How to handle the 'impostor' in you?
Do you ever sit and think, maybe you're not the person your friends think you are? Maybe someday everyone will discover you're just a fraud and abandon you? Maybe you do not deserve the credit that you keep receiving? Maybe it's just a matter of time when people find an alternative of you, and then you'll be all alone?
If you answer yes to any of those questions, then you are in the right place! These thoughts are said to be an after-effect of the impostor syndrome, a phenomenon in which individuals experience inadequacy even after consistent, evident success. Even though it might sound crazy to some people, a whopping 70% of people experience these feelings at some point in their lives, according to a review article published in the International Journal of Behavioural Science. These people come from a major chunk of walks of life, be it women, men, medical students, marketing managers, actors or executives.
"I must not fail."
You have an enormous amount of pressure on your mind to never, ever fail. Don't confuse it with the one "perfectionists" experience. This pressure is in place because you, apparently, don't want to be "found out", or "get caught" that you really aren't who you show yourselves to be. This makes achieving success equally tough too, because you don't really enjoy the victory, you just feel that you managed to not get caught again.
"I feel like a fake."
You always think you are getting things you don't really deserve. The new job offer, the previous promotion are all "mistakes" made by someone. This goes in sync with the fear of "getting caught" and often results in you siding yourselves out so that the "fakeness" isn't revealed to the world.
"I got lucky."
You think that all that you've achieved till now has been a matter of luck. You are often found saying things like "It was sheer luck" or "I have no idea how it happened, maybe it was a fluke". This sometimes also indicates that you fear you might not be able to achieve the same thing again.
"Success is no big deal."
While we often relate downplaying success to traits like arrogance or humility, it can sometimes indicate things much more serious than just traits. People who are not confident that they can pull something off the same way twice, often try to brush the first time as "normal" so that they don't get asked to do it again. As weird as it might sound, but if you find yourself normalizing success, then you might have a fear deep down somewhere that if put to test, you might not be able to achieve the same success again. This fear stems from the original belief of being "fake" and not actually deserving the success in the first place.
Now that you've reported positive for the syndrome, lets determine the category of "impostor" you actually fall in -
❌ You set unrealistic goals for yourself, and even if you complete 99% of it, you still wail over the remaining 1% more than you enjoy the 99%. ❌ If by chance you fail to achieve your target, you spend days ruminating on the thought that you were never good enough. ❌ You believe that everything should be 100% perfect 100% of the time. ❌ You find it extremely difficult to delegate things, and even if you agree to, you feel disappointed and frustrated by the results. ❌ People often accuse you of micro-managing, and find it hard to keep up with your expectations.
❌ You think you're naturally skilled at picking up things, and when you take a bit of extra time to learn something, you feel ashamed. ❌ You have a persistent belief that you excel without actually putting in much efforts. ❌ You dislike people telling you how to do something, and reaching out to someone for help is the last thing you'd ever do. ❌ When you face a failure, you're more ashamed than you're sad. ❌ You do not want to step out of your comfort zone, because you fear trying out things that you're not already an expert at.
❌ You judge yourself on the basis of "what" and "how much" you know. ❌ You constantly seek out certifications or any form of approval to feel good about yourselves. ❌ You shy away from applying to a job if you do not meet each and every one of its requirements. ❌ You hesitate in calling yourself an expert even if you have actually mastered a subject. ❌ No matter how long you practice something, you always feel like you don't know enough of it.
❌ You think that the amount of time you invest in your job equals your worth, and you often work harder than usual to cover up for this feeling. ❌ You get stressed when you're unable to devote time to your work/job. ❌ You consider holidays, vacations and any other sort of break a waste of time. ❌ You unknowingly let your passions and hobbies fall wayside, for your work. ❌ No matter how long you keep working, you never feel like you've done enough, so you feel pressed to work even harder.
❌ You consider yourself to be totally independent, and you can make it through everything all on your own. ❌ You have a firm belief that you should achieve everything on your own. ❌ You never ask for anyone's help, and you would prefer reading documentation over consulting people any day. ❌ If by chance you are compelled to ask someone for help, you keep torturing yourself with the thought that you are a fraud, which is why someone else had to step in. ❌ Your projects' timelines do not take account of your mental/physical needs, they are always optimized for maximum efficiency.
So you've gone through the indications, you've checked yourself for those, and unfortunately, you happen to have some of those signs. What now?
The next series of your actions have to be in response to the indications, and if you feel stuck, here are a few tips to help you out!
While it might not seem a very fruitful action, but addressing the elephant in the room sometimes makes it easier to deal with it. Awareness of a mental issue is the first step in healing. Make sure to keep an account of what exact things these are, and when exactly they emerge.
As it is with most mental issues, seeking help always helps. And the first step in seeking help is being vocal about your problem. Talk to people who you trust about the impostor thoughts that you experience, it is bound to make your head feel lighter. It is always better to have an open conversation rather than harbour negative thoughts alone.
In many cases, impostor thoughts are triggered in response to some event. You might start questioning your career choices after you read someone else's who has been successful at an earlier stage. The key here is to acknowledge the fact that it is the context which is making you think low about yourself, and nothing else. If you catch yourself thinking that you are useless, reframe it: “the fact that I feel useless right now does not mean that I really am.”
It might sound crazy to be told to fix yourself on your own, but if you have even a little control over your mind, try to think positive. Optimism has been the biggest asset in fighting one's demons since time immemorial. Take the failure as a chance to evaluate yourself, work on your shortcomings, and retry with a totally revamped you.
One of the most important methods of keeping your calm is by staying confident. Knowing that you are making progress proves to be a huge source of motivation and composure. Chart out your path, choose milestones, and keep an eye on them. This result in a better performance, and a less distracted mind, which leads to fewer panic-attacks and better results.
Whenever you feel like someone will "catch you", tell yourselves that failure is no big deal, and that it is normal to not know everything. Try to believe that you will find out more as you progress. Convincing your own selves is a huge task to do, and a person battling issues like the impostor mind not really be able to rebuild themselves on their own. But then again, if you can manage to do even a little on this, it is bound to speed up the process of healing.
“Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.” - Karen Salmansohn
A sound, clear and healthy mind is the basic and a salient requirement for leading a fruitful and moreover a peaceful life. And it is okay to take your own sweet time and go easy on yourselves, because the right paths need not always be tough. As a pretty serious "ex"-patient of the Impostor, I can assure you that there is nothing to go wary about. Nothing is unbeatable when you stay determined.