5 Ways to Check Your Imposter SyndromeYou’re the real deal, and it’s time to act like it.
Picture this: You've navigated the hallowed halls of academia, tackling internships and midterms like nobody’s business, and you proudly earned that coveted degree. Finally, you land your dream job, the one you've been chasing for probably four or more grueling years. On paper, you're the real deal. But between scenes of you doing the damn thing, you’re also bombarded with humbling thoughts like, But was that really all me? Was finishing that project really that impressive? You might even debate knocking yourself down a couple pegs on your annual review, rating yourself as "meets expectations." And before you know it, you’re questioning whether or not you’re even cut out for your job—despite all the evidence. Sound familiar? That's imposter syndrome talking.
Imposter syndrome (or, as the experts call it, "imposter phenomenon") might not be a clinical term, but the self-doubt and feeling-like-a-fraud-no-matter-your-qualifications struggle is real. And with #impostersyndrome racking up millions of views on TikTok, it’s clear a lot of us can relate. Despite its seemingly widespread occurrence, imposter syndrome doesn't fit into a neat, one-size-fits-all box and can manifest as mildly annoying intrusive thoughts or entirely shape your self-worth, says psychologist Lisa Orbe-Austin, PhD, author of Own Your Greatness.
Feeling this way about yourself can also take a physical toll when it’s wrapped up in the pursuit of perfection, says Dr. Orbe-Austin. For example, maybe you're giving yourself headaches by over preparing for work projects and teetering on the edge of burnout.
It seems like the fix for imposter syndrome would be to “just believe in yourself,” but if it were that simple, you wouldn’t be here right now. If you’re dealing with the constant chatter of imposter phenomenon, here are some expert-backed ways to keep those thoughts in check (it should get easier as you practice).
1. Get to the root of your imposter syndrome.
Unpacking where your self-doubt stems from and what your triggers are can help you develop a game plan for dealing with it.
Imposter syndrome can be complex and trace back to childhood experiences and family dynamics, explains Dr. Orbe-Austin. When you’re a kid, you start shaping your worldview and sense of self based on societal and family expectations, which can later shape how you act in adulthood. Say your dad showed his love through phrases like, “Nice job, kiddo.” Today, you might seek confirmation that you’re on the right path through verbal praise. And that’s not a bad thing! But if words of affirmation are how you dictate your success, imposter phenomenon may flare up in environments that don’t give you a clear pat on the back, Dr. Orbe-Austin explains. Think of working remotely with bosses or colleagues who might signal that you’re killing it by shooting your Slack message a thumbs up. You may dismiss it—or even think you’re not doing enough—since it doesn’t match what reinforcement looked like in your childhood.
The solution? While you can’t change someone’s way of affirming you’re doing alright, you can learn to praise yourself, says licensed clinical psychologist Alexandra Gold, PhD. When you catch yourself downplaying what you’ve done, take a step back, think objectively about the situation, separate fact from catastrophic thoughts, and jot down your strengths and what feelings you notice in a journal, she suggests. When you pause to check in with yourself, it makes it easier to see the situation for what it is and have a record of how great you’re doing or what changes you’d like to make instead of worrying about what other people think of you. Plus, when you do this, you have a record of all your gold stars so you can advocate for yourself down the line.
2. Remember it’s not just you—it’s a systemic issue.
When you belong to a marginalized group, you might face messages that you don't measure up. You might also get the sense that you were “given” certain roles based on you having a disability or your gender, race, or ethnicity, which can make your imposter syndrome even more difficult to deal with, Dr. Orbe-Austin explains.
If you’ve ever experienced this double whammy, it’s important to understand that these social dynamics, biases, and outdated institutions thrive on making you feel less than. Like, you probably won’t ask for the promotion you deserve if you think you’re only at a company because you check a certain box. When you can detach from the offensive narrative that the only thing you bring to the table is being a token, you can start to notice all the other amazing qualities and skills you have to offer (being an Excel master, always joining Zooms on time, meeting all deadlines, etc., etc.), Dr. Orbe-Austin says.
3. Challenge negative thoughts.
So you stumbled over your words during a crucial presentation on a topic you spent weeks researching. It’s natural if your first thoughts post-incident were, I don’t sound like I’m cut out for this job. But challenging these harsh criticisms are crucial for curbing imposter phenomenon, says licensed psychologist Jenny Wang, PhD. We can choose between allowing those hypercritical thoughts to mess with our confidence or reminding ourselves that one mistake doesn’t determine our worth or ability, Dr. Wang states.
To flip the script, try replacing those emotional thoughts with takes that are grounded in reality, Dr. Wang suggests. For example, instead of thinking, I'm so stupid for making a mistake, remind yourself that messing up is part of growth and learning. So your new thought might be: I fumbled a chunk of this presentation, but my public speaking has improved so much since I started this job, and I still got my points across in the end. Or you might think, I tripped over my words because I was nervous in this room of strangers, not because I don’t know enough about the subject.
If your mind is racing and keeping you from shifting your thought process, Dr. Wang suggests pairing this process with calming techniques, like a brief meditation session or grounding exercise (try naming something you can touch, see, hear, taste, and smell), to get you in the self-compassion zone.
4. Aim for “good enough.”
If you’re the type whose imposter syndrome is tied to perfectionism and needing to be the absolute best or risk feeling like a failure, you’ll want to make “meh, this is good” your new motto, Dr. Orbe-Austin says. And that means not comparing yourself to others, which is a recipe for overwork, burnout, and not embracing what makes you unique, she adds.
So step back from hate-scrolling LinkedIn, where your former classmates keep posting how “delighted” they are to start new roles. Instead, compare your progress to where you were a year ago—nobody’s path is the same and it’s important to acknowledge your growth individually. If you don’t notice much progress, can you at least celebrate how you survived another year in your position and haven’t been placed on a performance plan? That’s good enough!
5. Reach out for support.
Dealing with imposter syndrome is largely an internal journey, but talking to people about your feelings to get an objective POV can help too. When you share what’s going on in your mind, it gives others a chance to potentially relate to your story and help you process and question your thoughts, which can help you curb any loneliness or feeling like you’re weird or losing it, Dr. Gold says. So next time you’re working on a class project and get upset because you allegedly don’t have what it takes to pass, ask a trusted peer to check your progress. You might find they can offer some encouragement and ease that pain.
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