You're fine, even if you tell yourself you aren't.


Have you ever felt like you don't belong wherever you are? Are you worried that people around you might discover that you're a fraud and you don't deserve your job, accomplishments, or awards? 

There's a name for that sense of dread. Psychologists call it "imposter syndrome" or "imposter phenomenon". The term was coined in 1978 by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes, who at the time were studying imposter syndrome in "high achieving women", only to find out women are not the only ones affected. 

Approximately 70 percent of people experience this at some point in their lives, according to a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science. Imposter syndrome can affect everyone: women, men, students, managers, actors, and even executives. U.S. psychologist Audrey Ervin said the syndrome could apply to anyone "who isn't able to internalize and own their successes".

"Imposter syndrome at work is when a person holds the distorted belief that they are not worthy of success or as capable as people think they are, despite there being evidence to the contrary," explains Satpal Kaur-Thompson, a UK psychotherapist who had worked with people who has workplace issues, such as stress and low self-esteem.


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"They typically minimize, or in some cases, completely disregard, any acknowledgment or validation they receive as their mind struggles to accept a positive and realistic assessment of their performance," he said. People who struggle with the syndrome strongly believe that they are inadequate and do not deserve any accomplishments they have made. 

Valerie Young, the author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, which talks about the subject, specify some patterns she observed in people who experience the syndrome, such as perfectionists (setting extremely high expectations for themselves); experts (possess the need to know every single detail before starting a project); the natural genius who struggles to accomplish something will immediately think they aren't good enough; soloists (they have the need to accomplish something on their own); supermen or superwomen (pushing themselves to work harder than those around them to prove they're not imposters).

To date, there is no definite answer as to why and how people can manifest such syndrome. Some might be triggered by internal issues, such as anxiety or neuroticism, while some might be affected by family or behavioral causes — such as being repeatedly told that they're not good enough for not being able to achieve certain scores.

"People often internalize these ideas: that in order to be loved or be lovable, 'I need to achieve'. It becomes a self-perpetuating cycle," commented Ervin.


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The syndrome can also manifest from being at a non-inclusive workspace or institutions as a member of a marginalized group. It is especially true for women of racial or ethnic minorities, women in STEM fields, and international students at American universities. 

Imposter syndrome is in no way easy to deal with. However, we shouldn't let it define us. There are a few steps that can help overcome the syndrome.

Perhaps first and foremost is to speak about the experience to someone else and listen to others who experience the same thing. This way, you can feel less alone and assure yourself that it's normal to feel that way. 

Next, retrain your inner voice. Foster acceptance for praise and tell yourself you deserve and should recognize your accomplishments and skill. Just as Kaur-Thompson advises, try to realistically assess your knowledge, abilities, and achievements. It can help rearrange your train of thought so you can push yourself to attribute the praise, positive feedback, and success to your hard work and talent.

Listening to podcasts and TED Talks or reading books can also help you with your journey in overcoming the syndrome. Today, there are a lot of trusted resources that can help you immensely.

Last but not least, if you have the budget, it will be wise to talk to a professional or a therapist who can help identify the root of the issue. As it is reinforced over the years, only by finding out the source of the syndrome and challenging the beliefs in a supportive way can you move forward and overcome the syndrome completely, concluded Kaur-Thompson.


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