Stopping Your Inner Imposter in Its Tracks

Have you ever felt riddled with feelings of inadequacy in new surroundings? Like you don’t deserve your many accomplishments and have a hard time owning your successes? Like you’re one mistake away from friends or colleagues discovering that you’re a fraud—cinematically ripping off your mask and revealing the nobody underneath, in some sort of Scooby-Doo-like nightmare? 

 

If you’ve answered any of these questions in the affirmative, there are two things you should know: (1) these feelings are often collectively referred to as imposter syndrome, and (2) you are not alone—studies show that an estimated 70% of people experience this phenomenon at some point in their lives.

 

Simply put, imposter syndrome is the internal experience of believing that you are not as competent or skilled as others believe you to be. Imposter syndrome doesn’t look one way—it can uniquely manifest in an array of compensatory behaviors among a wide range of people. Those overachieving medical students, high-powered executives, and even your favorite actors? Yep, they have experienced bouts of imposter syndrome—it can affect anyone no matter their social status, work history, skill level, or extent of expertise. 

 

Research hasn’t shown a singular cause for imposter syndrome, but correlates such as personality traits and early experiences have been highlighted. Research has shown, however, that imposter syndrome and social anxiety have distinct areas of overlap. Picture it: a person living with social anxiety disorder, one of the most common mental health conditions, may feel anxious and self-conscious in social situations—almost as if they are the odd person out and don’t deserve to be there. In this example, the symptoms of social anxiety are supercharging the imposter syndrome. Although there is a link between the two phenomena, not everyone with imposter syndrome has social anxiety or vice versa. Case in point, it’s common for people without social anxiety to also encounter spells of low confidence and low competence. Imposter syndrome often causes typically non-anxious people to worry that their perceived ineptitude is on display. 

 

Although there is not one unanimous determinant of imposter syndrome, other contributors have been discussed. Some say that imposter syndrome is, in part, a natural response to the modern ills of our society (i.e., the unfettered self-comparison spawned from social media and grind culture). We find that insidious societal messaging reprimands us for not doing enough and not being enough.

 

Imposter syndrome may be a product of our social reality, but it doesn’t have to be our reality. Here are some tips designed to help you overcome imposter syndrome and stop your inner imposter in its tracks:

 

Recognize that thoughts aren’t facts.

Recognize feelings of inadequacy for what they are—they are normal, but they’re also not always true. We sometimes grow comfortable with not-so-comfortable thoughts for so long that we forget that they are not necessarily true. It takes time and energy to dedicate ourselves to disposing of this mindset (remember: dismantling these thought patterns overnight is not possible because they weren’t built overnight), but it is a necessary first step to overcoming imposter syndrome.

Talk about what’s going on.

The only fail-safe way to hush your inner critic is to start talking. While simple in theory, many people hesitate to share how they feel because they fear that others’ feedback will confirm their suspicions. Contrarily, when people open up about their case of imposter syndrome, they often learn that others are battling the same thoughts. Learning that a mentor or confidante has also had this grueling experience can provide clarity, relief, and community to those with imposter syndrome. 

Break negative thought patterns.

This starts by speaking kindly to yourself—would you speak to a dear one the way you often speak to yourself? Additionally, consider keeping a list of your accomplishments handy and refer to it in times of doubt. You may also wish to explore your core beliefs in order to see why you’re quicker to believe self-sabotaging thoughts over their kinder, more affirming counterparts. Questioning your thoughts is instrumental—when negative thoughts arise, acknowledge the thoughts and put them in perspective by asking yourself, “Is this really true?” and “Does this thought help or hinder me?” Critically questioning your thoughts can help interrupt the habit of thinking negatively about your abilities. Simply observing a negative thought as opposed to engaging it—and falling victim to it—can serve as the first step to letting go of it.

Remember that you’re not alone.

While it may feel like you’re the only one in the room experiencing imposter syndrome, it’s most likely not the case. Remember that roughly 70% of people experience feelings of fraud and inadequacy.

 

Experiencing moments of doubt is human. The important part is to not let that doubt hijack your actions. If you are interested in gaining the tools and insight to kick imposter syndrome and the lies it tells you, send me a message at Victoria@chaminajjan.com. To learn more about me or to schedule an appointment, CLICK HERE.

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Chamin Ajjan Psychotherapy

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