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Imposter Syndrome

Who do you think you are? You don’t belong here. Your intellect and experiences are leagues behind that of your peers. There’s no way you’re destined out for this! Just wait, your proposal will flop and then everyone will know that you’re a fake. The reviewers must not have been paying attention. After all, if you can do it, then anyone can do it. If someone would say this to you, you might consider cutting them off or filing a verbal harassment complaint against them. Even a young child may identify this type of behaviour as bullying. But don't most of us talk to ourselves like this? Why? Engaging in such derogating internal dialogue could indicate that you, like 7 out of 10 people, experience imposter syndrome (known also as imposters or the imposter phenomenon), a faulty belief system wherein one chronically doubts his or her abilities despite rivalling external evidence.


"It's not what you are that holds you back, it's what you think you are not." - Denis Waitley

Impostor syndrome (IS) refers to the internal experience of believing that you are not as competent as others perceive you to be. While this definition is usually narrowly applied to intelligence and achievement, it has links to perfectionism and the social context. To put it simply, imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a phoney—you feel as though at any moment you are going to be found out as a fraud—like you don't belong where you are, and you only got there through dumb luck. It can affect anyone no matter their social status, work background, skill level, or degree of expertise. Perfectionists set extremely high expectations for themselves, and even if they meet 99% of their goals, they’re going to feel like failures. Any small mistake will make them question their own competence. “Experts” feel the need to know every piece of information before they start a project and constantly look for new certifications or training to improve their skills. They won’t apply for a job if they don’t meet all the criteria in the posting, and they might be hesitant to ask a question in class or speak up in a meeting at work because they’re afraid of looking stupid if they don’t already know the answer.


• Some experts believe it has to do with personality traits—like anxiety or neuroticism—while others focus on family or behavioural causes, Ervin explains.

• Sometimes childhood memories, such as feeling that your grades were never good enough for your parents or that your siblings outshone you in certain areas, can leave a lasting impact.

“People often internalize these ideas: that to be loved or be lovable, ‘I need to achieve,’” says Ervin. “It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.” 

• Factors outside of a person, such as their environment or institutionalized discrimination, can also play a major role in spurring impostor feelings. “A sense of belonging fosters confidence,” says Young. “The more people who look or sound like you, the more confident you feel. And conversely, the fewer people who look or sound like you, it can and does for many people impact their confidence.” This is especially true “whenever you belong to a group for whom there are stereotypes about competence,” Young adds, including racial or ethnic minorities, women in STEM fields or even international students at American universities.


To get past impostor syndrome, you need to start asking yourself some hard questions. They might include things such as the following: "What core beliefs do I hold about myself?" "Do I believe I am worthy of love as I am?" "Must I be perfect for others to approve of me?" To move past these feelings, you need to become comfortable confronting some of those deeply ingrained beliefs you hold about yourself. This can be hard because you might not even realize that you hold them, but here are some techniques you can use: • Share your feelings. Talk to other people about how you are feeling. These irrational beliefs tend to fester when they are hidden and not talked about. • Assess your abilities. If you have long-held beliefs about your incompetence in social and performance situations, make a realistic assessment of your abilities. Write down your accomplishments and what you are good at, and compare that with your self-assessment. • Stop comparing. Every time you compare yourself to others in a social situation, you will find some fault with yourself that fuels the feeling of not being good enough or not belonging. Instead, during conversations, focus on listening to what the other person is saying. Be genuinely interested in learning more. • Refuse to let it hold you back. No matter how much you feel like you don't belong, don't let that stop you from pursuing your goals. Keep going and refuse to be stopped.

Impostor syndrome and social anxiety

Impostor syndrome and social anxiety may overlap. A person with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) may feel as though they don't belong in social or performance situations. You might be in a conversation with someone and feel as though they are going to discover your social incompetence. You might be delivering a presentation and feel as though you just need to get through it before anyone realizes you really don't belong there. While the symptoms of social anxiety can fuel feelings of imposter syndrome, this does not mean that everyone with imposter syndrome has social anxiety or vice versa. Generally, non-anxious people experience social anxiety when they are in a situation that they think is inadequate.   By Surbhi Mahay, Content Head, Manas CVS 

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