From Self-Doubt to Self-Worth: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

mental health Oct 10, 2023

“I don’t deserve to be here.” 

"I'm not as smart as they think I am." 

"It's only a matter of time before I fail." 

“________ is better than me.” 

Do any of these feel familiar? Perhaps you’ve said them to yourself a couple times...or maybe a couple hundred times. You may not even be fully aware of these thoughts, but they can quickly have a pretty big impact on your life – influencing your decisions, your confidence and your overall growth potential. 

This type of thinking contributes to what has been termed Imposter Syndrome. We've all heard of it, and many of us have experienced it at some point in our lives. While we may be intimately familiar with it, what’s less clear is how to put a stop to it. Let’s do some digging into Imposter Syndrome – understanding what it is, how it manifests at different points of our lives, and most importantly, some strategies to conquer it. 

What Is Imposter Syndrome? 

Imposter Syndrome, sometimes called the imposter phenomenon, is a psychological experience where you constantly doubt yourself and worry that you'll be found out as a fraud, even though the evidence shows that in reality you are competent and successful. It's that inner voice that tells you that you're not as intelligent, talented, or deserving as others perceive you to be.  

Impacts of Imposter Syndrome 

It may not feel like it makes a big impact on your day-to-day life, but over time Imposter Syndrome can start to do some real damage: 

  • Low Self-Confidence: Chips away belief in yourself and your abilities, makes it challenging to tackle new challenges or pursue goals. 
  • Perfectionism: Pushes you to set unrealistically high standards for yourself, leading to anxiety and a fear of making mistakes. 
  • Procrastination: The fear of failure and of not meeting expectations can push you to delay tasks. 
  • Missed Opportunities: Shying away from opportunities you really are qualified for, resulting in missed career growth and personal development. 
  • Stress and Anxiety: Constantly feeling like a fraud can lead to chronic stress and anxiety, negatively impacting mental and physical well-being. 
  • Strained Relationships: Difficulty communicating authentically and connecting with others as you struggle to share your true feelings. 
Imposter Syndrome Through The Lifespan 

Imposter syndrome manifests differently in different phases of life. Teens often feel it through the pressures of academic and social expectations. They feel inadequate, constantly dealing with the fear of not measuring up to their peers and thinking that everyone else has it all figured out. In the transition into adulthood, imposter syndrome shifts its focus to the professional sphere, where the fear of being exposed as a fraud can get in the way of career advancement and decision-making. People may feel guilty about taking time for themselves or pursuing personal interests, believing they should be constantly working to prove their worth. In personal relationships, adults might feel like they're just pretending to be a good partner or parent, fearing that they're not living up to their loved ones' expectations. 

Imposter Syndrome changes its shape throughout our lives, but the common thread is persistent self-doubt and the belief that our accomplishments are undeserved.  

Strategies For Overcoming Imposter Syndrome 

Now that we’ve explored what imposter syndrome is and how it manifests, let’s get into the good stuff: tangible strategies for combatting it.  

Acknowledge and Challenge Negative Self-Talk 

One of the first steps in overcoming imposter syndrome is to recognize and challenge the negative thoughts that fuel it. Start by keeping a journal of your self-doubts and fears. When you catch yourself thinking that you're not good enough, write it down. Then, next to each negative thought, write down evidence that contradicts it.  

For example, if you consistently tell yourself that you got your job solely through luck, write down an inventory of your qualifications, skills, and the effort you put into securing the position. Over time, you'll build a bank of evidence that proves your worth – evidence you can continue to come back to in moments of doubt. 

Set Realistic Goals and Celebrate Achievements 

Imposter syndrome thrives on perfectionism and an unrealistic expectation of what success looks like. It's like a self-fulfilling prophecy: we don’t believe that we are good enough to achieve our goals, so we set goals that are so unachievable that we inevitably fail and use that as evidence that we really are not good enough. Imposter syndrome is tricky like that! 

Instead of aiming for perfection, focus on setting achievable goals that still challenge you, but don’t set you up for failure. Ask a trusted friend that knows you well to take a look at your goal and help you decide if it is attainable. Break larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps. When you accomplish these milestones, celebrate your achievements. Decide ahead of time how you will reward yourself and share this with your trusted friend for accountability. This kind of positive reinforcement will help you recognize your abilities and build confidence in your skills. 

Practice Self-Compassion 

Imposter syndrome stems from a harsh and unforgiving inner critic. To counter this, work on developing self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend facing similar challenges. When you make a mistake or experience self-doubt, instead of berating yourself, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes and that it's okay to have moments of self-doubt. 

Practicing self-compassion can involve self-reflective exercises, such as writing down kind and supportive affirmations to return to or meditating on self-compassion principles. By cultivating self-compassion, you'll be better equipped to navigate imposter syndrome's negative thoughts and replace them with a more positive and forgiving self-dialogue. For more on self-compassion, check out this blog! 

Take Back The Wheel 

If you find Imposter Syndrome to be in the driver’s seat of your life, it’s time to take back the wheel by implementing a strategy to combat it and a commitment to upholding that strategy. We may never fully rid ourselves of those self-critical thoughts, but we can diminish its power through self-awareness and self-compassion. 

Check out this Overcoming Imposter Syndrome Guide to put these strategies into practice.


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