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The ultimate guide to understanding impostor syndrome and how to deal with it

Updated on:3 March 2021, 14:43pm IST
If you’re someone who constantly belittles herself for lack of competency, then you might be suffering from impostor syndrome. Read on to know more about this condition, and how to deal with it.
Geetika Sachdev
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imposter syndrome
Focus on your abilities rather than chasing perfection. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
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How many times have you felt that you aren’t as competent as others consider you to be? If you feel it every now and then, you could be suffering from impostor syndrome. This doesn’t have anything to do with your intelligence, but your obsession with perfectionism and the social context.  

Imposter syndrome can make you reel under constant pressure, because every time you’re in a social situation, it makes you feel you do not belong there–it’s just sheer luck that has brought you there. Remember it can affect you, irrespective of your social status, work profile, skill level or other similar factors. 

Impostor syndrome was first used in the 1970s by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance, and it was thought to apply to high-achieving women. That’s not the case! 

Here are some common signs that you’re suffering from imposter syndrome:
  • Self-doubt
  • Unable to realistically assess your competence
  • Attributing your success to external factors 
  • Innate fear that you won’t be able to live up to expectations
  • Overachieving 
  • Sabotaging your success
  • Setting unrealistic goals, and feeling disappointed when it doesn’t happen

Imposter syndrome can make some people feel motivated, but it almost always makes them feel anxious. You might end up “over-working”, just so that you feel assured that no one will find out that you’re a fraud. You believe that you did well because you stayed up all night, or you were liked at a party, only because you remembered all the little details about the guests. 

Unfortunately, when someone suffers from impostor syndrome, they refuse to believe that it is their competency that is responsible for their growth. Your core beliefs are so strong that even if there is evidence to prove otherwise, you still do not believe it. 

Eventually, this cycle makes you feel anxious, and can also lead to depression

If you find yourself doing this time and again, then you must reach out to a mental health professional to tackle the problem. 

What does it look like?

There are certain factors that could have triggered impostor syndrome. For instance, if you’ve been brought up in a house, where your parents have flipped back and forth between praise and criticism, then it’s likely that you grow up with a feeling that you aren’t really worth it. 

It can also happen when you are starting something new in life, be it going to a new college or starting a new job, and you just don’t belong there!

imposter syndrome
Imposter syndrome feelings are accompanied by anxiety and, often, depression. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Another thing to keep in mind is that imposter syndrome and social anxiety might overlap. Here, people feel that they do not belong in social situations. While having a conversation with someone at a party or social gathering, you might feel that you aren’t good enough, and it’s only a matter of moments that the other person is going to find out about your social incompetence. 

How do you cope with this situation?

First of all, it’s important to understand that you can’t always chase perfectionism. There is no perfect script to ace conversations to avoid saying wrong things. While at work, you might find it hard to ask for help, and with so much on your plate, you might end up procrastinating, just because of your own high standards.

The only way to get past this is by becoming more comfortable with your thoughts and feelings. Follow these techniques: 

  • Share your feelings: Don’t be shy about telling people how you feel. When you do that, you are trying to address the problem, and that’s the first step. 
  • Try to help others in the same situation: When you are at a social gathering, you might spot someone who seems awkward or alone. When you practice this, you will feel more confident. 
  • Be realistic about your abilities: All of us have our strengths and weaknesses, so try to write them down on a piece of paper, and then make a realistic assessment of your abilities. 
  • Take small steps: Do not go after perfection; instead, believe in taking small steps and completing tasks properly. 
  • Stop comparing: When you compare yourself to others in a social situation or otherwise, you will always believe that you are not good enough. Instead, focus on learning and understanding what another person is saying. 

So ladies, do not stop yourself from pursuing your goals. Don’t hold yourself back in any way!

Geetika Sachdev Geetika Sachdev

An independent writer and journalist, Geetika loves sharp and fresh humour, just like her coffee! If not writing, you'll find her cafe-hopping and raiding the best book stores in town.