Imposter Syndrome: Coping with "I'm Not Good Enough Anxiety"

Imposter Syndrome | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

Imposter Syndrome | Agnes Wainman | London Psychological Services

When I first started grad school, we were warned of a very serious condition that would likely affect us all at some point; the dreaded imposter syndrome. 

Symptoms of imposter syndrome could include:

– feeling like were not good enough to succeed at grad school

-feeling like a mistake had been made at the admissions office.  Very soon someone would have to awkwardly pull us to the side and break it to us that we needed to leave

– feeling that everyone around was much smarter, better qualified, and overall just better than us

– anxiety that someone would find out about the fact that we sucked

– feeling that we would never live up to be the ideal “grad student”; we would always be lacking in some way

– feeling like we needed to change things about ourselves to fit in

Sure enough, within a few months (or weeks…or days) many of us came down with imposter syndrome. I remember looking around at all of these brilliant future psychologists and thinking that while I had everyone fooled for the time being, soon enough my facade would crumble and everyone would realize how much I didn’t belong.  Turned out that I was not the only one, as all our anxieties came tumbling out at various times (I’m pretty sure that a mandatory  part of the graduate school experience is having a tearful freak out in a peer’s office).   Unfortunately imposter syndrome isn’t unique to graduate students (although it does seem to be rampant there!).  Many of us may feel imposter syndrome in various parts of our lives.

Have you ever felt like an imposter?  Maybe when you started a school program or a new job?  New moms will often feel that they feel like an imposter (um, why did the hospital actually let me take this baby home?  I have no idea what I am doing!).   You may have even felt like an imposter when making new friends (if they knew the real me they would never be my friend).  Usually we are infected by imposter syndrome when we are doing something new and feel anxiety about our abilities and whether we belong (anxious over achievers are often prone to imposter syndrome).

 How can we cope with imposter syndrome?  Can it ever be cured? 

Imposter syndrome is often linked with anxiety.  We worry about our abilities, our skill set and there is also a fear of being “discovered” by other people.  We do not feel good enough.  While it is very normal to feel anxious when starting a new experience, imposter syndrome can chip away at our belief in ourselves.  We begin to view things through the lens of anxiety and may misinterpret normal growing pains as a lack of our own abilities.  In order to cope with imposter syndrome we need to do a few things;

  • Accept that it is totally normal to feel anxiety in new situations; how the heck are you supposed to know how to do something if you’ve never done it before?
  • Acknowledge that it will take time to figure out how to do things and that once you’ve figured those out, there will be new challenges. We may always feel a bit out of our element
  • Talk to others about imposter syndrome; you may be surprised to see how many people have experienced this
  • Remind yourself of other times when you may have felt like an imposter; did that feeling resolve?
  • Ask for help!  I know this is a scary one, since you may be scared that this will reveal that you are an imposter, but part of the learning process is getting help from those who have gone before us

Feeling like an imposter sucks, but over time and with some self-compassion, these feelings can go away.  Know someone who suffers from imposter syndrome?  Share this blog post with them!