Written by therapist Viktor Terpay
I often experienced myself as an imposter. When our family moved to the United States, I struggled with navigating a new culture. I didn’t speak English and often relied on my peers to assist with translating and navigating through school. I remember my first day at school when I got off the school bus, I had no idea where to go. I was staring at the large building lost and confused. Eventually, someone helped me get to the office and then walked me to my class. Because I couldn’t speak the language, I felt as if I could never fit in. Often, I heard statements such as, “go back to your country,” or people trying to pick fights. I struggled with making new friendships and stayed in the group of friends that spoke my native language. Each morning was a struggle and a fight at home because I didn’t want to go to school. Eventually, I began to get in trouble at school and dropped out.
It was several years later that I decided that it was time to go back to college. At this time, I felt confident in my English. It wasn’t until I took the GED test that I had a daunting realization… I needed to learn how to read and write in English. I had to start over. I remember submitting my assignment and thinking to myself, “this is definitely an A+ paper,” just to get it all marked up in red. I would quietly sit in the back of the class and try to absorb as much information as I could understand. Speaking up was a terrifying concept. I was setting goals for myself to speak up and participate. I would complete my homework and try to get myself excited to participate. I knew material well and I had questions and ideas that I wanted to share. However, when it was time to raise my hand, my heart began to beat as if it was screaming for help, my palms would get sweaty, my throat got tight, and I would tell myself, “next time.” I would walk away from the class feeling deflated and disappointed. Regardless of my conversations with professors and the feedback I received through grades, I felt like I was a fraud.
Towards the end of my undergraduate experience, I began to feel more comfortable and began to participate more often. At first, I had to write my questions and comments down in my notebook word for word before I would raise my hand. Through positive experience and interactions I felt reassured and encouraged. When I shared how I felt, I began to realize that I wasn’t the only one struggling with this issue. At one point, there was entire class discussion and many students expressed their struggle with feeling like an impostor. This feeling didn’t go away when I graduated. I’ve spent time working through and processing this overwhelming feeling. At first, it was a struggle, but eventually, I’ve learned to embrace it.
What exactly is Imposter Syndrome?
Imposter syndrome is a psychological term referring to a pattern of thoughts or behaviors where people doubt their accomplishments and experience fear of being exposed as a fraud. In other words, you may feel that your success is due to luck and not because of your talents, skills and qualifications. There are many factors that can contribute to this feeling of impostor. At times, anxiety can be a driving force and can make you feel like a failure. Sometimes, we can set extremely high expectations and even if we meet 99% of our goals, we only fixate on the one percent. Any small mistake can spiral out of control and lead us to question our competence.
For some people, there is a strong need to know every piece of information before they start a project and look for new trainings to improve their skills. They may feel hesitant to ask a question or speak up in a meeting at work because of being afraid that they may look stupid if they don’t know the answer. Some people prefer to work on their own, and asking for help may make them feel like a failure. We know from research that imposter syndrome in large is a reaction to our environment and circumstances. There are factors outside of a person that contribute to feelings of being an imposter such as discrimination, racism, sexism, and other isms…because it is our basic human need to be a part of the community and share a sense of belonging, where these experiences can have a lasting impact on our person.
So, how do we deal with it?
One of the first steps in dealing with an impostor feeling is to begin to recognize these thoughts and reach out for support from trusted friends or mentors and share your experiences. It helps to share your experiences with people and receive reassurance and support. Reaching out is a vulnerable experience and it is challenging. It takes an enormous amount of strength and courage. Having a support system and getting feedback that validates your efforts helps with improving your confidence. When suffering from self-doubt, it’s easy to think that you’re alone and that you’re the only person feeling this way. It’s important to remember that even the most accomplished people have been unsure of themselves at one point.
Own your accomplishments.
When dealing with impostor feelings, it’s easy to attribute your success to luck. Try to own the hard work and the role YOU played in your success by unsubscribing from excuses. It may be helpful to write down affirmations such as, “I’m proud of my accomplishments,” and placing them in the areas where you are reminded on a consistent basis.
Make a list.
Make a list of at least 5-10 things that show you are qualified for the role just as anyone else. Making a list can be helpful to visually look at your qualifications and boost your confidence.
Be kind to yourself.
When we make mistakes, we can be critical of ourselves. Remember that we all make mistakes and it is part of the learning and growing process. Practice self-compassion, and reward yourself for getting big things right.
Most of us experience moments where we doubt ourselves and that’s normal. Failure doesn’t mean that you’re a fraud. Failure is a part of the learning process. We can learn valuable lessons from our mistakes and move forward. However, it can be overwhelming to experience these thoughts and emotions. It can feel lonely and isolating to go through the day and not know where to begin.
If this is your experience, we would be glad to support you through this process and help you navigate towards a more fulfilling life. Don’t hesitate to reach out today and give us a call.