Throughout my life, my family has always been proud and supportive of my endeavors, however, I have never been proud of myself. I do not know why or how this began, only that I cannot remember a time when I have sincerely been proud of something I have accomplished. This may sound concerning, but I have never known anything else and I figured this was the norm.
Recently, a Facebook friend of mine posted a status about “Imposter Syndrome.” I had never heard of it before, and read the post only half paying attention. After she made multiple posts about this syndrome, as well as the declining state of her mental health, I started to pay a little more attention. I realized that she was putting my thoughts into words, and there was even a name for these thoughts. I started to research Imposter Syndrome and found that while it is not classified as a formal mental disorder, it is experienced by over 70% of people at some point in their lives. Imposter Syndrome is a “collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success” (https://hbr.org/2008/05/overcoming-imposter-syndrome). Many people who experienced this collection of feelings report feeling as though they do not deserve what they have achieved, and are not qualified to be doing the jobs they have. This is exactly how I have felt whenever I achieve something, especially if I am promoted in some way. I am just waiting for someone to relieve me of being in charge because surely I could not be the front-runner for any sort of authority or responsibility.
While I am not nearly as outstanding as many people my age who are well on their way to being doctors or Olympic medallists (shout out to Penny Oleksiak), I have objectively achieved a decent amount for someone my age. This is something I should be able to realize and accept, but I do not have the ability to do so. Most recently, I applied for a month-long opportunity in Dharamsala, India through my university. I handed in my application, and was later contacted for an interview. The interview came, and it went terribly. I was anxious and rambling the whole time, and I was certain that I had blown the opportunity entirely. After having crippling anxiety for a week after the interview, I finally received an email from my university. They told me I got the position and they wanted me to be one of the students going to India. This shocked me. I should have been excited. I should have been as happy as my mother when I told her about it. But I wasn’t. All I could think about was that my school must have made a mistake. The interview went terribly. Why would they want me? There is no doubt that someone else who applied is much more deserving of this than I am.
This is a common thought I have, among other thoughts and excuses that reinforce Imposter Syndrome. I will think that something I have achieved is not really an achievement at all, or that anyone would be able to achieve it if they wanted to. I do not see myself as demonstrating value, but I feel like I can be valuable to others if I am always busy trying to achieve the next thing. This unhealthy behaviour has largely contributed to my constant anxiety.
Since I’ve discovered that that these feelings are unproductive and increase my anxiety, I have looked into methods to alleviate them. What I have done so far is talk with my aforementioned Facebook friend about her experiences with Imposter Syndrome, and her coping techniques. She said that her Imposter Syndrome was symptomatic of depression. As someone who is predisposed to anxiety and depression, I have made an appointment with a counsellor at my university to talk about the possibility of needing treatment for one or both of these mental illnesses. I have also found helpful online forums that help me feel less isolated when my Imposter Syndrome comes to the surface. There are also other coping techniques, like having a friend tell you what they think your accomplishments and capabilities are, and sincerely listen to them. As I am only in the beginning stages of understanding my Imposter Syndrome, I might not be ready for this sort of confrontation yet, however, I have told my close friends and family (and now you!) about these feelings so they can better understand why I might have certain responses around my accomplishments. Some family members who I have told about these feelings have tried to “fix” my thoughts when I tell them about my Imposter Syndrome. Unfortunately, this does not make me feel better, or less anxious. This only makes me feel like I am not being heard. What I am just looking for support as I navigate these feelings and gradually overcome them as time goes on.
I want to end this post by saying that I am not an expert of any kind on Imposter Syndrome. These are just my personal thoughts and experiences that I feel others may benefit from reading about. Now I don’t know if this has been at all helpful to anyone or just me rambling for a while, but there are many resources both in person and online to help sort out feelings of anxiety, or not feeling worthy of what you achieve. I hope this can somewhat validate your feelings, and put a name to them as someone else did for me.
I’ve found personally that counselling has been really useful in navigating my Imposter Syndrome. As for online resources, here are some links I have found useful in learning more about Imposter Syndrome:
What Imposter Syndrome is and who is likely to have it: https://counseling.caltech.edu/general/InfoandResources/Impostor
Some tips on how to overcome Imposter Syndrome: http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/11/fraud.aspx
Famous people who have Imposter Syndrome: http://www.news.com.au/finance/highachievers-suffering-from-imposter-syndrome/story-e6frfm1i-1226779707766
I have also found YouTube videos, Ted Talks and online forums useful place to find out more.