We all had our fair share of good days. May it be from your youth, your first paycheck, your first recital, the time when you won that singing contest, or when you got engaged! Looking back at it now, it is satisfying how we felt genuinely happy during that time. Without reservations, we did what we wanted and achieved our goals. We did something because we knew that we could. We joined several contests because we thought that we had a chance. We knew beforehand that we have skills for what we have signed up for. It is as if we have all the energy to win over something that we really wanted. In return, we have felt genuinely deserving for whatever we have achieved. However, all of these were before. Those were the good days—the days where we still thought that we were enough. The situation has already changed. At that moment, you suddenly started to feel that you were not as good as you thought you were. So you asked yourself, am I just a fraud? What is the correct answer for this?
To answer this question, let us see this scenario first. When you were little, you used to ace your tests. When you were still in elementary, you were an active student and even managed to graduate high school with honors. When you were about to choose a university for college, one of the big four universities informed you that you were eligible to apply. What a tremendous feeling of joy! However, as you start your semester, you suddenly reach a slump in your academic career. You felt exhausted from the amount of work you need to do and did not excel the way you expected. You existed at school and suddenly felt lost, going with the flow, although you are not entirely following the lessons. Then suddenly, a thought from the back of your mind came out. I am not as intelligent as I thought I was. Yet what am I supposed to do? Everyone else from my childhood thinks that I am a diligent and smart person. You came home and still show the people around you that you are the person they perceive you to be. Even if, in reality, you now think that everything you have achieved is just a product of your luck or maybe because you were in a less competitive school before than now.
Given this scenario, would you think you can be considered fraud if you were the one at that person's place? Well, the answer is no. There is a term that may explain what you are feeling and why you think about yourself like that. It is called imposter syndrome. In a study by Brevata et al. (2019), they have defined people with this as "high-achieving individuals who, despite their objective successes, fail to internalize their accomplishments and have persistent self-doubt and fear of being exposed as a fraud or impostor." In short, they fail to see how competent they are and how it complements their performance. So in return, they will tend to think that whatever they achieve in life is mainly created by external factors rather than themselves. Additionally, they would also doubt themselves countless times after surpassing a major challenge. For example, when an employee achieves the highest record of making a quota, he/she will tend to think that it is just because he/she worked in highly populated areas to reach more people rather than thinking that it is because of his/her perseverance. As a result, people who experience this will continue to work harder as the thought of people knowing that they are not enough keeps on haunting them. Therefore, as they keep on striving, they cannot notice that they are just continuously being achievers while doubting themselves.
As people who experienced this focus on thinking that they might be revealed as frauds, Brevata et al. (2019) found out that this makes them more prone to mental health issues. They might feel anxious around people as they keep on thinking about it. This was also supported by Susan Alberts, a psychologist, as she explains that this sometimes becomes a cycle to the point where it brings adverse effects to one's life. Although imposter syndrome is not yet considered an official psychiatric disorder in DSM-5, people who have experienced this, especially those that affect them enormously, could still seek the help of professionals for a more precise explanation of what they are truly feeling.
Since most impostor syndrome cases frequently lead to burnout, here are some tips from the study of Tiefenthaler (2018) on how we can conquer it! First, know what your doubts are within yourself. Being short on one aspect does not mean that you cannot keep up at all. Identify where you are most afraid of and sincerely think about how you can make the situation better. Next, set aside your credibility as of the moment. Since they are the ones who are preventing you from stepping your feet forward, do not look back on it first and focus more on the issue that you want to resolve. Then finally, do not make yourself suffer alone. Share these thoughts with your colleagues, friends, or loved ones. Sometimes, hearing someone say that they understand you or feel the same way as you also give you comfort to carry on. Together, let us fight our self-doubts!
Bravata, D. M., Watts, S. A., Keefer, A. L., Madhusudhan, D. K., Taylor, K. T., Clark, D. M., Nelson, R. S., Cokley, K. O., & Hagg, H. K. (2019). Prevalence, Predictors, and Treatment of Impostor Syndrome: a Systematic Review. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 35(4), 1252–1275. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-019-05364-1
Feenstra, S., Begeny, C. T., Ryan, M. K., Rink, F. A., Stoker, J. I., & Jordan, J. (2020). Contextualizing the Impostor “Syndrome.” Frontiers in Psychology, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.575024
healthessentials. (2021). A Psychologist Explains How to Deal With Imposter Syndrome. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/a-psychologist-explains-how-to-deal-with-imposter-syndrome/
Tiefenthaler, (2018) "Conquering Imposter Syndrome," University of Montana Journal of Early Childhood Scholarship and Innovative Practice: Vol. 2 : Iss. 1 , Article 4. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/ecsip/vol2/iss1/4
What is Imposter Syndrome? (2021). Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/imposter-syndrome-and-social-anxiety-disorder-4156469