“What holds you back is not what you think you are, it’s what you think you aren’t.”
We all have had our fair shares of self-doubts and insecurities. It is estimated that 70% of people will experience at least one episode of Impostor Syndrome in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
Yes, you heard it right. Impostor syndrome, also known as impostorism is a condition that leads to self-doubt and the fear of being outed as a fraud. The repetitive feeling of not being good enough or not being smart enough leads to this syndrome, showing that an actual track record of accomplishments also cannot replace your insecurities. While impostor syndrome is not a recognized disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), it is not uncommon. In one of her articles published by Psychology Today, Megan Dalla-Camine explains that the term ‘impostor syndrome’ was coined by clinical psychologists Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in 1978, when they found that despite having adequate external evidence of accomplishments, people with impostor syndrome remained convinced that they don’t deserve the success they have.
Men and women can both suffer through this syndrome but women are more liable to it. Clance had experienced similar feelings in grad school, she interviewed women with her colleague Imes and detailed their findings in a paper called “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women.” This common pattern was first observed in highly successful female college students and professionals (over 150 in number) who, despite their accomplishments, were unable to internalize a sense of themselves as competent and talented. Attributing their successes not to their abilities but to external circumstances or to traits unrelated to actual talent (e.g., personal charm, ability to read and meet others expectations), they reported feeling of being an impostor or a fake.
Clance stated: in her review of the research on sex differences in the attribution process, Deaux (1976) points to considerable evidence that women consistently have lower expectancies than men of their ability to perform successfully on a wide variety of tasks. In line with their lower expectancies, women tend to attribute their successes to temporary causes, such as luck or effort, in contrast to men who are much more likely to attribute their successes to the internal, stable factor of ability. It is also more predisposed to women because they are born with the perfectionist mentality. Every time their work fails to match their expectations, it makes way for the impostor syndrome.
One can also experience this syndrome due to constant comparison by others or due to lack of appreciation since early childhood, as stated by the psychologist Audrey Ervin in his interview with the Time. He also remarked that people often internalise the idea that in order to be loved or be lovable, they ‘need to achieve’, which then becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.
So how do you know if you are reinforcing impostor syndrome in yourself?
Start paying attention to your words – do you regularly use these phrases in the context of yourself?
“Oh, that’s okay, it’s not a big deal.”
“I guess I just got lucky!”
“Anyone could have done that.”
If yes, think about the core beliefs that you hold. If beliefs such as ‘I need to perfect myself for others to approve of me or to be worthy of their love’ form a part of that set, then the impostor syndrome might be getting the best of you.
One of the first steps to beating impostor syndrome is acceptance. Stop fighting your feelings. Acknowledge and lean into them as it is the only way you can start to unlearn any core beliefs that are holding you back. Once you have accepted it, start by changing your words. Speech plays a vital role in our personality. By using self-deprecating language we’re only taking away our own power. Weak language will only result in a poor sense of self-worth that will reinforce impostor syndrome. Change the ‘I feel’ and ‘I think’ to ‘I know’. It not only helps you boost your self-confidence but also helps you get rid of the need for external validation every time you do something. I strongly believe that, as Kritiksha Sharma says, no one should have the power to make you feel good about yourself other than you.
Start writing a journal. Every time self-doubt raises its head, question yourself as to what it is? Note it down in your journal. This will lead to self-introspection and help you get to the root cause of it. On doing so you can take baby steps to resolve them, reframe them and use them in a positive way. For example, if you question your intelligence because of your peers or family members. Note down all your accomplishments so far and if you still doubt your intellect then turn it into a learning opportunity. Find ways to increase your knowledge, this will help you keep the self-doubt at bay.
I can say this from personal experience as I have had low self-esteem and self-doubt issues, even though I haven’t completely gotten rid of them I have taken the time to accept them, analyse them and to work on them. As I accepted every flaw I came across, I took a step forward to improve on them. As mentioned earlier everyone has their set of insecurities, it depends on us how much we let it interfere with our daily lives and self-confidence. Having a healthy attitude towards insecurities is important.
Even the renowned actress Natalie Portman has faced impostor syndrome. In an interview with Harvard Commencement she said: “So I have to admit that today, even 12 years after graduation, I’m still insecure about my own worthiness. I have to remind myself today, you are here for a reason. Today, I feel much like I did when I came to Harvard Yard as a freshman in 1999. I felt like there had been some mistake — that I wasn’t smart enough to be in this company and that every time I opened my mouth I would have to prove I wasn’t just a dumb actress. Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path — one that is free of the burden of knowing how things are supposed to be, a path that is defined by its own particular set of reasons.”
“If the challenge exists so must the solution.”
I think it’s high time we started accepting our accomplishments and indulging in some pride and gratitude for every day that we end a little bit further along on our path from where we started. Like impostor syndrome expert Valerie Young says, “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.”
Campus Ambassador, Aspire For Her Foundation