Have you ever been taking a test, working a job, studying in school and you just feel like a fraud? Not as in you feel overwhelmed by your responsibilities or that you lack certain skills or qualifications — but that you don’t even belong at your school or job in the first place?
If this feeling is an all too familiar one, you might have experienced imposter syndrome.
This phenomenon appears in high achievers who are not able to accept and internalize their success, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). People with imposter syndrome often believe their accomplishments are because of luck and not ability, and they fear being outed as a fraud to their fellow students, teachers, coworkers, etc.
When they received praise, they might feel like it’s just because people are trying to be nice — and not that they actually deserve it, according to health psychologist Shilagh Mirgain for UW Health. Their feelings of inadequacy can run so deep that no success or achievement can change them.
Imposter syndrome can have difficult interferences with school, work, and self-doubt, and it can be accompanied by anxiety or depression. However, if you feel this way, you’re not alone. Roughly 70 percent of us feel this way at some point in our lives, according to UW Health.
If you experience imposter syndrome and are feeling its effects into exam season, here are a few ways from APA and UW Health to overcome this phenomenon:
Remember what you do well
Suzanne Imes, a psychologist who first described imposter syndrome in the 1970s along with Pauline Rose Clance, suggests writing down the things you’re good at along with areas that might need work. This can help you make a realistic assessment of your abilities while recognizing what you’re doing well and what could use improvement.
Stop comparing yourself with others
With the amount of time we spend on social media looking at how “great” everyone else’s lives are, it’s easy to feel like others are doing better than us. Shilagh Mirgain, for UW Health, reminds us that social media is curated, and it doesn’t create a real or whole picture.
Think about how far you’ve come
According to Mirgain, it’s important to focus on the journey and not the destination. Think about everything you’ve accomplished so far in life and the process you took to get to where you are now.
Understand that no one is perfect
It’s incredibly cheesy, but everyone makes mistakes. Mirgain said mistakes are always learning opportunities, and though they can be uncomfortable to take on they can be the start of something new. Also, who we are is not solely established by our mistakes.
Work to break your negative thought process
Mirgain recommends incorporating some key strategies into your life to break a pattern of a negative thought. First, when you speak to yourself, speak kindly. Have an affirming mantra ready that you can repeat to yourself when needed to interrupt negative thoughts. If you need a reminder of how far you’ve come, create a list of your accomplishments to have handy.
Also, question your negative thoughts. When they occur ask “Is this true?” Mirgain says to recognize that feelings are normal, but they aren’t true. Sometimes we can replay our negative thoughts over and over again, but with time and energy, we can work towards stopping that cycle.
Share your feelings with a mentor
Talking about how you feel with someone that makes you feel safe can help calm down an overwhelming amount of negative thoughts, according to Mirgain. Verbalizing your feelings helps you critically analyze the reality of those feelings. A mentor can be someone in your life that you admire and can be honest with that will share their successes, challenges, and failures with you to provide some insight.
Talk to a mental health professional
Seeking out help from a therapist or psychologist can give you the tools you need to work towards overcoming imposter syndrome. Talking things out, especially with a professional in mental health, can help you step outside of your own fear and anxiety with someone that’s trained to help you.
Even though it takes time, energy and effort, there are ways to rewire imposter syndrome thoughts. In the meanwhile, remember this: you deserve to be here.
Graphic by Juana Garcia