Imposter syndrome is “a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist even in the face of information that indicates that the opposite is true. It is experienced internally as chronic self-doubt, and feelings of intellectual fraudulence,” according to the California Institute of Technology Counseling Center.
Imposter syndrome sufferers aren’t really imposters because there’s ample evidence of their talent and skills in the form of good work, consistently met deadlines and clear intelligence, writes Denise Cummins, author of Good Thinking: The Historical Foundations of Cognitive Science, and Evolution of Mind. But they still feel inadequate, as if their being hired or promoted is a mistake no one thought to fix. They strongly desire acknowledgment of their generally praiseworthy efforts but are uncomfortable and anxious when they receive it because they still feel it wasn’t deserved.
If that sounds like you, Cummins has some advice to help you overcome your difficult feelings.
- Embrace your wins. The first rule is to stop attributing your achievements to every source but yourself. If you were helped by others, thank them for adding some of their knowledge or expertise to improve your project. But don’t internalize help as a failure to be good enough on your part. You completed the project and you deserve the praise.
- Conquer the negative voices in your head. We’re biologically wired to remember the negative over the positive because historically the negative could be life-threatening and had to be remembered for survival purposes. But we aren’t living in caves and running from saber-toothed tigers anymore. You need to be aware of the negative but also self-aware enough to understand that it doesn’t represent the full picture. When negative self-talk begins to take root, balance it out with talk about a success or strength.
- Understand your feelings don’t make you a fraud. Feelings of fear, rejection and failure can motivate you up to a point, but when they become more powerful than you, it’s harmful. These feelings exist because you can’t gain real success without them. They’re feelings that arise from innovation and a place of real caring and consideration for what you’re doing.
— Adapted from “Do You Feel Like an Imposter?” Denise Cummins, Psychology Today.