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If you’ve ever had the feeling that you were a fraud, that you don’t belong and don’t deserve your job or accomplishments, you’re not alone. Imposter syndrome, defined by Psychology Today as “a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments,” affects many of us, but can be an incredibly isolating feeling. While imposter syndrome is not an official diagnosis in the DSM, psychologists recognize it as a very real phenomenon that can often lead to anxiety and depression (APA).
Image by Pablo Stanley
An estimated 70% of people experience impostor syndrome at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science.
Anyone can suffer from imposter syndrome, but it hits women, especially women of color, the hardest. When women of color grow up being told, explicitly or implicitly, that they don’t belong in certain spaces, this feeling can be deeply internalized. Even if they have put in all of the hard work, have all of the credentials, all of the experience necessary to be more than qualified to be in a certain room, that internalized sense of self-doubt is likely to still make itself felt, especially if there are few other women of color in the same room.
“We’re more likely to experience imposter syndrome if we don’t see many examples of people who look like us or share our background who are clearly succeeding in our field,” – Clinical psychologist Emily Hu
“When you experience systemic oppression or are directly or indirectly told your whole life that you are less-than or underserving of success and you begin to achieve things in a way that goes against a long-standing narrative in the mind, imposter syndrome will occur.” – Psychotherapist Brian Daniel Norton
Not only is imposter syndrome an anxiety-provoking, isolating feeling, it can also hold us back from going after new opportunities if we feel that we are not qualified or talented enough to succeed. So, what can we do to stop the vicious cycle of imposter syndrome?
“With all the practice of just going into the room that you weren’t supposed to be in, and occupying those seats, just doing you and knowing that your thoughts are just as relevant, your experiences are just as important, your incites are just as valuable, so that you will share it and use it and practice being there, that’s the work you have to do if you feel like an imposter.” -Michelle Obama
Recognize imposter feelings: Try to recognize and label these imposter feelings as they arise. Try to notice any patters – do these feelings come up in specific situations? Around specific people? This simple awareness can help you relativize and contextualize your feelings so they do not take on such a weight in your mind.
Reframe your thoughts: Remind yourself of your accomplishments in concrete terms. Write down a list of your accomplishments and credentials, of how hard you worked to get here, and ask yourself if you expect more than that from the people around you. You don’t? So why would you expect more from yourself?
Don’t hold it in: Think you’re the only one in the room feeling like you don’t belong? Chances are you’re not alone! Share your feelings with trusted friends – they can help normalize these feelings and also remind you why you do, in fact, belong.
Recognize your expertise: If you have a tendency to forget all the reasons you are qualified to be in a certain position, remind yourself of your expertise by putting yourself in a teaching position. Train or help out new employees, work with younger students, or even just talk to your friends or family about your job to remind yourself how much you do know.
Let yourself learn: Remind yourself that even your imperfections can be teachable moments! If there’s a specific gap in your expertise that is holding your back or making you feel like a “fraud,” take this as an opportunity to learn more about this topic instead of allowing it to add to your anxiety.
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