Imposter Syndrome is defined as “the persistent inability to believe that one’s success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved as a result of one’s own efforts or skills” according to the Oxford Languages online dictionary. I think I speak for a lot us when I say that I can relate.
Perhaps you can vividly recall being in a room of somewhat similar individuals but feeling out of your depth (let alone out of your comfort zone)? Perhaps a little bit of panic and anxiety began to creep up your skin and sit with you, sweating anxiously. Or, if you are like me, the tears may start to fill at the brim of your eyes.
But imposter syndrome can manifest itself in any number of ways unique to that individual. It might not be a physical presence that makes you feel inferior or less deserving but something you’ve achieved at work, or at home. You’ve been commended on your latest piece of work, for example a recipe feature, and all the while you smile and accept the “well done” messages, all you can focus on is the thought that “I will get found out one day and they’ll realise it was just a fluke” or “when will they realise their mistake that I am not as good as they think I am”.
“I have written eleven books, but each time I think “Uh oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody and they’re going to find me out.”
These feelings of unworthiness, self-doubt, and anxiety feed into one another and instead of talking about it, we tend to fall silent and let the feelings fester. Feeling like a fraud becomes something we want to hide from the world, rather than opening up and talking about our feelings.
I strongly remember being invited to my first “influencer” event in London a few years back and I was so nervous. I truly felt like I didn’t belong, that I had nothing to offer, and I could not understand why I was chosen to attend along with so many talented peers. I arrived feeling shaken, unsure of myself and wanting to turn back and go home, but I persisted. I went in, I smiled, and I waved and I said a few polite hellos until I forced myself to start a conversation with a group of girls, who turned out to be friendly (surprise surprise) and the more we chatted, the more I felt we were on the same page. While I still felt slightly inferior and unworthy of my spot there among so many “bigger names”, a lot of the others there were like me. The main difference was their confidence or seeming to be confident to others. For all I know, other people at this event shared similar experiences of imposter syndrome in their own minds.
“I still have a little imposter syndrome… it doesn’t go away, that feeling that you shouldn’t take me that seriously. What do I know? I share this with you because we all have doubts in our abilities, about our power and what that power is.”Michele Obama
After all, it is an internal experience that we feel and if we don’t speak out, no-one would ever know. Yet, we only make matters worse for ourselves in the long run. We know how damaging that long-term lack of self-love, feelings of self-worth and self-appraisal can be. Poor mental health, anxiety, depression, lack of motivation… so many wider and bigger issues can be triggered by these festering imposter feelings.
Like most issues to do with mental health, the work is internal and has to be done by us, for us. I am no expert, far from it, as I experience imposter syndrome in one way most days, at least most weeks, but here are a few things that I focus on when these feelings hit:
“You think, “Why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? And I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”Meryl Streep
The list could go on, and we will all have our own personal coping mechanisms in place. Or, if not yet, then we will have soon, I hope. These feelings of being a fraud in a world full of successful peers is a truly damaging and ineffective tool we have to bring ourselves down. While it may not be classified as a mental health disorder, the phenomena is recognised with feelings of low self-esteem and anxiety – which we all appreciate are not constructive to good mental health.
When we feel out of control, tune into the negative self-talk and try to switch things around. Would we talk to a friend or loved one in the same way? Would we doubt their achievements as much as we doubt our own? I don’t think so. In the wise words of Maya Angelou, “the real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself”.
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