I Am Not Good Enough: Managing Imposter Syndrome

What Is it? And how to manage feeling like a fraud.

Posted Oct 02, 2020

You might have heard people mention the Imposter Syndrome, sometimes known as the Fraud Syndrome. It refers to the idea that your accomplishments aren’t worthy of the attention, praise, and care that you are receiving and that everyone will find out that you are actually a fraud. 

Image by Janina Scarlet/Dark Agents
The Imposter Syndrome
Source: Image by Janina Scarlet/Dark Agents

It is almost like there is a monster sitting on your shoulder, whispering the worst things about you and making you doubt your every move. 

The Imposter Syndrome was first introduced in 1978 in the article, "The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention" by Dr. Pauline Rose Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes. 

Imposter Syndrome happens when we disregard our talents and abilities, especially when we are presented with an amazing opportunity. For example, when Harry Potter was told that he is a wizard, his immediate reaction was to believe that there was some kind of a mistake, that he couldn’t possibly be magical or special in any way. 

Have you ever experienced any of the following after being presented with an exciting opportunity:

A. Embarrassment and fear of failure, and thoughts with insecure content, such as:

1.     “What was I thinking?” 

2.     “I’m not good enough”

3.     “Everyone will realize that I am a fraud”

4.     “If I try this, I will fail!”

B. Leading to any of the following reactions:

1.       Over-preparing to impress others

2.       Procrastinating and panicking about procrastinating

3.       Increase in superstitious behaviors, such as wearing or not wearing a particular item of clothing because of the belief that if you do it the wrong way, you will fail

4.       Desire to escape or withdraw from the feared situation or avoiding anyone who reminds you of the specific situation, leading to avoidance of friends, mentors, or co-workers, or teachers

5.       The belief that everyone is harshly evaluating you

6.       The belief that everyone else isn’t a fraud and has never felt like a fraud

C. Persistent physical anxiety reactions, such as:

1.       Increased heart rate

2.       Shallow breathing

3.       Sweaty palms

4.       Muscle tension

5.       Difficultly staying or falling asleep

If you said, “yes” to the above-listed criteria, you might also have struggled with the Imposter Syndrome. The Imposter Syndrome is not a medical or a psychological disorder, but it is a common experience that happens to a lot of people, especially intelligent, talented, and successful people. It is more prevalent in women, as well as gender minorities, LGBQIA and BIPOC individuals. Although Imposter Syndrome is more commonly found in these populations, it can occur in people of all genders and all backgrounds, and all occupations, including:

  • Doctors and Nurses
  • Engineering
  • Researchers
  • Attorneys
  • Entrepreneurs
  • Writers/artists
  • Professors

Many celebrities, scientists, and other public figures, such as Albert Einstein, Maya Angelou, Emma Watson, David Tennant, Michelle Obama, and Neil Gaiman also talked about having Imposter Syndrome. Many students in highly successful academic programs or sports teams might also believe that they are imposters and were selected by accident. 

If you have these feelings, you might believe that you always have to be perfect, never make any mistakes, and that you must accomplish everything yourself without any assistance, support, tutoring, or mentoring. Any mistake or received support might make you believe that you are not worthy of praise and your achievement.

And yet all superheroes, including Superman, Wonder Woman, Black Panther, and She-Ra need sidekicks to help them succeed. Sidekicks are not only helpful, but they are also necessary, and it is unreasonable to expect that you should be able to do everything without any mistakes, setbacks, or without any assistance. 

Some people believe that if they are not natural geniuses, (if talents or abilities don’t come naturally to them) then they are not truly talented or worthy. Many people mistakenly believe that if they were talented, they wouldn’t have to study or practice, but every talented individual not only practices but also has multiple setbacks along the way. 

For example, Sam and Dean Winchester from the TV Show, Supernatural, are very talented monsters hunters but still have multiple setbacks and challenges. Similarly, Supergirl, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Harry Potter, Rey from Star Wars, and many other characters might already have talents, just like you. And just like you, might face setbacks, might need to learn more skills and re-sharpen their talents and abilities over time.

Finally, many people might shame themselves if they are struggling with juggling all their responsibilities and commitments, believing that they should be able to easily complete all items on their to-do list. The truth is that unless you have Hermione’s Time Turner from Harry Potter, The Doctor’s T.A.R.D.I.S. from Doctor Who, the DeLorean from Back to the Future, or another time-traveling device, you’d have to break the laws of physics to complete everything on your to-do list while battling all the internal monsters of anxiety, depression, and self-doubt that you are already facing. 

We assume that if we were truly talented, intelligent, and good enough, we would:

  • Never make mistakes
  • Know everything and be a full expert
  • Never doubt ourselves
  • Never need any help, support, or assistance
  • Be completely successful at everything we do

The unfortunate truth about Imposter Syndrome is that anytime we might receive any negative feedback or critique, we are likely to accept it as proof that we are in fact, not good enough. 

However, no matter how much positive feedback and praise we might receive, we are likely to dismiss it, thinking that the other person merely does not have the full story, that they misunderstand how much of a fraud we really are. 

Given all of these facts, how do we manage Imposter Syndrome? Here are some steps you can take:

  1. Name it – recognize when your thoughts and self-evaluations are driven by Imposter Syndrome. Naming it can help you to better understand what is going on. In fact, you can even find out what type of Imposter Syndrome you might have by taking this quiz on Dr. Jill Stoddard’s website: jillstoddard.
  2. Normalize it – recognize that many people face Imposter Syndrome at some point, and people who are intelligent, talented, creative, sensitive, kind, and successful are likely to face it more than others.
  3. Understand it – understand why you are having these experiences. People who are struggling with Imposter Syndrome don’t have these symptoms because they are inadequate. Rather, they feel inadequate because they care about the particular cause or opportunity. If you have symptoms of Imposter Syndrome, ask yourself, What is the big picture? What do I really care about? (For example, helping people, creativity, contributing to the arts, medicine, or sciences, or creating meaningful relationships). 
  4. Honor the big picture. Once you recognize the big picture, take steps that honor it. For example, help others even when you feel inadequate. Remind yourself that Imposter Syndrome merely keeps you mindful of what you care about. Remember that the opposite of your biggest fear is actually your biggest core value. 
  5. Talk to others about the Imposter Syndrome – write a blog post, pose a question on social media, ask people if they ever feel this way, Tweet your favorite celebrities and role models and ask if they ever feel this way to show not only yourself but also many others that Imposter Syndrome is as normal as the rain.

Poets and writers also talk about Imposter Syndrome. Here is a powerful excerpt from Our Deepest Fear, a poem by Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. 
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. 
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us. 

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? 

And so, if you are feeling like an imposter, if you are questioning whether you’re ready or good enough, it means you’re exactly where you’re meant to be.