Have you ever felt like an imposter? Learn about what imposter syndrome is and read tips on overcoming it.
What’s it’s like to feel like an imposter? It goes something like this: when you’ve accomplished a goal or achieved success, your inner voice tells you it was just luck or that you’re underqualified. You may doubt your skills and intelligence, even though you worked hard to get to where you are. If you’ve ever experienced something like this, you’ve likely experienced imposter syndrome.
Early research on imposter syndrome showed that some people who have ample evidence of personal accomplishments are still convinced that they do not deserve the success they have (Clance & Imes, 1978). In other words, people’s subjective view of their success is incongruent with the objective reality of their accomplishments.
So, the term imposter syndrome came to describe when people doubt their accomplishments and fear that they may be exposed as a fraud or “imposter”. We now know that almost 70% of people will experience imposter syndrome at some point during their lives (Sakulku, 2011).
Oftentimes, people experiencing imposter syndrome will credit their success to luck, good timing, or connections, and they will dismiss their own hard work and skills in achieving success. Moreover, people with imposter syndrome find it difficult to accept positive feedback or praise from other people, which makes it even harder to break out of the belief that they are an imposter (LaDonna, Ginsburg, & Watling, 2018).
What Causes Imposter Syndrome?There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the feeling of being an imposter. Here are a few:
Major Transitions. Imposter syndrome is especially common among people who are starting something new, such as a new position after graduation (Rakestraw, 2017). These transitions are major life events that may cause people to doubt their abilities. Even those who rank higher in seniority may still doubt their achievements (LaDonna et al., 2018).
Societal and Familial Pressures. The researchers who coined the term imposter syndrome found that it can develop among children who are harshly judged by their families as less intelligent than other family members (Clance & Imes, 1978). On the flip side, the researchers also found that imposter syndrome can develop among children with families who perceive their child as highly intelligent and competent. This may be because these children feel pressured to please their families and doubt themselves in situations where their skills are challenged.
Stereotypes and Prejudice. All of us have different identities—whether we’re focusing on gender, age, race, or something else. Certain identities are criticized and belittled more than others, and this can lead to imposter syndrome among members of these groups. These stereotypes label individuals from certain groups as less intelligent and competent, which is a narrative that can be internalized as a belief among group members (Buczynski, Harrell, McGonigal, & Siegel, n.d.).
Mental Illness. Imposter syndrome overlaps with characteristics of mental illnesses. For instance, imposter syndrome has been linked to feelings of self-doubt and can even lead to failure (Villwock, Sobin, Koester, & Harris, 2016). In fact, imposter syndrome commonly co-occurs with anxiety and depression. Further, people who are introverted and more anxious are more likely to experience imposter syndrome. Harsh criticism exacerbates feelings of imposter syndrome (Murugesu, 2020).
Tips for Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
1. Acknowledge your emotions:
Try to accept your emotional experiences and remind yourself that feelings are not always an accurate representation of reality. If it helps, reflect on your feelings by writing them down and try to identify why you feel like an imposter.
2. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses:
Although it’s cliché, it’s true that we are all good at something, but no one is good at everything. Understand your skills and reflect on your strengths and weaknesses.
3. Overcome perfectionism:
You may have perfectionist habits that you need to slowly break. For example, try taking regular breaks, days off, and use relaxation techniques to calm down your anxiety. Remember that mistakes are a natural and inevitable part of life.
Sometimes, there will be a little voice in your head that tries to downplay your accomplishments and tries to make you doubt yourself. Although that voice may get loud, remember this: You are capable, competent, and worthy.
What is self-consciousness, what causes it, and how do you overcome it?
Do you find yourself thinking about how others see you? Do you often worry about offending or upsetting others? Do you get stressed out about having to perform in front of others? Then you might be self-conscious.
According to those who study self-consciousness, it's human nature to focus on ourselves sometimes and to focus on others at other times. We might reflect on our thoughts, emotions, behaviors or the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors of others. The extent to which we focus or self-reflect on ourselves is thought to indicate our level of self-consciousness. Given this broad definition of self-consciousness, researchers suggest that there are two types of self-consciousness.
When we feel self-conscious, we might experience a variety of self-conscious emotions. They are:
Although self-conscious emotions are not always fun to experience, they help motivate our behavior in important ways. They can drive us to achieve more, to behave in ways that help us win friends, and to engage in more kind behaviors. Overall, they help us achieve important social goals (Tracy & Robins, 2004).
How to Overcome Self-Consciousness
Self-consciousness generally develops when we are young. Although it can get easier in adulthood, it doesn't always. If we were worried about how others thought about us when we were young, we can sometimes bring these habits with us. That's why learning how to change these thought processes can be useful. So, here are some tips to overcome self-consciousness.
1. Build Self-Trust
2. Cultivate Mindfulness
Self-consciousness can be both a blessing and a curse. Hopefully, you learned some strategies here that helped you better understand self-consciousness and what to do about it.
Learn more about self-esteem and how you can achieve higher self-esteem in your life.
Self-esteem represents the foundation that supports the relationship you have with yourself. It carries over into every aspect of life. If you’re reading this, you probably value this relationship and may want to build your self-esteem. By the end of this article, you should have a better understanding of self-esteem and ways to improve it.
Let’s start with a simple definition. Most psychological theories agree that self-esteem refers to your evaluation of yourself (Mruk, 1995). Self-esteem can also be thought of as how much you like, approve of, or value yourself. Self-esteem can be applied to you globally (e.g., “On the whole, I am satisfied with myself”; Rosenberg et al., 1995) or to specific domains of your life (e.g., “I am good at my job and I’m proud of that”). Research shows that although self-esteem is relatively stable over one’s life, it is by no means fixed or unchangeable (Orth & Robins, 2014).
What is Low Self-Esteem?
Having low self-esteem corresponds to negative evaluations of yourself. Put differently, if you have low self-esteem, you generally don’t hold yourself in a positive light.
You tend to be more critical of yourself. You might get stuck in loops of negative self-talk, telling yourself things like, “I’m worthless”, “I could never succeed at this”, or “I’m not smart enough”. This can bring up feelings of anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness.
Self-esteem develops over your lifespan. It is thought that the beliefs you hold about yourself play a role in developing low self-esteem. The stronger the beliefs, the harder it may be to break the negative thought patterns that are associated with low self-esteem.
Here are a few examples of beliefs that characterize low self-esteem.
What Causes Low Self-Esteem?
Although there are a variety of factors that play a role in self-esteem, here are a few factors that may make it more likely for someone to develop low self-esteem:
How to Build Self-Esteem
1. Live Consciously
Self-esteem is rooted in your ability to live consciously and focus on what is happening in the current moment, without ruminating on the past or overthinking the future.
2. Practice Self-Acceptance
This involves accepting yourself unconditionally and showing yourself compassion across different situations (e.g., when you make a mistake).
Learn here about perspectives on self-affirmation and get examples of self-affirmations to try in your own life.
Do you struggle to feel sure of yourself? Do people tell you that you lack confidence? Or does negative feedback rattle your sense of self or well-being? Then learning about self-affirmation may be helpful for you.
Each of us faces numerous threats to our self-worth (insults, criticism, etc…). Yet, we are often able to look past these threats and still feel good about ourselves. Researchers propose that this is because we have a psychological protection system—a system that involves a variety of automatic, defensive mental strategies that protect our self-esteem from plummeting in the face of threats (Sherman & Cohen, 2006).
For example, we tend to believe that we are responsible for positive outcomes but that we are not responsible for negative outcomes. We also diminish the importance of things we have failed at or things we're not very good at. And, we tend to be overly optimistic about our chances of success, our knowledge, and our competence (Sherman & Cohen, 2006). All of these "rationalizations" actually help us continue to feel good about ourselves, so they are generally good for our well-being.
What is Self-Affirmation Theory?
Self-affirmation theory is based on the idea that we are motivated to maintain our self-worth in the face of threats (Sherman & Cohen, 2006). When our self-esteem is threatened, we sometimes affirm other parts of ourselves unrelated to the threat (e.g., he may say I have a big nose, but I know I have a good personality). When we do this, it helps us realize that our self-worth is not contingent on whatever negative feedback we just got (Sherman & Cohen, 2006).
According to psychologists, we can "self-affirm"—or protect our sense of self—by engaging in activities that remind us of who we are. These self-affirmations can involve family, friends, volunteer work, religion, art and music, or other activities that are central to how we see ourselves (Sherman & Cohen, 2006).
How to Use Self-Affirmations
Affirmations can be defined as statements that we repeat to ourselves to help us shift the way we're thinking to be more positive. Often these affirmations are used to shift the way we're thinking about ourselves to be more positive.
For example, if we've just been rejected by a potential romantic partner, we might say the affirmation, "I am worthy of love." Or, if we're struggling in our career, we might say the affirmation, "I am capable of success." These examples show how we try to maintain our self-esteem when it’s broken down.
To try it, just choose a statement that represents how you want to think. Then, say it to yourself using these guidelines:
Finding ways to maintain our self-worth is a worthwhile endeavor. Affirmations are just one way, but they are a fairly easy strategy to practice and use in daily life.
Learn what self-belief is, why it matters, and discover science-based tips for how to start believing in yourself.
When we believe in ourselves, it can help us achieve our goals, manifest our dreams, and increase our well-being. But the flip side is also true. Lack of belief in ourselves means we are less likely to act, to change, or to push to make things better. In fact, when we expect we will fail, we are actually more likely to fail (Bénabou & Tirole, 2002).
That means that believing in ourselves is kind of like the key that turns the ignition and starts the car. We can't really go anywhere without it. Try as we might to push ourselves forward, we're blocked because our thoughts, attitudes, and actions aren't in alignment with our goals. So, we either don't do what we need to do or we sabotage ourselves along the way, sometimes in obvious ways and sometimes in unconscious ways.
So, how do you believe in yourself?
How to Believe in Yourself
Believing in yourself includes things like self-worth, self-confidence, self-trust, autonomy, and environmental mastery.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Ask yourself these questions to better understand if there are things that are getting in the way of you believing in yourself:
How to Believe in Yourself
Change your Self-Talk
Once you've identified your unsupportive self-beliefs, question these beliefs by talking back to your inner voice. If you feel like you have no value, tell yourself, "You are a valuable, amazing, person who deserves to live a good life." Or, if you don't feel confident, remind yourself of your good qualities and skills.
Positive self-talk like this has been shown to improve our performance (Tod, Hardy, & Oliver, 2011). By saying positive things to ourselves, we can start to rewrite our internal scripts. We can slowly but surely start to develop new scripts in our minds that are a bit more like cheerleaders and a bit less like jerks. And this helps us shift our beliefs.
We often think of trust as something we have for others. But we can also have trust in ourselves. Having (or not having) this trust in ourselves has similar implications as having (or not having) trust in others. For example, when we trust someone, we're honest with them, we can count on them, and we are confident in them doing what's best for us.
So what might it mean when we don't trust ourselves? Well, maybe we don't want to be honest with ourselves because we're not sure what we'll do with that information. Maybe we can't count on ourselves to do the things we tell ourselves we'll do. Or, maybe we're afraid that we'll do things to harm ourselves instead of help ourselves.
It may sound odd when spelled out like this, but many of us do indeed have self-trust issues. For example, maybe we've told ourselves a thousand times that we are going to start exercising... but we never do it. So how likely is it that we'd trust ourselves to start a new exercise program? Not very likely.
Here are some tips to start building trust within yourself:
Believing in ourselves involves a bit more than just forcing ourselves to develop self-love and start pursuing our goals. It's more a matter of seeing where we're stuck and compassionately exploring how to get unstuck. Hopefully, these were some useful tips to get started.
Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.