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Imposter Syndrome

What to Do When You Never Feel "Good Enough"

Impostor syndrome can rob us of the enjoyment of our accomplishments.

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You may have felt that you just weren't very good at something. That's normal. It's completely acceptable to feel that you aren't the best at something — logically, you can't be the best at everything.

However, it's an issue is when those feelings of inadequacy stop you from trying something or stop you from being your best you. Case in point: You are asked to give a speech to a group. (Besides the fact that public speaking is such a widely-held fear that it is used in research studies as a way to measure fear response, let's say you are usually fine with speaking to a group) (Garcia-Leal, Graeff, & Del-Ben, 2014). However, as you are speaking, you wonder Why would they listen to me? What if they find out I really don't know what I'm talking about? A feeling of dread comes over you. How long will I be able to keep up this charade until someone figures out I'm not that great? This is commonly referred to as "impostor syndrome."

Impostor syndrome can have several roots:

  • You were told throughout your life that you weren't good enough: by society, by your parents, or by authority figures;
  • You're successful and feel you don't deserve it;
  • You have let past errors become defining mistakes instead of simply lessons;
  • You have surrounded yourself with people (or a particular person) who remind you (erroneously) that they are better than you;
  • You are underrepresented in your place of work or in your community;
  • You have been harassed in your current job or a previous job;
  • You have been subject to humiliation and manipulation. (See my book Gaslighting for information on identifying emotional abuse and getting free of it.)

This is a different feeling than humility. Humility is a feeling that you have something to contribute, but you acknowledge that there are others with more knowledge; you understand you will never know everything — there will always be more to learn; you apologize when you have wronged someone; you take responsibility for your actions. But it doesn't stop you from doing things that can lead you to your definition of success, or from being acknowledged for your success. Humility is accepting an award, but when you are accepting it, you acknowledge you got there from the help of others. You may feel you don't deserve it, but it comes from a place of Wow, so many people helped me get here.

Humility in itself doesn't stop you from doing things, or from speaking out — it just helps you realize that there are others from whom you can gain more knowledge. Impostor syndrome is when you have a fear of People will find out that I'm not as good as they think. In the award example above, let's say impostor syndrome kicks in. You receive an award and feel you don't deserve it, just like in the above example — but it's because Sooner or later people are going to figure out who I really am. There's a different core belief behind "I don't deserve this award".

How can you help yourself out of impostor syndrome?

  • Acknowledge where it comes from. Are you underrepresented in society or in your workplace? Do you have to work five times as hard as everyone else just to only get half the credit?
  • Keep track of your achievements. A great way to do this is to keep your resume or CV continually updated. It helps you two-fold — it reminds you of what you have accomplished, and you've got an updated file for when you apply for jobs or awards.
  • Thank the people who have helped you. When you are feeling insecure, take a look at the people who helped you get there. Reach out and thank them if you can. If you can't, acknowledge them in writing, or thank them in your heart. Mr. Rogers can help get you started. By the way, he is an excellent example of humility.
  • Seek out others that feel the same way you do. You'd be surprised at the number of people who are very good at what they do, yet feel that they will eventually be "found out." Lift each other up. Encourage each other that you are good enough. You have always been good enough.
  • Accept yourself as an fallible human being. We are all going to have times where we aren't feeling like we "measure up" — and that is part of the human condition. This feeling will pass. And the next time you feel it, remember that this feeling is temporary, just like last time.
  • Practice mindfulness meditation. It helps you stay in the here and now — that means less chance of worry. It can be as simple as naming three things you can feel, three things you can see, and three things you can touch.
  • Practice affirmations. These may feel corny to you at first, but they can help you feel more competent. I am always good enough. I am great and lovable just the way I am. I am a worthy human being. I have a right to be here. Repeat these as often as possible.

Remember, there are a lot of other people who feel just like you.

Click here for an audio version of this article.

Copyright 2018 Sarkis Media


Garcia-Leal, C., Graeff, F. G., & Del-Ben, C. M. (2014). Experimental public speaking: contributions to the understanding of the serotonergic modulation of fear. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 46, 407-417.

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