We’ve all experienced it. That nagging feeling that you don’t belong. Or that you’re not worthy of the praise you’re receiving, or a promotion you’re being considered for, or even the job you currently have and earned on your own merits. Instead of relishing in success, you find yourself sinking into self-doubt and wondering ‘can’t they see who I really am?’
“Who you are,” says Dr. Kathryn Jobbins, Associate Program Director Internal Medicine Residency at Baystate Health, “is one of millions of people who struggle with Imposter Syndrome.”
What is Imposter Syndrome?
Loosely defined as doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud, imposter syndrome is pervasive in every sector of society.
“Olympic athletes, award-winning actresses, Nobel laureates, and even Einstein dealt with it,” says Jobbins. “Yet, most people think they’re the only ones struggling with self-doubt.”
While it’s referred to as a syndrome, imposter syndrome is not a diagnosable condition (NOTE: seems only right that imposter syndrome should have to doubt what it actually is).
What it is, says Jobbins is a negative thought pattern. “The challenge with this particular thought patterns is the more you think those self-doubting thoughts, the bigger the doubt becomes. If you’re unable to stop the thoughts, it can become self-limiting and impact virtually every aspect of your life. For example, you may not try for a new job because you don’t think you deserve it. Or you may not go out with a group of people because you think they only asked you to be nice. You may even neglect your own care thinking there are other people with real health issues more deserving a doctor’s attention than you.”
Some common patterns associated with Imposter Syndrome include:
- You doubt yourself often and like to get input from others on your decisions or ideas.
- You dismiss positive feedback often attributing your success to external factors like luck or timing.
- You feel undeserving of your job or relationships.
- You worry about being discovered as a fraud.
- You’re overly concerned about not living up to expectations so you either overprepare or choose not to participate at all.
- You feel like everyone else knows what they’re doing or has it together and you alone don’t.
- You don’t think your contributions or accomplishments measure up to others even when they are equal.
Jobbins notes that anyone can have these feelings at any point in their life. “Again, it doesn’t matter what stage of life you’re in, what level of success you have or haven’t achieved, or how old you are. Imposter syndrome is an equal opportunity problem.”
How to Overcome Imposter Syndrome: 4 Tips
Jobbins points to several strategies for overcoming imposter syndrome.
1. Know You’re Not Alone
“The first,” she says, “is recognizing you’re not the only one feeling this way. Imposter syndrome has a name, has been researched and written about in books and numerous articles because LOTS of people experience it. It’s not just you.”
2. Talk About It
“The second thing you can do,” she adds, “is talk about it. Simply saying what you’re feeling or fearing out loud can make it easier to deal with. If you’re feeling this way at work, find a trusted colleague or mentor and share whatever it is that’s causing you stress. Step up say, ‘I get so nervous every time I have to do a presentation. Do you feel that way?’
You’ll be amazed at how supportive others will be and willing to share their own experiences and maybe even tips for getting through that presentation. Know this: acknowledging your fear is not a sign of weakness. It’s an acknowledgement of your humanity and the fact that you’re growing, learning, and trying things outside your comfort zone.”
3. Separate Feelings from Facts
Another thing Jobbins encourages people to do is separate feelings from facts. “Remind yourself of all that you’ve done and accomplished to get where you are. If you get a glowing email from your boss or a card from a friend thank you for a kindness, save them. Whenever you’re in doubt, pull them out and remind yourself of who you REALLY are, not who you’re afraid you are.”
4. Find What Works for You
Jobbins personal strategy for overcoming imposter syndrome (which she says she feels often) is embracing a personal motto. “Mine is ‘Don’t let other people dull your sparkle or shine. Instead hand them a pair of sunglasses’… Find a phrase that works for you and helps you check your feelings against reality and helps you recognize that you belong right where you are simply because you’re you.”
If you’re still finding yourself spinning in a cycle of self-doubt, Jobbins recommends reaching out to a therapist or your primary care physician to talk through your issue and to develop strategies that work for you.