Most of us will experience some anxiety or self-doubt when stepping into a new role or taking on a new challenge.

When you have Imposter Syndrome, however, you have an overwhelming fear that someone will discover you are a fraud, that you don’t have the expertise, and you don’t really belong in your position. You may in fact have a lot of experience and work really hard, you may even excel at the job from an outside perspective. The problem is you don’t believe in you. You think it is just luck that accounts for your success and the minute your luck runs out, or someone finds you out, your number is up!  

There are a lot of contributing factors to this type of thinking. Sometimes we grow up with parents that provide conditional love, meaning I give you love and affection only when you bring home perfect grades, or you are the star player on the team. It can be easy to internalize these perfectionistic tendencies and believe that anything but perfect is failure. This, of course, sets you up for failure because there really is no such thing as perfect.

The world of marketing and advertising as well as social media has done a number on us as well. We are only exposed to one-dimensional pictures of beautiful people with showplace homes, loving relationships and perfect careers, so we get conditioned to seek that for ourselves and become anxious and depressed when we feel like we are the only ones not achieving “success.”  

With every new venture, whether it is a new job, opportunity or project, there is a learning curve. This is normal and to be expected, no matter how talented you are. These new ventures tend to bring the Imposter Syndrome out in us and can set in motion a spiral of self-criticism, self-doubt, fear of not living up to expectations, and constant anxiety.

Imposter Syndrome does not have to continue to haunt you.

First, be kind to yourself. Even if you did make a mistake, it is part of the human condition to make mistakes, that is how we grow and learn. Also, remind yourself that you have value, even with your flaws and imperfections. That one project or promotion does not define you as a human being.   

Next, instead of trying to ignore your feelings, acknowledge them and feel them. I’m feeling irritable, uncomfortable, scared. Also sit with your thoughts and process them rather than simply accepting them for truth. Our minds can play awful tricks on us. Just because your mind is telling you that you are a “fraud,” “failure” or “unworthy” does not make it true. Challenge your mind when you catch these automatic thoughts and replace them with more accurate thoughts.

Also, do not allow these negative/inaccurate thoughts to hold you back. Instead, remind yourself of your “why,” your reasons based on your core values why you should persevere anyway.   

If you still feel a bit stuck in your own head, it is also helpful to talk to a mentor. It can certainly feel scary or shaming to admit to another human being that you feel like a fraud or that you don’t feel like you know what you are doing. It can be greatly freeing to share this with another human being and also normalizing when you find out they too have been struggling with Imposter Syndrome at different times in their career. 

– Dr. Siquilla Liebetrau, clinical director, Bowen Center