Mental Health Media

Imposter Syndrome

Dealing with self-doubt’s ugly head…

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 Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash

Have you ever had that feeling where you start to think that you’re pretending to be something or someone you’re not? It’s a gripping feeling that although you know you have the knowledge, experience, and accomplishments, you still think to yourself “someone is going to find out that I’m a fraud” or “I’m a fake. What was I thinking!?”  This my friends is called “imposter syndrome.” It’s a pattern of emotional turmoil that haunts many of us during our lifetime.

Imposter syndrome is not a diagnosable issue that can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorder (DSM) used by mental health professionals in the U.S. But, it definitely contributes to our mental health and can impact us in a variety of ways.  According to a study titled, “The Imposter Phenomenon” [1], approximately 70% of the U.S population will experience imposter syndrome in their lifetime. That is a lot of people! Imposter syndrome doesn’t only cause high levels of anxiety and depression, but it also keeps us from truly valuing our worth because it fuels our self-doubt. After all, it’s a scary thing to think about being “exposed” or ridiculed by others for not living up to the “hype.”

But why does imposter syndrome happen and what can we do about it? Well for starters imposter syndrome goes hand in hand with another one of our friends, perfectionism! In this post, we focus on imposter syndrome, but a quick note on perfectionism: it is basically a personality trait that causes the person to strive for flawlessness. Doesn’t sound too bad right? Well, unfortunately, perfectionism brings with it highly critical self-evaluations and unhealthy concerns with others’ evaluations of us. This means that when you’re a perfectionist, you are constantly worried about looking and being perfect, but come on, who really is? I’m hoping that at this point you answered “no one” because you would be correct. If you answered otherwise… then I’d reflect a little on that. Overall, perfectionism has some good qualities like setting standards for ourselves, challenging ourselves, and ambition. However, the harsh truth is that perfectionism is not grounded in the accomplishment of success, but in avoidance of failure. We aren’t perfectionists because we want to succeed. We’re perfectionists because we’re afraid to fail!

We reached out to some mental health professionals to share their own experiences with imposter syndrome. Because, yes, even therapists deal with feelings of self-doubt.  Genesis Espinoza, LMFTwho practices in Mission Hills, CA about her experience with imposter syndrome and she had the following to share;

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 Being unable to internalize our success can be painful and for many of us, it keeps us from really seeking out opportunities. It can feel like a heavy anchor holding us in place or causing us to avoid situations where we believe we can be exposed. When you consider these things, then it’s easy to see why imposter syndrome can cause anxiety and depression in people. It sucks to succeed through hard work and dedication, but brush it off as luck or chance. Our brains aren’t able to accept success because it doesn’t make sense to it.

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 Photo by Ronny Sison on Unsplash

BUT, where does it come from!?Well, there are a lot of reasons that imposter syndrome exists within us. One primary source is our upbringing. Growing up in homes where expectations were high, and there was little room for error contributes to the idea of perfectionism that leads to imposter syndrome fueled from low-self esteem. Imposter syndrome in that essence is an idea we have about ourselves and how we conceptualize our abilities. The other is society. From the moment we are born and eventually shipped off to school we are told what it means to be “good,” “successful,” and how to “fit in.” These things aren’t all bad, but we do live in a society that is highly demanding and full of extremely high and mostly unrealistic expectations. Many of us absorb these ideas, and they become part of our foundation as people. We focus on the shortfalls, and it doesn’t allow us to accept our achievements.

I don’t know about you, but if I have a million trophies and people telling me I’m amazing, but my mind can’t grasp my achievements and abilities, I most likely won’t feel confident or trust that I know what I am talking about. Below is a shortlist (not, by all means, complete) of things that imposter syndrome causes:

 

  • Avoidance (not asking for a raise, not participating in activities, passing up opportunities)
  • Self-Sabotage (we hold ourselves down from reaching our potential)
  • Overextending ourselves or burning out (we overwork to compensate and end up feeling exhausted)
  • Anxiety (constant worry about what people think or finding out we aren’t that great)
  • Depression (low self-esteem, self-worth, and sadness)
  • Anger (frustration with ourselves and others about our self-doubts)
  • Confusion (it’s hard to tell what is a success and what is a failure, our perception is warped)

What can you do about imposter syndrome?

1. Talk about it. Find someone you trust or more appropriately a mental health professional that can explore these feelings with you. Therapists are trained to work with individuals experiencing the effects of imposter syndrome and use theoretical approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helps to challenge and restructure our thought process actively. Imposter syndrome is just one symptom in an often-deeper rooted issue. Having a safe space to talk about our experience with someone who is trained can be a powerful motivator for change and will equip you with tools to cope.

2. Accept that perfectionism is unrealistic. No one is or will ever be perfect. This is undoubtedly and unequivocally a fact. The faster we acknowledge that it’s impossible and not at all sustainable to be perfect, the quicker we will be able to move forward.

3. Learn about imposter syndrome. You can check this one off since you are reading this post and most likely learning more about what imposter syndrome is and how it impacts us.

4. Learn to value your success just as you do your failures. Both of these concepts of success and failure are powerful agents for change and growth. With success, we learn about our abilities and gain a new perspective. With failure, we learn to get back up, what not to do, and most importantly we grow. If you deal with imposter syndrome, chances are failure has been more prominent in your scope of attention. This means that you need to learn to value your success no matter how small. Journaling can be helpful in this area or even having small celebrations, rituals, or acknowledgments.

5. Practice self-love. Learn to appreciate and value yourself, flaws, and all. When we realize and accept that we are human, we can appreciate the complexity that comes with that experience. You will learn to love yourself even when things are difficult or new. If you don’t know where to start then make sure you check out our contributor Dr. Shainna Ali’s “The Self-Love Workbook” available on Amazon.

These are just a few tips that you can use if you are dealing with imposter syndrome. We also reached out to one of our fellow colleagues who shared the following:

Zeahlot Lopez, M.S., LMFT, LPCC

As a dually licensed psychotherapist and coach, I frequently meet with individuals who are amazing, humorous, and intelligent who bring their Beyoncé out in all types of ways. Sadly, I also hear that they feel as if they are living a double life and are NOT as great as they, “Pose themselves to be.” The erroneous thought here is the idea that individuals need to be a defined entity that makes sense to others rather than with self. Humans are exquisitely unique and in having the wisdom to understand this, they can steer clear of entertaining imposter syndrome. When an individual embraces who they are unapologetically, they are able to transcend the feeling of, “Not being enough,” or showing up, “As they should.” Many individuals learn from early experiences that they cannot show up as their true self for fear ridicule and judgment from loved ones who also experienced a lack of acceptance. Radical acceptance of one’s self is the true medicine for imposter syndrome that grows with the fear of what others will say. People eagerly connect to the feeling of authenticity translating to better sales, relationships, and alignment with self. “People don’t buy a product, merchandise, and or service! They buy you.” 

She also offered the following tips for our readers!

Tips for overcoming Imposter Syndrome: 

1. Show up for yourself before fear does 

2. Remember that YOU are the reason people buy your product, merchandise, and or service.

3. Your purpose speaks to you. It’s your job to listen.

4. Alignment with your purpose is directly related to the amount of time you spend with YOUR SELF vs. ALONE.

5. Understand that stepping into who you are as a whole includes owning your flaws, strengths, and everything in between. 

I leave you all with this motivating quote from our newest PsychoSocial Partner:

Adriana Alejandre, LMFT & Founder of Latinx Therapy Podcast

Usually, I throw myself at opportunities because for years I have allowed imposter syndrome to paralyze and stop me from great opportunities. I’ve been able to conquer portions of Imposter Syndrome by not allowing the critical messages to stay in my mind. Whether it’s writing it down on a piece of paper and throwing it away at the furthest trash can, or using affirmations, it’s important to expel the thoughts out of your mind.

 

References

[1] Sakulku, J. (1). The Impostor Phenomenon. The Journal of Behavioral Science, 6(1), 75-97. https://doi.org/10.14456/ijbs.2011.6

Cover Photo by Chester Wade on Unsplash

 Photos by Ronny Sison on Unsplash

Luis is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist who graduated from Long Beach State University with a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology (2015). He also has a Bachelors's degree in Child and Adolescent Development with an emphasis on Public Policy from San Francisco State University (2011). Luis has over 9 years of experience working with children and families both in education and mental health. Previously, Luis worked for a non-profit agency in San Francisco, CA providing mental health consultation in early head start programs and SFUSD pre-schools. Currently, Luis works at Kaiser in San Francisco providing mental health services.

His therapeutic interests include working with Trauma, the LGBTQ community, Children, Families, Couples, and POC. His personal interests include; Films, Reading, Writing, Art, Travelling, Disney, and Food. He is also a recipient of the California State Stipend award (2015). PsychoSocial is part of Luis' dedication to mental health and an example of his passion to educate others. Luis hopes that through PsychoSocial he will be able to help in the fight to end the stigma around mental illness.​​

#EndtheStigma