that help manage the self-doubt when it gets overwhelming.
1. Do not (I repeat: DO NOT) compare yourself to others. It’s not fair to you (or to them!) for you to overanalyze someone else’s successes in order to question your own. You have your own story. They have theirs. Focus on you and you alone, even when it’s tempting to fixate on the achievements of others as proof of your own shortcomings. The comparison game is a quick path to overwhelm, bitterness, anxiety, depression, and demotivation.
I highly recommend getting off social media (for a little while) if you’re really struggling with this one. Even a 24-hour break makes a difference!
2. Practice positive self-talk. When you notice those thoughts creeping in, start your counterattack immediately! I have a dear friend who has named the voice of her Imposter Syndrome “The Secretary,” because it seems to keep a careful account of all her mistakes and loves to remind her of them. If it helps you, come up with a fun name for your Imposter Syndrome (or steal The Secretary) and have an honest conversation with her next time she rears her head. Saying anything from, “Thanks for visiting, but I’m too busy to chat right now,” to “NOPE!” to “Actually, I have a resume FULL of reasons you’re wrong,” may help you get your brain out of the slump.
3. Create your own cheerleading squad. When you have Imposter Syndrome, it can feel impossible to see your own achievements and successes as worthy of praise. So don’t! Make a short list of people you know will be excited for you and proud of you. Maybe that’s your mom, your coach, your best friend, and your sibling. Develop the habit of texting them when something goes right, and let yourself enjoy how happy they are for you. Down the road, when you’re doubting yourself, send a text that says, “Hey, can you remind me that I’m not a fraud or a failure?” If you’ve recruited the right squad, prepare to be showered with encouragement.
Find Confidence Outside of Your Achievements
There will never be an achievement great enough for you to prove yourself to your self-doubt. Your self-doubt has one job, and even if you become the leading expert in your field, win a gold medal in the Olympics, discover the cure for cancer, and single-handedly reverse climate change, that self-doubt is going to continue to doubt. Instead, you must learn to stand firm in your value as a person regardless of your level of outward success. There’s a verse in Psalms 27 that says, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then will I be confident.” What is it this writer has that makes his confidence unshakeable, even with chaos going on around him? The next verse reads, “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” That might sound kind of hokey in 2022, so let me translate: I can be confident, even in the chaos, because I know that God’s protection and love for me are unshakeable. I’m not a fraud or a phony. In fact, I’m deeply loved, and no matter what happens, I will be okay.
God doesn’t promise that there won’t be a (figurative) war on our mental health, but He does promise to be our shelter and refuge. He also promises us the love of Christ, which gives us an identity that doesn’t depend on what others think of us (or what we think of ourselves). If you’re struggling with Imposter Syndrome and doubting that you deserve praise for your achievements, and you want to know more about the peace that a relationship with Jesus might bring you, reach out to a Hope Coach today. You are not alone in this feeling, and we want to support you as you learn to deal with self-doubt in a healthy way.
If you have low self-esteem, respecting yourself can be hard. Check out these ways to improve your self-esteem and self-worth.