The Imposter Syndrome

What is Imposter Syndrome?

Imposter syndrome basically refers to internal feelings of insecurity or inadequacy that make you believe you are not as competent as people perceive you to be. Basically, it is when we feel like we are frauds, and that anything we have achieved in our lives has been because of pure luck or chance. While in some cases such feelings may cause people to start working harder and meet their own standards of competency, most often they serve as a constant source of anxiety. You may start overworking yourself and spending countless hours trying to get better to make sure no one ‘finds out’ about you.

Especially people who are highly skilled or who have achieved a lot and become successful in a particular field may begin to garner feelings of insecurity and feel that other people are just as skilled, if not even more skilled than them. They start to feel as if they don’t deserve their achievements and success, and that someone more qualified should have got them. Even some of the great people in history like Albert Einstein suffered from this syndrome. He believed himself to be an ‘involuntary swindler’ who did not deserve the recognition his work got. This shows how pervasive and powerful imposter syndrome is, where even a man like Albert Einstein who we now revere as a great scientist that contributed so much to the world, thought of himself as mediocre and undeserving of recognition or praise. This also shows there is no threshold of achievement that puts feelings of inadequacy at rest.

However, it is important to highlight feelings of imposterism are not only felt by highly skilled individuals. Everyone is susceptible to a phenomenon known as ‘Pluralistic Ignorance’ where we each doubt ourselves privately, but think we are alone in thinking that way because no one openly voices their self-doubt. Imposter syndrome is not necessarily a disease or an abnormality, and neither is it always tied to any mental illness like depression or anxiety. Every single person is prone to imposter syndrome, regardless of their race, gender, occupation or mental/physical health. The base cause of this is that we know ourselves from the inside, but we know others only from the outside, so we do not realise that everyone is flawed in some way, not only us. We know all our own shortcomings and weaknesses, but all we know about others is what they tell us, which is far narrower and edited. So we make the mistake of concluding that we have a lot more flaws than others do.

How to deal with Imposter Syndrome?

Perhaps the easiest and most common way to deal with imposter syndrome is to simply talk about it more. We slowly learn that many people around us suffer from the same problem, and become comforted by the fact that we are not alone in such ways of thinking. Once we have this awareness of the syndrome, we can combat it by collecting and revisiting positive feedback and reassuring ourselves of our competence. It also helps us understand that it is simply a negative way of thinking and is not always true.

Apart from this, we must also look inwards and start dealing with it on an internal level as well. This includes things like separating fact from fiction, where we must recognize that even though we have these feelings, they are not objectively true and that we are unreasonably doubting ourselves. We must also stop comparing ourselves with others and try to focus on our own standards of success, not everyone else’s. This is especially important in today’s age of social media, which is the primary cause nowadays for imposter syndrome. We must learn that social media is not real life and that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to what we see on it.

Still, it may be hard to completely eradicate these feelings, but having open conversations about it and self-reflecting and introspection definitely helps us in keeping them controlled. It highlights to us how common these experiences are and that we should not burden ourselves with them. This process of humanizing the world makes us understand that everyone is like us, with their own flaws and problems, and that we all deserve success and fulfilment.